There are a handful of guitars that have shaped the sound of rock music, and indeed the course of rock history, with their distinctive tones. David Gilmour’s legendary “Black Strat” ranks high among this select company of instruments. This was the ax that the Pink Floyd guitarist wielded on Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall, and on all three of his solo studio albums. The guitar was also with him at London’s Hyde Park for Pink Floyd’s 2005 reunion at Live 8.
Now aspiring David Gilmours everywhere can own a piece of the legend. Fender’s new David Gilmour Signature Series Stratocaster was carefully modeled after the original Black Strat. As usual with Fender Signature models, there will be a high-end, so-close-it’s-a-forgery Relic version of the instrument and a more affordable N.O.S. (New Old Stock) version.
The Strat was nothing special when Gilmour purchased it at Manny’s Music in New York in 1970, just an off-the-shelf late- Sixties Stratocaster. Gilmour bought it in a hurry to replace a Strat that had been stolen during a Pink Floyd U.S. tour. The guitar originally had a Sunburst finish, but it had been oversprayed with black paint at the factory as a custom finish. The Relic version of the Gilmour Signature Strat reproduces even this detail—the alder body features black lacquer sprayed over a three-color Sunburst finish. The N.O.S. version has simply a black nitrocellulose lacquer finish sprayed on an alder body.
Because the guitar was neither rare nor collectible when Gilmour bought it, he made it his “bodge-up guitar”—the instrument he’d experiment on by changing pickups and necks and drilling holes to add bits of circuitry that were later discarded. “The guitar was never treated with any reverence at all. It was just a working tool,” says longtime Gilmour guitar tech Phil Taylor, who worked closely with Fender to create the David Gilmour Signature Series Stratocaster. But because it was also a working tool, it was the guitar most likely to be in Gilmour’s hands when Pink Floyd were making history. The Black Strat first went into service on Pink Floyd’s 1970 album Atom Heart Mother and remained in heavy use throughout the group’s Seventies heyday. It is the guitar Gilmour played on the classic Floyd instrumental “Echoes” and for two of the three solos in “Money.” And this is the guitar that played what many fans regard as Gilmour’s greatest solo ever, the one in “Comfortably Numb.”
The Black Strat spent the years from 1983 to 1993 enshrined in display cases at various Hard Rock Cafe locations. When Gilmour took possession of it again in ’93, he outfitted it with a Fender ’57 Reissue Vintage Strat neck, which is the neck style used on the Gilmour Signature Strat as well. When the guitar made a high-profile return to the limelight at the Live 8 Pink Floyd reunion show, interest in Pink Floyd and the Black Strat reached a new level, and Fender got to work replicating the historic instrument as the David Gilmour Signature Strat.
The signature model reflects all the custom mods Gilmour implemented over the years, down to the shortened vintage vibrato arm that’s a key part of his technique. The historic process of replicating the guitar has been well documented: Phil Taylor published his own book, The Black Strat, based on research he did as part of the Fender project, and the folks at Fender have produced their own DVD that traces the full evolution of the David Gilmour Signature Stratocaster. A copy of Taylor’s book will be included with every Fender David Gilmour Signature Stratocaster, along with the three-disc version of Gilmour’s recently released concert extravaganza Live in Gdansk. (Guitar World published a full report on the Taylor book in the January 2008 issue.)
Look for an exclusive video on the making of the Black Strat replica, featuring Gilmour and Phil Taylor, on the CD-RO M that will accompany the March issue of Guitar World