The Red STRAT

GARY MOORE For thou­sands of gui­tarists in the early 60s, a Fi­esta Red Fen­der Stra­to­caster sym­bol­ised a thrilling new era of mu­sic. Hank Marvin was the first iconic ex­po­nent of the red Strat, coax­ing clean tones as lush as a man­i­cured lawn from his fa­mous

Guitarist - - Contents - WORDS JAMIE DICK­SON PHO­TOG­RA­PHY joby SES­SIONS

We play Gary Moore’s leg­endary ’61 strat and bench‑test an ex­act­ing new Fen­der replica of it – and re­mem­ber the great man along the way

When Gui­tarist re­ported on the auction of the late, great Gary Moore’s gui­tar col­lec­tion a few is­sues back, one com­ment that came back from readers was: ‘Nice, but where’s the Red Strat?’ Like Clap­ton’s lost ‘Beano’ ’Burst or Larry Carl­ton’s ’68 ES-335, some in­stru­ments are in­deli­bly as­so­ci­ated with a player. Even though Gary Moore used a very wide va­ri­ety of gui­tars dur­ing the fiery course of his ca­reer, it is to the Fi­esta Red ’61 Stra­to­caster that many of his fans re­turn, again and again, as both an icon of his artistry on the in­stru­ment and a tonal touch­stone. So when we learned that Fen­der Cus­tom Shop Mas­ter Builder John Cruz had fi­nally been given the green light to build an ex­act­ing replica of Gary’s Red Strat – also known as the Pink Strat, for rea­sons that shall be­come clear – we couldn’t turn down the op­por­tu­nity to in­ves­ti­gate fur­ther. At the event (made pos­si­ble thanks to the of­fice of Gary’s for­mer tech Gra­ham Lil­ley, who is now cus­to­dian of Moore’s ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion of gear), we were priv­i­leged to be able to ex­am­ine the well-worn orig­i­nal and place it side by side with John Cruz’s lov­ingly crafted replica for close com­par­i­son. Plug it in and crank up the vol­ume? No prob­lem, says Gra­ham. If there was ever a fea­ture likely to keep us stay­ing hap­pily in the of­fice Af­ter Hours, this is it...

But be­fore we ar­rived at that bit, we sat down with Gra­ham to hear the story of how Gary came to own the gui­tar in the first place, and what role it even­tu­ally played in his sonic arse­nal. Gra­ham be­gins by ex­plain­ing that it very nearly didn’t reach Gary’s hands at all, as it was re­port­edly ear­marked for sale to prog leg­end Greg Lake of Emer­son, Lake & Palmer.

“I wasn’t there my­self, but it was dur­ing the record­ing of the Greg Lake al­bum in ’81,” Gra­ham ex­plains. “As usual with these things, there are vari­a­tions on the story. I al­ways un­der­stood that a chap turned up at the re­hearsals, or to the stu­dio, with a cou­ple of gui­tars. Gary was there and he was sold one first. It was an ES-5, which Gary ei­ther bought straight off or bought from Greg, when Greg didn’t want it. Gary also tried the Strat and even just acous­ti­cally was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s in­cred­i­ble. I haven’t even plugged it in.’ But the deal was that it was there just for Greg to have a look at. But Gary was like, ‘Just lis­ten to that.’ He knew that if it was that res­o­nant acous­ti­cally, when you plug it in it is just go­ing to be louder isn’t it?

“So Greg turns up, has a look at it. Gary said he had his fin­gers crossed think­ing, ‘Please don’t buy it. Please don’t buy it.’ Af­ter a bit of de­lib­er­a­tion Greg passed on it, be­cause it was maybe just a lit­tle bit too beaten up for his tastes. Ob­vi­ously not as beaten up as it is now – but it wasn’t to­tally pris­tine even then. So Gary was like: ‘Right, that’s mine.’ That was it: the deal was done.

