David Gilmour: The Black Stratocaster

gilmourmainQuick question, do you know what the longest lasting album on the Billboard Top 200 is? What if I told you that this album has spent a total of 917 (as of November of 2015) weeks on the chart? Can you guess? The closest competitor is Bob Marley and the Wailers for the Legend greatest hits release at 386 weeks. Let’s just put this in perspective, 386 weeks is 7 years and about 5 months. 917 is 17 years and 9 months. These numbers are off and on over time, but the consecutive run was 741 weeks from 1973 to 1988! Over fifteen straight years. Featuring songs like Money, Us and Them, Great Gig in the Sky and Breathe, Dark Side of the Moon is one of the greatest albums of all time and is the best selling Pink Floyd release with an incredible 45 million units sold. The guitar used on a majority of that album? Gilmour’s 1968/9 black Fender Stratocaster.

circa 2015 specs

Like the strat played at Woodstock by Hendrix, David bought the guitar from Manny’s Music on 48th street in New York in the spring of 1970. Easily Gilmour’s favorite guitar, he has altered it numerous times including swapping pick-ups, necks, tremolo systems, selector switches, pick guards and mini toggles. What’s the same? The body. That chunk of alder is imbued with musical magic, but honestly, most alder is. Leo Fender began with swamp ash for his Broadcasters and Teles and some early stratocasters but it was alder, in particular, red alder from the pacific northwest that allowed Fender to ramp up production starting with the new factory in 1956 to feed the world’s desire for rock and roll. Red alder is a balanced and resonant wood that grows from Alaska to central California, a fast growing tree that was in Leo’s backyard in great numbers. Thing is, it’s a great wood for instruments as it’s easy to work with, takes finish and glue well and imparts a fairly balanced spectrum though does have a slight preference for upper mid-range tones. Cheap, useful and abundant meant tons of profit for Fender.

Okay, okay, back to the guitar. The current specs, according the wonderful Gilmour fan site Gilmourish.com, are as follows:

  • The original 1969 alder body
  • a 1983 ‘1957’ reissue neck with 21 frets and a 7.25 inch radius. It’s a maple neck, maple finger board with vintage (see: small) frets
  • the black, single ply pick guard is a straight drop from a 1971 bullet strat with Fender pick-ups in the neck and middle positions and a custom wound Seymour Duncan SSL-1C in the bridge
  • Fender vintage style tuners
  • the original Fender tremolo system (after multiple different ones including a Kahler locking system that required a ton of alder to be removed and then filled in when Gilmour returned the guitar to the original system)
  • 5 way pick up selector and mini toggle that allows the bridge and the neck simultaneously
  • a shortened trem arm

gilmourredstratPlease check out the Gilmourish.com web site as they have gone deep into the timeline of the instrument, much farther than 1000 words will allow me. David used this strat for much of Dark Side, the Wall, Wish You Were Here, Animals and the Final Cut. It was then sent to the Hard Rock Cafe and remained on display from 1986 through 1997. After some repairs, as no doubt hundred of people must have requested to touch or get photos with the guitar over the 11 years it remained in the public reach, it became Gilmour’s main guitar again. During the period of time the guitar sat on display, David used several other strats, most notably his red see at the left. It was during this period that I was lucky enough to see Pink Floyd on the Division Bell tour at Foxboro stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. That was 10th row center, and one of the coolest musical experiences of my life (it also happened over my birthday weekend). It would be 15 years later, in April of 2009, that I again reached the brass ring of musical legends and saw Jeff Beck from the 8th row, sitting next to writers from Rolling Stone, at Foxwood’s MGM Grand theater in Ledyard, Connecticut but that’s a story for another day.

I have 3 favorite guitar solos, depending on where I am. If I am driving, I want to hear the solo from “No One Like You” by the Scorpions. If I am playing guitar, “In My Dreams” by Dokken. If I am listening to music, just immersing myself with headphones, it’s “Comfortably Numb” by Gilmour and company. Every aspect of the solo is an example of Gilmour’s subtle yet perfectly placed style. His touch and phrasing bring so much emotion out of the piece that I will never tire of listening. Gilmour is an active performer and composer, most recently on a solo album released in 2015 called “Rattle That Lock”. He performs about 30 shows a year, give or take, and is simply someone to see if you are a guitarist, his set list covers 50 years worth of music.  Join me next time when I go in-depth on the Gibson musical instrument company. Thanks for stopping by.

KSK March 2017


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