WAS YNGWIE FIRST?
I am a long-standing reader of Guitarist magazine for 30 years. I was concerned when I read the Fender: Legends Of Tone bookazine by Guitarist, which named Eric Clapton as the first person to be associated with a Fender signature guitar on p45.
I am well aware that Fender had also approached Yngwie J Malmsteen to discuss producing his signature guitar model made to unique personal specifications such as a scalloped neck, brass nut and DiMarzio HS3 pickups. Both Eric Clapton and Yngwie Malmsteen guitars were launched in the late 80s. However, from what I have read and heard, including interviews with Mr Malmsteen, his was the very first official signature guitar before Eric Clapton.
While I am a fan of both guitarists, I actually purchased one of the original Malmsteen models from that early period. It seems Eric Clapton always seems to be credited with the first Fender signature guitar series. This may be through lack of awareness, or better promotion by Clapton’s representatives and the press. It is always Eric Clapton that seems to gather the acclaim, and while he may be British and Yngwie Malmsteen Swedish, readers need to know exactly the true facts and have both guitarists labelled on p45 if necessary. Yngwie, due to his unique talent combining classical with rock/metal, speed with emotion, has forged a huge global following and is recognised as one of the top sellers of the signature model.
Could you clarify actually which signature guitar came first to me and your readers? Nathan Burns, via email Gear reviews editor Dave Burrluck replies: “From the information we have to hand (AR Duchossoir’s The Fender Stratocaster ), the Eric Clapton signature was technically the first signature to be produced by Fender beginning in the spring of 1988. The Malmsteen followed that summer. Both guitars were listed on Fender’s June 1987 price list at the same price: $1,199 (including case).
“It would seem that the idea for the Eric Clapton dates back to Clapton’s ‘Behind The Sun’ tour in 1985,” Dave continues, “when the guitarist realised that the neck of his beloved Blackie was worn out and couldn’t take another refret. Fender’s Dan Smith began working with Clapton from then on. The contract was eventually signed between both parties on 7 May 1987.
“In early ’86 Dan Smith met with Malmsteen and his manager to discuss a signature model, although – and this is perhaps the grey area – he signed up with Fender before Clapton on 15 January 1987. But, you’re right, Clapton does seem to get the ‘first signature Fender artist’ accolade when, in fact, both guitars were listed simultaneously and produced, initially, within weeks of each other. Hope that helps!”
We also asked Mike Lewis, vice president of Product Development at Fender, who provided the official opinion on the matter. He said: “My understanding is that the Malmsteen was the first to be developed. But the Clapton was first to be released.”
So it seems Clapton’s signature was, by a nose, first to actually hit the market as a finished product. Therefore, it’s at least strongly arguable the laurels for being ‘first’ still go to EC, but in view of Mike’s comments, perhaps we should call it an honourable draw?
Was Yngwie Malmsteen actually the first to receive a signature Strat, not Eric Clapton? We think we’ve solved the mystery…