No electric guitar is more iconic than the Fender Stratocaster. Buddy Holly played one. Jimi Hendrix played one. Bob Dylan “went electric” in 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival. Eric Clapton has a signature model. The Edge from U2 plays one. The list goes on and on. Even famous guitar players who aren’t famous for playing Strats have probably picked one up for a while.
The unmistakable design, with its thin, solid body, asymmetrical curves, 21-fret neck and triple pickups, has been around since Leo Fender created it in 1954.
Fender sells many, many different versions of the Strat, for amateurs, pros, rock stars, rich folks, and folks on a budget. But among the most coveted Fender instruments are those that come from the company’s Custom Shop in Corona, California, where a small group of “Master Builders” creates masterpieces.
Fender invited me to check out one the most recent examples, a collaboration with Jose Cuervo, the tequila company. Even by the elevated standards of Custom Shop Strats, this guitar was special — and a challenging project for Master Builder Paul Waller.
The wood that was used came from the agave plant, from whence all tequila comes. It was tricky to work with, but Waller was up to the task.
That's Waller. He became a Master Builder in 2010. He's done guitars for Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, as well as blues legend Buddy Guy.
According to Waller, the hardest thing about what would become the 'Cuervo X Strategist' was the extreme softness of the wood. He had been prepared for this, but it wasn't until he got down to work that he learned just HOW soft agave was.
He persevered, however, and eventually created two Cuervo Strats. The end result really is all about the unique visuals of the wood: it's a monotone guitar with abundant, subtle surface detail.
The finished product evokes a 1956 Strat and features some cool lipstick chromed pickups, which Waller said unify the overall look of the guitar.
Cuervo and Fender debuted the Strat in New York City with a performance by Young the Giant. Guitarist Jacob Tilley handled the new Strat and noted its light weight. He seemed to bond with the guitar right away.
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