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Photo: Playing the 2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans with a Kenny Wayne Shepherd Signature Strat prototype.
Have you walked into other guitars stores and been knocked out by anything else in the same way?
“Yeah, it’s happened a few times. When I was on tour with Van Halen, I had an autograph signing at the Guitar Center in Houston. I was in the store, and I turned around and saw this ’58 Strat on the wall. It was a hard tail with a maple neck – I’d never owned a hard tail Strat before. I picked it up, and man, this guitar was in mint condition. I bought it on the spot. Since then, I bought a ’59 Strat that’s almost the sister to this guitar. It’s basically the same guitar, just a year later.
“The hard tail guitars are interesting: They stay in tune, and they kind of ring and resonate in a different way than Strats with tremolo systems. With the strings being routed through the body, there’s a more natural response through the wood.”
How many Strats do you think you own altogether?
“I don’t know. [Laughs] I never sat down and counted them. I like having guitars, and I actually think I have more than I realize. But I don’t consider myself a collector or an instrument hoarder. Everything that I have gets put to use. When I buy an instrument, it’s because I think it can serve a purpose. I don’t look at guitars as investments because I’ll never sell them. I’ve never sold anything, from the crappy little battery-powered Peavey amplifier that was my first amp to any of the pedals I’ve ever bought or been given. To me, guitars aren’t investments as in money; they’re investments in tone."
Last year you worked with Stephen Stills in The Rides. Did he try out any of your Strats – or vice-versa?
“Oh, yeah, of course. He’s got a tremendous guitar collection. He’s got a couple of ’54 Strats that are just amazing. To some people, the first year of production for Strats is like the holy grail. Stephen plays two of them on the road. All the stuff that people pay tons of money for, he’s got it.
“But he liked my guitars – he checked ‘em out. Fender made two models for us with a new design, where the fretboard is inlaid into the neck rather than just glued on top. They gave me a prototype to try out, but I let Stephen try it out and he didn’t want to give it back. [Laughs] So Fender decided to let him keep it, and they ended up making another one for me.
“I had the Custom Shop make a Strat for me last Septmeber for the tour. It was kind of an orange sparkle – pretty flashy. At first, Stephen was giving me crap about how flashy the guitar was, but two days later he said, ‘Do you think they can make one of those guitars for me?’” [Laughs]