“Gary had it from then on,” Gra­ham con­tin­ues. “He did most of Cor­ri­dors Of Power with it and he was play­ing it a lot live, around that time. Then it was on pretty much most of the next al­bum – Vic­tims Of The Fu­ture – and spo­rad­i­cally from then on. Then it went miss­ing on its way to Amer­ica. Whether it dis­ap­peared in this coun­try, or strayed when it ar­rived in Amer­ica, no-one is sure. But some­how it resur­faced some­where in Texas. At any rate, it was found and sent back. But by then, Gary had bought two ’62 Fen­der reis­sues offthe-peg – a white one and a sun­burst one. We’ve still got one of those, which is now [re­fin­ished in] pale blue.

“I’m not sure if that was the sun­burst one or if that was the white one, be­cause there were two and they both changed colours. One did be­come very flamingo pink at one point. We won’t talk about that one – it was too pink! It was Bar­bie pink, be­yond Bar­bie. That’s long gone as well. But the red ’61 Strat was part of his ar­moury pretty much ever since re­ally – but most no­tably, when he played a cover of Red House for Fen­der’s 50th an­niver­sary of the Strat gig. I think that goes down in his­tory as one of the great­est per­for­mances of that song ever. I just re­mem­ber look­ing round at peo­ple’s faces af­ter he did the first solo. It was just like, ‘What hap­pened? Did the Queen walk in?’”

Close scru­tiny of Gary’s fa­mous Strat re­veals that it is not in any­thing like orig­i­nal con­di­tion, and Gra­ham says it was likely to have been a hard-work­ing pro­fes­sional in­stru­ment even be­fore Gary bought it, with all the main­te­nance and up­grades that usu­ally en­tails.

“It was re­fret­ted quite early on. Just jog­ging back slightly, the sup­posed his­tory of the gui­tar was that it came from the side­man in Tommy Steele’s band, al­though I can­not find out any­thing about him. And ob­vi­ously, it had been re­sprayed and re­fin­ished at some point. What was it orig­i­nally? John Cruz of Fen­der’s Cus­tom Shop wasn’t cer­tain, but he said with the kind of yel­low primer base that’s vis­i­ble in places it could have been Sun­burst orig­i­nally. To con­fuse mat­ters fur­ther, the top coat of ‘Fi­esta’ red paint is lighter than an­other coat of red fin­ish that’s vis­i­ble un­der­neath.”

Here we stray back into the long-run­ning de­bate about the so-called ‘Selmer’ re­fin­ishes, which were pur­port­edly ap­plied to Strats of var­i­ous fac­tory fin­ishes im­ported in Bri­tain in the early 60s, then re­sprayed in an er­satz ‘Fi­esta Red’ be­cause so many play­ers of the era wanted to im­i­tate Hank Marvin.

At this point Gui­tar Tech­niques edi­tor Neville Marten, who jammed with Gary many times, chimes in with his rec­ol­lec­tions of work­ing at Fen­der’s UK gui­tar re­pair work­shop in the early 80s, when many such in­stru­ments passed through his hands.

“Ev­ery­one who worked in gui­tar re­pair in that era knows there were Strats that can only be de­scribed as pink and not red. Loads of them were later re­fin­ished white be­cause of Hen­drix even­tu­ally re­plac­ing Hank as the gui­tarist peo­ple wanted to be like. But what you found if you went to re­fin­ish them again is you couldn’t get that pink paint off be­cause it was like rock. It was the colour of Lifebuoy Soap as well. That was how we all de­scribed it.”

