The coveted electric guitars from Fender's 'golden age' of 1946 – 1970 are what its reputation is built on. There's a reason guitars from this era fetch thousands but for the heroes who emerged in that time, the Stratocaster and Telecaster were two of the obvious choices to aspire to play.
By fate, accident or design their guitars became part of their legends. From Clapton's 'Blackie' Strat , Keef's 'Micawber' Tele to Nile Rodgers' 'Hitmaker', here are 11 players, guitars and tones that are truly golden.
1. Good Times – Nile Rodgers, Chic (Risqué, 1979)
This mother of all disco anthems is driven by guitarist and producer Nile Rodgers; he wrote the song early one morning and the late, great Bernard Edwards' classic walking bassline that would later be famously sampled by The Sugarhill Gang.
It was recorded in one take, and for Nile’s ultra-clean choppy guitar rhythm hook there was only one guitar it could ever be: the winning combination maple ’59 neck and unusually light refinished white alder body that is the ‘Hitmaker’ Strat, through a DI box.
2. Message In A Bottle – Andy Summers, The Police (Reggatta De Blanc, 1979)
1961 Telecaster Custom
Andy Summers bought his main Tele, modded with its neck humbucker, mini-toggle phase switch and in-built preamp from one of his own guitar students. Using an Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress for shimmery flange-meets chorus effect, he created an arpeggiated classic, with wonderful volume swells on the chorus.
3. Wonderful Land – Hank Marvin, The Shadows (single, 1962)
A hero to guitar heroes, anyone who mistakes Hank Marvin's playing for ‘simplistic’ or his clean sound as and ‘basic’ needs to listen here. Basic? On Wonderful Land, hear how he conjures the tone from picking by the neck of his ‘Flamingo Pink’ (according to Hank himself) Strat, and how each note is how each note is perfectly executed.
Oh, and there’s that muted bridge section, fuelled by Hank’s signature tripping echo into a Vox… wonderful indeed.
4. Reelin' In The Years – Elliot Randall (Can't Buy A Thrill, 1972)
Randall used the 1960s Gibson PAF humbucker for this performance, installed in the bridge of his Strat. It sounds a little fuzzy, but there are no pedals. Instead, Randall simply cranked the volume on his Ampeg SVT, mic’d with an AKG C414.
Incredibly, his whole performance was captured in just one take; the ’Dan know what they’re doing when choosing session men.
5. Sultans Of Swing – Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits, 1978)
The song that hosts one of the greatest Strat clean tones of all time had its genesis on an acoustic guitar, but the arrival of the Fiesta Red ’61 in Mark Knopfler’s life changed it forever.
His unique fingerstyle in the outro solo that draws on elements of country and banjo techniques is also a huge part of the intimacy of the tone here.
The balance of space and detail in Knopfler’s playing nods clearly to his Americana influences - indeed it was originally written in open tuning on a National Steel guitar that would later become synonymous with the band for 1985’s Brothers In Arms.
“It’s just a Fender Twin and the Strat,” Knopfler told Guitar World, “with its three-way selector switch jammed into a middle position that gives it its sound, and I think there were quite a few five-way switches installed as a result of that song.”
6. Candy's Room – Bruce Springsteen (Darkness On The Edge Of Town, 1978)
1953 / 1954 Fender Esquire
The Boss’s butterscotch blonde Esquire has become intrinsically linked to him, with its most famous appearance on the cover of Born To Run. The addition of a pickup in the neck means it’s often mistaken for a Telecaster, though some inconsistencies with Esquires suggests it may be more of a mongrel. Whatever it is, the pairing sounds searing on this solo.
7. Misirlou – Dick Dale (Surfer's Choice, 1972)
When Leo Fender himself sends you a guitar, then tells you to ‘beat it to death’, you oblige. And the left-handed Strat Dale named ‘The Beast’ lives up to its name on this hot-rodding of the traditional Mediterranean folk song. Heavy strings, spring reverb and a Fender Dual Showman (an amp Dale helped Leo develop) played loud helped…
8. Brown Sugar – Keith Richards, The Rolling Stones (Live Licks, 2004)
Given to him as a 27th birthday present by Eric Clapton, Keef’s best-known guitar is named ‘Micawber’, after a Dickens character.
His low-slung butterscotch blonde Tele is tuned to the Stone’s trademark open G, with the sixth string removed. The Gibson PAF humbucker was fitted in the neck position in the '70s.
9. Down Down – Francis Rossi, Status Quo (On The Level, 1975)
1957 Fender Telecaster
The British 12-bar boogie masters are at their best here, and Rossi’s Tele had over 50 years of loyal service notched up before its sale at auction last year.
Originally Sunburst, it was reborn in green after Rossi sanded it down, repainted it black, then quickly switched again. No respecter of vintage value, he also converted it to having three Lace Sensor Strat pickups before retiring it.
10. Wonderful Tonight – Eric Clapton (Slowhand, 1977)
1956 / 1957 Stratocaster
Clapton’s ‘Blackie’ Strat is one of the most famous guitars of all time; it was Clapton’s main guitar for nine years, and also ended up selling in a charity auction for $959,500 in 2004.
Made up of the best parts of six '50s Strats Clapton bought in Nashville when he switched from Gibson in 1970, it’s in a sublime place here on the neck pickup.
11. Desert Rose – Eric Johnson (Ah Via Musicom, 1990)
Cliffs Of Dover gets the limelight, but that saw his 1963 Gibson ES-335 share the duties. Here his 'Virginia' Strat (a guitar made the year he was born) shines and just in case we're in any doubt of his masterful talent, see above how Johnson delivers the nuance and fire while holding down a lead vocal performance.
Johnson himself has admitted he was pushing himself as hard as he could on his second album and the results speak for themselves. Violin-esque tones abound from his Strat in the sublime solo phrasing, along with atmospheric shimmery chordwork.
Johnson's studio rig was relatively straightforward for the album. In addition to his two guitars he had a Maestro EP-3 Echoplex, Paul C’s/Chandler Tube Driver and a 100-watt Marshall half stack.
Check out the story of the Virginia Strat below – including the unusual sassafras wood it's made from that affects its sustain.