60 DAYS OF STRAT: Few Strat players are as iconic as Hank Marvin – it’s hard to picture him without also seeing in your mind’s eye a Fiesta Red Strat with a maple fingerboard and gold-plated fittings, the guitar with which he made his name in The Shadows.
It’s a guitar that seemed electrifyingly modern in drab, post-war Britain, and in fact, it was the first example of Leo Fender’s contoured masterpiece to enter the country. It’s testament to the Strat’s adaptability that Hank’s still relying on the design decades later – and over the years, several other Strats have passed through the hands of this hugely influential player.
As Hank prepares to cut a new album, we caught up with him to chat about the ‘significant other’ Strats that he’s used on landmark recordings over the years, plus detailed insights into the Strat setup and component mods that he favours...
So, that first Fiesta Red Strat. How did you come by it?
“That first Strat made an appearance in 1959. My Antoria had a horribly bent neck, so Cliff wanted to buy me a good guitar. We decided that the Fender was the way to go, because we’d seen Buddy Holly with one on the Crickets album cover, and it was pretty cool.
"It was great looking, and we liked the sound of it, and we’d heard that James Burton used a Fender, so we got a catalogue from the States. We could see that Buddy’s guitar was the Stratocaster and as that was their top-of-the-range model, we assumed that James Burton would also have one. For some reason, we always thought it was called Flamingo Pink. But apparently they never had any such colour; it was Fiesta Red – anyway, we ordered that in what was pretty much the top-of- the-range specification.”
Its arrival must have been exciting?
“Very! It came in a tweed Fender case with the red plush lining and this magnificent-looking thing was just lying inside. It was like something from space, really, it was so futuristic in its design. The three pickups, the white scratchplate, the red guitar, the beautiful birdseye maple neck and all the gold plating, it just looked sensational. We just looked at it for a while, then took it out of the case, tuned it up and played it. Unfortunately, the strings were really heavy; I was told back in the 70s that they were sent out then with 0.013 to 0.056 gauge or something like that, with a 0.026 wound third, so they were much heavier than I was used to. I found it difficult to adjust to the effort.”
So did you have to adapt your style of playing as a result?
“Undoubtedly – but the tremolo arm was great, because I found it helped me in different ways. The second string you could bend but probably only half a step, but I could bend it up with my left hand and pull it up a bit more with the whammy bar. The other thing was I could get vibrato on the strings, which I’ve always enjoyed in other instruments, to make it sort of say more. I could hit a note and dip it down or hit it under pitch and let it come up, just little things – and, of course, I loved giving it a good old shake.
"You know that trick where you push the second string up against the first and give the bar this wild shake, like the beginning of Man Of Mystery? Things like that were fun to do, and they were different. So, clearly, the guitar itself and the fact that it had the vibrato bar helped me to develop a style that wouldn’t have happened without that. Also, the guitar itself, the sound, the shape of it with the contoured body was very comfortable, and it’s not a heavy instrument. So therefore you could swing it around a little bit for posing and leaping about. It lent itself very much to the visual aspect of rock ’n’ roll.”