While it’s im­pos­si­ble to say if Gary’s ’61 Strat is one such gui­tar, as Gra­ham points out you can clearly see

“Greg Lake turns up, has a look at it, and Gary said he had his fin­gers crossed think­ing, ‘Please don’t buy it. Please don’t buy it.’ Af­ter a bit of de­lib­er­a­tion Greg passed on it, be­cause it was maybe just a lit­tle bit too beaten up for his tastes...” Gra­ham LIL­LEY

“Gary was pretty on the money. He hit the notes he meant to hit – and they stayed hit. It was the right note at the right time, gen­er­ally” Gra­ham LIL­LEY

that a thin, milky-red fin­ish has been sprayed onto a darker coat of red paint un­der­neath. A Bri­tish re­spray to ‘faux Fi­esta’ spec over an orig­i­nal Dakota Red? Per­haps, but there is no way to be sure. Sim­i­larly, the neck and mid­dle pick­ups are also non-orig­i­nal. Gra­ham ex­plains that, like many hard­ware changes made on the road, the pickup al­ter­ations were wholly prag­matic.

“They just needed re­do­ing. Ob­vi­ously, when parts broke they had to be swapped out. For ex­am­ple, we were do­ing the A Dif­fer­ent Beat al­bum in 1998 and the neck pickup went, so I posted it up to Sey­mour Dun­can. He re­wound it and sent it back, popped it in and was like, ‘Great. Let’s go.’ Then the mid­dle pickup went in the mid­dle of the Mon­sters Of Rock tour in 2003 at Wem­b­ley. I had an old Dun­can An­tiq­uity pickup that was sat in a box and just threw that in. But then he didn’t use [the Strat] for a while. Well, he used it a bit on the Power Of The Blues al­bum in 2004. Then it was on bits on the last three al­bums, Old New Bal­lads Blues, Close As You Get and Bad For You Baby. But the Tele was prob­a­bly used more on a lot of those things.

“All the same, I even­tu­ally got Tim Mills at Bare Knuckle pick­ups to rewind the orig­i­nal bro­ken mid­dle pickup, which is still in the case, and not in the gui­tar, at present. An­other thing I did, when it proved nec­es­sary, was take the rear-most tone pot, which ob­vi­ously didn’t get used that much, and moved that up to re­place the vol­ume when that went. I then filled the gap it left with a newer, re­place­ment tone pot. That way you still had that sort of vin­tage feel be­cause an orig­i­nal part had just been moved up a place.”

The neck, too – which has a slen­der, shal­low C-pro­file that grad­u­ates smoothly and or­gan­i­cally into the diminu­tive head­stock with no ap­par­ent step or vo­lute to the flat rear sur­face of the head­stock – saw some prag­matic up­dates made to it, in­clud­ing re­fret­ting with chunky wire to suit Gary’s needs.

“It was the big­gest wire that Dun­lop did at the time, the 6100. Which might up­set a few purists, but it works, you know? The in­to­na­tion would be pretty good on it, be­cause the frets were such a solid lump, you know? So they cer­tainly worked. When it came to the acous­tic res­o­nance off the top of [each note]… you would just get even more. But Gary was pretty on the money. He hit the notes he meant to hit – and they stayed hit. It was the right note at the right time, gen­er­ally.”

As the images at­test, Gary’s ’61 Strat bears the bat­tlescars of his high-in­ten­sity per­for­mances. How much of the heavy wear vis­i­ble on the Red Strat was put there by Gary in the course of his ca­reer, we ask?

“Quite a bit. I was go­ing back through old pho­to­graphs. It is very no­tice­able,” Gra­ham adds.

LEGACY OF LOUD The recorded voice of the Red Strat is well known to Gary’s fans, but it was used with a very wide va­ri­ety of am­pli­fi­ca­tion, as Moore was a rest­less ex­per­i­menter with tone, as Gra­ham Lil­ley ex­plains.

“He used it with a va­ri­ety of amps. It was his 1959 100-watt Su­per Lead Mar­shalls to be­gin with, four­in­put jobs. And also 50-watt Mar­shall 1987s in var­i­ous shapes and sizes – big boxes, small boxes – in var­i­ous vin­tages. But then he used all sorts of stuff. Like on the Scars al­bum he was go­ing through Mar­shalls and Fen­der Tone­mas­ters on a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions.

