New Guitar Day: Fender USA ’57 Vintage Reissue Stratocaster Candy Apple Red with lacquered maple neck and fretboard
I repurchased my first ever Stratocaster!
Earlier this month, I was contacted by the current owner of my very first Strat, he wanted to know if I’d be open to the idea of buying it back. I sold it to him in the summer of 2017 because I wasn’t using it.
I foolishly thought that I no longer needed the Fender around and proceeded to let it go. This was just one stepping stone in a long line of regrets that have come back to bite me in my life as a guitarist, chasing the “latest and greatest” and that greener grass that sometimes doesn’t exist.
Soon after selling it, I contacted the buyer to say that if he ever wanted to sell it on, please get in contact and allow me the opportunity to buy it back.
2013 — the purchase
It was summer of 2013 and I’d recently met a girl and we’d started out on the road of a new relationship. For selfish reasons, I decided that we should have a date day in Bristol, mainly because I had been hunting down what I thought would be my perfect Stratocaster and I’d found one online that showed stock in a shop in Bristol.
It was a special day for me because it was the first guitar I’d bought with my girlfriend, it was the first time she’d heard me play guitar and she was impressed, well, she said she was at the time. She’s now my wife of nearly 4 years and like many wives of guitarists, she rolls her eyes every time I mention guitars! Although, she’s very tolerant and supportive.
There were two identical looking guitars in the shop that I wanted to try, both Candy Apple Red but the one I walked out with had a darker lacquered maple neck, which I was fond of. I plugged into a Fender Blues Deluxe and was remarkably surprised by how different the two guitars felt and sounded. I picked my favourite, whacked it on the drip* and walked out a very happy man, with a new guitar and a wonderful memory.
*drip — interest free credit.
Gilmour’s Red Strat
Gilmour’s Red Strat was his main guitar for 20 years and featured heavily on the last three studio albums (including The Endless River). Gilmour had active EMG pickups in his but I knew that I wanted passive pickups and I aimed for the sound of his Black Strat but with the Red Strat aesthetic.
Like many young and naive guitarists, although by this point I was 16 years into my guitar journey, my focus when shopping for guitars was on the tone I wanted and the colour or aesthetic. So something like Gilmour’s Red Strat really appealed to me.
But the thing I learned about guitars in general, long after I bought my red Strat in 2013 was that fretboard’s had a radius and that I should care about it and the fret size.
Know what you’re buying- checking the detail
Surprisingly, David used an ’83 reissue with a 7.25" radius with “vintage style frets” — which are quite small by today’s standards. Although the details of which played no part in my purchase, they should have, as later I became slightly dissilusioned with the way the guitar played.
What followed was years worth of wrestling with it, modding it and trying to get the best out of the instrument. It became my main guitar, the one I’d pick up all the time, but I had a love hate relationship with it as it didn’t deliver the tones I wanted — mainly Gilmour related — and was very hard to play. Solid as a rock but stiff as a board with no slinkiness, for want of better cliché’s.
2016 — pickup and mods
Three years later, I decided that the stock Fender pickups weren’t doing it for me. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get the harmonics, thickness, or bloom to the notes that I heard from Gilmour’s playing…
Aside: Yes, I went on a Gilmour-pilgrimage for a long time. This guitar formed part of that journey. I was obsessed with the “Gilmour” tone. But I realise now that whatever journey we take, it always leads us to a destination where we find our own voice. I now realise that a lot of Gilmour’s tone is about the way he plays, and by his own admission, “it’s in his fingers”…groan.
I called around and spoke to staff at Bare Knuckle Pickups and they prescribed a loaded pick guard with a Trilogy Suite Bridge pickup — with a massive DC resistance of 15.5kΩ. It sounds thick, mid-focussed and able to push gain further than the stock pickups. I coupled that with two lower output single coils for the middle and neck positions.
I took the flashy new (vintage correct) pick guard and a new “F” backplate to a local tech who carried out the work for me.
2017 — Selling the main guitar
It came back from the tech great but I couldn’t escape the feeling that it still felt incredibly stiff as a guitar.
I bought a Suhr Classic Pro (a Strat style guitar with modern appointments), and that was my go to Strat for a little while. I ended up falling out of love with the way the red one played, and blamed the vintage frets and radius for that, as a result, it got left out in favour of the Suhr.
In August that year I decided that I should let the red Fender go so I could pursue different things. Not before one last play before it went though. I opened the case to give it a check over and plugged it in. I noticed on that last playthrough exactly why I bought it and noticed immediately that it sounded incredibly different to the Suhr. I won’t say I regretted it there and then, but keeping it had crossed my mind. I put the differences down to the Suhr just being a better guitar and dismissed what I heard as buyers remorse kicking in. It wasn’t. It really was a good sounding guitar…
Later that year I sent the the buyer a message to let him know that my honeymoon period with the Suhr was over and should he decide to move the red Strat on, to let me know first. He kindly replied saying that he was thoroughly enjoying his new purchase and he sent me a video of the guitar with him playing Prince’s Purple Rain on it…I was jealous, it sounded superb and I really missed it.
I moved the Suhr on and purchased a Custom Shop Strat in 2018, but still felt the need to get a red strat with a maple board, it just had a certain sound that I’d lost when I sold it — neither the Suhr or Custom Shop could get that tone.
In pursuit of a red Strat
Earlier this year (2019), I added a 1983 Japanese Fender Strat (Candy Apple Red) to my eBay watch list. It was in mint condition for its age, and there was something appealing about having a guitar that was the same age as me. But it was in Japan and needed to be imported. Was probably more trouble than it was worth, but I couldn’t get this idea of getting another Candy Apple Red ’57 reissue out of my head.
Neither could I shake the fact that I’d let go of an authentic American made Fender and now I had to settle for something made elsewhere as Fender US were no longer making spot on ’57 vintage reissues any longer. Someone bought the Japanese guitar and I was back to searching for one.
2019 — return of the prodigal Strat
Then out of the blue, the buyer contacted me and said that it was on the chopping block as he’s moved on to Les Paul’s. Music to my ears and it was a message I was very thankful to him for.
I moved as quickly as I could to go get it and return it to my collection. When I got it home, I plugged it in right away and was profoundly impressed by how different it sounded to the Custom Shop…not better, just different. It had all the subtleties I remembered but what I’d forgotten was how thick the bridge sounded for solo and lead work. It cuts through the mix easily and is just a beautiful guitar all around.
I have never been so ecstatic about a guitar in my entire life.
Still hard to play
Regardless, it was still the most difficult guitar to play. So I took it to Feline Guitars in Croydon — best known for their incredible fret work. I initially considered a refret with larger frets, and even a re-redius. Rather less ruthlessly, they set it up better for my needs. Raising the string tree and loosening the trem springs so that the bridge floated rather than being flat against the guitar. We also took one of the three springs out. All this resulted in an incredibly slinky and much more of a “Stratocaster” feel to things. It’s easily as nice to play as my Custom Shop, but not as easy to play of course, due to the radius and frets. But I’m keeping it as it was made. I love how it feels to play now and wouldn’t change it for the world.
I’ll be keeping my lovely Custom Shop Strat too, I appreciate the differences between them and use them both all the time, for different purposes. The Custom is a 60’s spec and the Red one being a 50’s spec, so they really are quite different and surprisingly different in tone, thanks to the different fretboard wood and more importantly, the pickups.
I couldn’t be happier with this guitar. I couldn’t be happier to have it back in my care and taking pride and place in the collection. It’s a piece of my history and nobody should sell guitars that they have a connection with. Learn from my mistakes and don’t do it. I’m just pleased that I’m able to carry on the story with this guitar.