BACK IN BLACK
MARK ‘DIESEL’ LIZOTTE’S ICONIC STRATOCASTER (FROM THE JOHNNY DIESEL & THE INJECTOR) DAYS IS BACK IN THE FORM OF A NEW FENDER SIGNATURE MODEL. WORDS BY PETER HODGSON.
Ever see the black ‘70s Stratocaster with a pearloid pickguard, black pickups and controls, and a Floyd Rose that Mark Lizotte played back in the Johnny Diesel & The Injectors days? For a generation of Aussie guitarists, that thing was iconic, and for years after its retirement, it could be seen in the window of the Hard Rock Cafe in Melbourne.
Diesel’s guitar needs have changed over the years, but that Strat always represented a special time. Now, Fender Australia have taken that guitar as the inspiration for the Diesel Signature Stratocaster Limited Edition.
Collaborating over six months, Diesel and Fender hammered out the specs to find the perfect balance of what was great about that original guitar, and what reflects Diesel’s needs as a guitarist now. The result is an ash-bodied Stratocaster with oversized ‘70s headstock, maple fretboard, Fender Texas Special pickups, soft ’57 V-neck profile, 22 medium jumbo frets, an aged white pearloid pickguard with contrasting black pickup covers and knobs, and a synchronised tremolo (replacing the Floyd Rose that Diesel was never so keen on in the first place).
The first 60 guitars will come with a Diesel songbook, CD and adhesive logo, and they’ll be available at local dealers this December.
“I guess it’s an amalgamation of my original experience brought up to speed with where I’ve ended up,” Diesel says. “The first Stratocaster that got into my hands was given to me by a fan of the band that I was playing in at the time, who was just a very generous fellow. I was about 15 or 16 at the time. He’d been to the States and bought this thing in Florida. He said, ‘Have a go on this!’ and I thought, ‘Okay, now what? Am I gonna have to buy it off you?’ And he said, ‘If you like it.’ I thought he was never going to come and get it back off me, but I saw him about a year later, and he said, ‘Well, I can see you’ve become really attached to it, so if you want to buy it off me…’ And he did a super, super friendly price on it.”
That guitar was a hardtail ‘70s Strat, and Diesel was looking to move to something with a whammy bar. “I had no reference for hardtail or tremolo or anything,” he says. “I thought, ‘Well, I’ve seen a few other guys playing [a black Strat], like the guy in The Stranglers and The Edge from U2,’ so they were on the landscape a little bit. I was starting to learn what was what, and I guess I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with models and how they progress, so to know that so much of the Strat has remained the same is pretty impressive!
“But being a hardtail, I realised I wanted some tremolo at some point. I was like, ‘Okay, I can hear people doing some of these things that I can’t do.’ So the idea of just putting a stock tremolo on it – nobody presented that to me! I would go to music shops – like I did for everything back then – and whoever it was in the music shop said, ‘You need a Floyd Rose. Go away and get someone to put it on for you.’ So I had it put on and it worked a treat. It was a sound that I could do a lot with – modulation and bends and emulating slides. It became another little trick in my bag.”
Diesel smashed his way through a few necks on that original Strat over the years – the original got broken several times before it got replaced – but eventually, his love affair with the Floyd Rose began to dwindle, its home guitar the victim of a few too many worn parts and finicky setups.
“That guitar went through a lot of work – a lot of patching and a lot of doctoring – and it served me well. The whole first album is 75 or 80 percent that one guitar, with just some other things sprinkled on top. By ’92 or ’93, I let it go to the Hard Rock Cafe in Melbourne, and I don’t know where it is now. Nobody knows, and I would love to see it. So I waved goodbye to it, but there’s always been that little bit of sadness in my heart for the old friend that I sort of left on the dock.”
Of the new Fender model, Diesel admits, “I was a bit skeptical at first. I thought we were never going to capture that lightning in the jar twice. But this guitar actually reminds me of the spunkiness that that original guitar had. It had this real aggressive, but still soft and malleable whack, and a lot of it is to do with a good piece of maple, for sure. I’ve had a lot of guitars since then, but funnily enough, not another maple-necked Strat since that one. My main Strat that I’ve been using and loving – it’s been a real magic flute – is a Custom Shop in burgundy mist with a rosewood neck; it’s a big difference to me.”
The new guitar has a standard Fender Synchronised tremolo in black chrome (which recall slight visual echoes of the colour of the original guitar’s tremolo).
“It’s chrome, but a dark chrome,” Diesel says. “The parts of it are half Mexican and half Japanese, all assembled in Japan. I love Japanese stuff. Anything Japanese you know is going to be put together well.”
The pickups are Fender Texas Special single coils, overwound for a Strat pickup but still relatively clean.
“They’re juicy. I’m not really a big fan of ‘overwound to the point of noise’ pickups. Even a lot of the metal guys are starting to turn around and go to lower-output pickups, because too much magnetic pull is going to kill the party. We’ve got two solid bits of wood, a metal bridge and a neck with a bright sound, so you need a pickup that’s going to chill it out a bit.
“What I want in a Fender pickup is a little bit of that P90 gurgle thing that happens on the top end, but in a Strat pickup. I tried P90s in a Strat and I dug it – I really liked what I could get – but I was missing the three pickups all the time, from day one. Then someone said to me, ‘Just put the three pickups back in again,’ and they were right!”