“The Strat also got used on Still Got The Blues on Too Tired, a track he did with Al­bert Collins and it’s the slide on Mov­ing On, even though for live we used a dif­fer­ent gui­tar – a bog-stan­dard Squier Strat – but it’s on the video, and that would be through the Soldano SLO100 with the EV 412s, so there’s an­other coloura­tion to it.

“But there was also those lit­tle Plexi com­bos he got off De­nis Cor­nell. We were us­ing a cou­ple of those things, lit­tle 2x12 Vi­broverb ’62 reis­sues got used. There was also a ‘black­face’ 1963 Fen­der Twin on parts of the King Of The Blues track on the Still Got The Blues CD. There was a Prosonic that got tried for a cou­ple of things. Mostly stu­dio, not live be­cause ob­vi­ously those small com­bos wouldn’t quite cut it. Then there was an an­niver­sary Mar­shall – not the Sil­ver Ju­bilee, but a thing they did later, which was cel­e­brat­ing Jim Mar­shall’s 85th birth­day, the 1923C. It was a great­sound­ing combo – the sound was a vari­a­tion of the DSL50, but it was slightly dif­fer­ent. They were quite good. And then live was an­other thing: when we did the Af­ter The War tour in ’89 we had 400 watts of Mar­shalls lit­er­ally all the way upon stage!”

Neville Marten ad­di­tion­ally ob­serves that “all that goes to show he would use wildly dif­fer­ent gui­tars, from Strats to Te­les to Les Pauls to 335s, Grestches even… And he’d be play­ing them into all those dif­fer­ent amps of dif­fer­ent pow­ers based on 6V6s, EL34s, 6L6s… yet he could make it all sound good be­cause of what was com­ing out of the mus­cles in his fin­gers and his brain.”

“And his heart,” Gra­ham Lil­ley in­ter­jects. “Yes, and his heart,” Neville con­tin­ues adding that, for Gary, pick­ing up a gui­tar had a trans­for­ma­tional ef­fect. “If he was sit­ting in a room and talk­ing just like we are around this table, and you stuck a gui­tar in his hand it would be like flick­ing a switch. You could say he turned from David Ban­ner into the In­cred­i­ble Hulk as soon as you put a gui­tar in his hand… he sud­denly be­came this hugely pow­er­ful ox-like pres­ence that was un­de­feat­able – and he was. No­body would take Gary on in gui­tar in any con­test. Not that he was think­ing that way.”

“The gui­tar was al­most like his ar­mour,” Gra­ham Lil­ley con­curs. “In some ways he was very shy and a lit­tle awk­ward. Peo­ple say, ‘Re­ally?’ when I tell them that, but yes, he was very shy. He put that Strat on and it was a buf­fer between him and the rest of the world, and he could just ex­press him­self through that.” CUS­TOMS bar­rier Gary’s ’61 Strat has a spe­cial place in the hearts of many of his fans, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, but in and of it­self, it’s a gui­tar that res­onates with many Bri­tish play­ers par­tic­u­larly, given that a Fi­esta Red Strat (re­fin­ished or oth­er­wise) of this vin­tage en­cap­su­lates the boy­hood as­pi­ra­tions of so many Hank-in­spired play­ers. So it seems an ob­vi­ous sub­ject for a Fen­der Cus­tom Shop replica – nonethe­less, the project was to have a lengthy ges­ta­tion pe­riod, as Gra­ham Lil­ley ex­plains.

