Photo: Shepherd on stage in 2009 playing one of his signature Strats with racing stripes.
When did you finally get your first Strat? How old were you?
“I was 12 years old. Until then, I’d had a cheap Yamaha. It had a similar shape of a Stratocaster, but obviously it wasn’t the same thing. My parents didn’t know when they bought it for me how serious I was gonna be on the guitar, so they didn’t splurge at first. I begged and begged and begged, and finally my dad got me the Strat.
“It was American-made, candy apple red. I had my choice of that one and one that was made in Japan. The American Strat had a Floyd Rose setup on it, and the other guitar had the standard tremolo system that Fender is known for. At the time, I’d never seen a Floyd Rose before, so I was like, ‘Wow! What is this thing?’ In retrospect, I would have preferred a different tremolo system, but I was very, very happy to just have my first real Strat. I played the crap out of that guitar. That thing was always in my hands.
“And I got it signed by Stevie Ray Vaughan, too. It was the last time that I met him face to face. We had gone to a free outdoor concert that he and the band were doing – I think they were opening up for The Who later on that night, but they decided to do this free show in the afternoon. I got to watch Stevie play from the side of the stage, just like I did the first time I saw him when I was seven years old. After the show, I got to go backstage to say hello, and that’s when he autographed my guitar.
“It was still my only Strat, so I played it and played it and played it, even after he passed away. I wore a lot of the signature off by playing it so much; before it totally got worn off, I stopped playing it. I ended up getting another Strat – and another Strat and another Strat. [Laughs] I was able to retire the first one.”
On the other Strats, you went for the Fender trem system?
“Yeah, I’ve never had anything else since then. The next guitar I got was a Stevie Ray Vaughan Signature Series. That’s the guitar I used on most of my first album, Ledbetter Heights. So I had that guitar before I signed my record deal; after I got my deal, as a signing bonus, I went out and bought a Custom Shop Stratocaster and a 1954 Custom Shop Strat. The ‘54 has a really nice maple neck and a see-thru kind of blonde finish, almost like a Mary Kay Stratocaster. Oh, and I bought my first car, too. [Laughs]
“The ’54 is signed by Bo Diddley and Jimmie Ray Vaughan. Right around this time, at the age of 16, I was signed as a Fender artist, and that began a long list of collaborations between me and Jay Black and the dudes in the Custom Shop in the ‘90s. Jay retired, but I’m still with Fender.”