1961 Sea Foam Green Fender Strat That Changed My Life

I’m fortunate enough to have collected a lot of guitars over the years. Not a LOT, like some guys I know, but around 70. My motto is, if it sounds good, don’t sell it. You may not use it for an entire year but one day it will be the perfect guitar for the recording session or live performance booked that day.
I was a serious “Gibson Guy” for most of the 70’s, playing a ES-175 hollow body for my jazz years and switching to an ES-335 when Larry Carlton exploded on the session scene. I even had a Strat made by a local builder named Dale Fortune with a shorter, Gibson scale neck. Allan Holdsworth offered to buy that guitar from me because it made his impossible finger stretching chords easier. Great guitar but it didn’t sound like a Strat.
I don’t remember what inspired me to switch over to Fender Stratocasters but it was probably the sound. And I don’t remember struggling with the longer scale length when I borrowed John Goux’s 1958 hard tail (no vibrato bar) guitar for an entire year. Then in 1984 a dear friend and guitarist named Jeff Taylor with whom I’d played with in my late teens said, “I want you to have this.” It was a sea foam green 1961 Strat that he was literally giving me, back in the pre-vintage high value years. I insisted on giving him $500.00 and it immediately became my #1 guitar.
This was in the days when Joe Satriani had his big radio hit, so Strat-style guitars with Floyd Rose bridges and humbuckers in the rear position were all the rage. Van Halen’s “1984” album was released and that was the sound everybody wanted. But something about that ’61 Strat kept me coming back to it and at the end of the 80’s I had a revelation: The CVB was doing a record release concert at a big Hollywood venue called Billboard Live. At sound check a stage hand stepped on the AC power cable to my massive Bob Bradshaw effects rack and wiped out all the programs that were stored sequentially for the entire show. In absolute horror I grabbed a few pedals out of my car and played the ’61 Strat through a backline Fender Twin amp that the club stored back stage, and much to my surprise a number of people said, “What a great tone! You’ve never sounded better!”
That revelation caused me to rethink my entire concept of tone. I even wrote an article for Vintage Guitar magazine a few years later defending my new philosophy: Strat players using single coil pickups have a more personal tone than the modern day crop of guys using a powerful humbucker through a high gain amp. Sure, there have been many amazing humbucker tones over the years. Dicky Betts from The Allman Bros comes to mind along with Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield and Albert King. But you can instantly recognize the Strat guys like Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughn and many others. My theory is that they have to jump through a few more hoops with amp settings, pedals and tone adjustments to get a fat, saturated distortion sound and that translates into a personal sound unique to them.
This past weekend I pulled out the 1961 sea foam green Strat for a sold out show here in LA. I had semi-retired it after LsL made my signature CV Special based on the exact weight, neck size and pickup output of the ’61. It became too valuable to take on the road so I rested it for a while. But playing it on stage brought back a few memory flashes like- hey! this is the guitar I used on the album to RECORD this song!
I promise not to let any guitar in my possession languish for too long. I’m even gonna pull out the Flying V I used on “Crime of the Century” on the last 3 Suprtramp tours for a few dates in Seattle next week…