“I’d been hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with John Cruz from Fen­der’s Cus­tom Shop for a good while – 20 or more years. Prob­a­bly longer now, ac­tu­ally, be­cause Gary has been gone six years come Fe­bru­ary. So it was prior to that. We sort of kept in touch and dis­cussed it and John, be­ing a huge fan of Gary’s, had al­ways wanted to do some­thing, whether it was a spe­cial or­der some­one was ask­ing for or some­thing, he wanted to do this model one day. I think, ini­tially, he couldn’t get it past head of­fice, be­cause Gary wasn’t quite a house­hold name in Amer­ica. Among gui­tar play­ers, ob­vi­ously... For us, it is a dif­fer­ent case. But the av­er­age man on the street might only re­mem­ber him from Top Of The Pops stand­ing next to Phil [Lynott]. So for a while, there was a wait to get the Cus­tom Shop man­age­ment on side, to make it

“He would use wildly dif­fer­ent gui­tars, from Strats to Te­les to Les Pauls to 335s, Gretsches, even... yet he could make it all sound good be­cause of what was com­ing out of his fin­gers” NEVILLE MARTEN

at­trac­tive as a worth­while project. Ob­vi­ously, in cer­tain quar­ters of the globe it would have been snapped up very read­ily – here, or in Ja­pan or Ger­many es­pe­cially. But John and I kept in touch and sent ideas back and forth via fax. This goes back a long way – to transat­lantic phone calls and so on. It’d be like, ‘What do you need? I have got this vinyl or this picture of it, if it helps?’ And so on. So we just had this on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tion.

“Even­tu­ally, John said, ‘I think we can move for­ward on it. Let me see if I can get the green light.’ Then he said, ‘Yes, I am go­ing to come over. Let’s have a look at it and see what we can do. We will spend a day tak­ing it apart, mea­sur­ing it, tak­ing pho­tos, get­ting the colour right.’ So we did that last May. As I say, he came over early April this year with a pro­to­type and went back. He went on to take the pro­to­type to the Gary Moore Memo­rial Con­cert in Bu­dapest, and played it on stage with the house band as part of the evening’s con­cert.” mas­ter stroke At this point, the story shifts back in time and West in lo­ca­tion to Fen­der’s Cus­tom Shop head­quar­ters in Corona, Cal­i­for­nia, which Gui­tarist vis­ited back in July. While we were there, we chat­ted with vet­eran Mas­ter Builder John Cruz who ac­tu­ally had the pro­to­type of the replica Gary Moore Stra­to­caster fea­tured in this ar­ti­cle sit­ting on his work­bench at that time. Tellingly, the tricky-to-nail milky-red fin­ish was set to un­dergo a fur­ther re­vi­sion be­fore pro­duc­tion, af­ter care­ful A/B anal­y­sis of minute paint-chips from the orig­i­nal gui­tar re­vealed a slight darken­ing would be nec­es­sary to pro­vide an ex­act match. As John is one of the Cus­tom Shop’s most ex­pe­ri­enced builders and a huge Gary Moore fan, we asked how much of a labour of love the project had been – and what ef­forts he’d made to evoke both the spirit and the de­tail of the orig­i­nal in his Mas­ter Built replica in­stru­ment.

“We went out to Lon­don to take a look at the gui­tar and Gra­ham Lil­ley brought the gui­tar in and I sat down with him. I was par­tic­u­larly ner­vous about it, just see­ing it for the first time since I saw him last. I got to see it; I got all shaky, man, it’s like, ‘Je­sus, there it is’ and it was re­ally won­der­ful to have the op­por­tu­nity to ex­am­ine it up close, and take it all apart. I got pictures and video and ev­ery­thing.

“For ex­am­ple, it has a lot of re­ally weird neck-wear that I’ve never seen on any gui­tar be­fore – it has these black things on it and I’m not ac­tu­ally ex­actly sure what that was, but I repli­cated it, right down to the grain of the wood and den­sity and ev­ery­thing. I do kind of wish they would have let me have the gui­tar to work on it here, though. Like, I had Rory Gal­lagher’s gui­tar here for four months. So I got to make the pro­to­type oneto-one with the gui­tar and it was iden­ti­cal. But, all the same, the Gary Moore Strat is pretty much spot on.”

Al­though the pick­ups on the replica have a dif­fer­ent stag­ger to those on the orig­i­nal, they are care­fully voiced to match the sound of the orig­i­nal, says John.

“The pick­ups on Gary’s gui­tar were on the low side, out­put-wise, as Strats go and a cou­ple of pick­ups have been re­wound. So are we go­ing to go to that ex­tent? Prob­a­bly not. So I had a set cus­tom-wound here, match­ing those read­ings that I got and they’re ba­si­cally my pick­ups. They’re things that I use al­ready. They’re sim­i­larly low-out­put pick­ups – which I swear by now. I used to be one of those guys who was like, ‘The higher the [DC re­sis­tance] read­ings the bet­ter. More out­put. But now I’ve kind of turned around – the lower out­put pick­ups, that’s the real deal. It’s clean. It sounds great. You put an over­drive on it, it’s just go­ing to ex­plode and come alive.”

The re­sults can be judged over­leaf, in Dave Bur­rluck’s re­view of John’s ex­act­ing replica, and heard on our ac­com­pa­ny­ing video. While such gui­tars are pro­duced in pro­hib­i­tively small num­bers and at a price that ex­cludes most play­ers, all 50 of the run of Gary Moore Strats have al­ready been sold – tes­ta­ment to John’s ob­ses­sive at­ten­tion to the craft of repli­ca­tion, which he says is his nat­u­ral call­ing as a gui­tar maker.

“I never got to see the orig­i­nal SRV Num­ber One. It was a project that was sup­posed to go to [Se­nior Mas­ter Builder] John English, but he was too busy at the time to do it and that’s when [for­mer Cus­tom Shop head] Mike El­dred came to me. He said, ‘What do you think about do­ing this?’ and he showed me the pictures and I’m like, ‘Give me that’ and I grabbed the body and the neck, and I ran through paint and I made a pro­to­type and then we showed it to Jim­mie Vaughan and he signed off on it. So I knew that was go­ing to be my niche – do­ing oneto-one repli­cas – and so that’s how it’s been ever since.”

“Even­tu­ally, John said, ‘Let me see if I can get the green light.’ Then he said, ‘Yes, I am go­ing to come over. We’ll spend a day tak­ing it apart, mea­sur­ing it, tak­ing pho­to­graphs, get­ting the colour right...’” Gra­ham LIL­LEY

4

1

1. The neck of the ’61 orig­i­nal blends smoothly and or­gan­i­cally into the head­stock – re­call­ing gui­tarist Jim Campi­longo’s pithy ob­ser­va­tion that this frag­ile but el­e­gant point of tran­si­tion on vin­tage Fen­ders re­sem­bles “an old lady’s wrist”. The neck is stamped Novem­ber ’60 2. As men­tioned, the neck and mid­dle pick­ups of Gary’s ’61 Strat are not in orig­i­nal con­di­tion, but the bridge pup is. The DC re­sis­tance read­ings are 6.5k (neck), 5.9k (mid­dle) and 5.3k (bridge) 3. Orig­i­nal and vol­ume pots have ei­ther been re­placed out­right as needed or moved up by one slot to fill a gap left by the re­moval of a faulty orig­i­nal 1 2 3

5 4 4. The head­stock of the replica is su­perbly aged, though if we’re split­ting hairs, it looks to be frac­tion­ally larger than that of the orig­i­nal 5. De­tail­ing in­cludes a recre­ation of Gary’s quick-re­lease DiMarzio ClipLock strap 6. The milky, thin re­fin­ish over a darker (pos­si­bly Dakota Red) orig­i­nal fin­ish has been care­fully em­u­lated on John Cruz’s Mas­ter Built replica 6

OP­PO­SITE Mas­ter Builder John Cruz at his work­bench in Fen­der’s Cus­tom Shop. In his arms is a pro­to­type of the Gary Moore replica Strat fea­tured here

ABOVE As you’d ex­pect for such an ex­pen­sive replica, there’s a fair bit of case candy here – plus the heavy-duty flight­case it­self

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