The day I played a $40,000 guitar

I think I can safely say that for the most part, the bad rap that the staff at Swee Lee get for being unhelpful, unaccommodating and downright surly is for the most part unfair – at least with me, but then it also helps if you don’t go asking them if you can  ‘play that $40,000 Fender’ during the peak hours on a Saturday, or if you look like a penniless student (which I don’t).  It also helps if you have a fine English accent which sounds as if you’re monied (even if you’re not) and you don’t say ‘eh boss, try that guitar can mah?’.

Yesterday, an extremely nice young Malay gentleman allowed me to handle and play a Fender Custom Shop ‘Blackie’ Tribute Stratocaster – the one with all the knocks and beats that has been hand-reliced to be an exact replica of Clapton’s #1 and most famous Strat – the dubiously named ‘Blackie’. You can see one here.

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The tagline at the Fender website claims ‘One of the world’s most coveted guitars, One of the most fantastic recreations ever’. Something like 200 of them were made at an RRP of $25,000 USD. Swee Lee were offering theirs for SGD $40,000 (with a 10% discount) so not too far off the mark. No doubt one could have picked one up at a greater discount than this upon their launch, but that is largely by the by since I only considered buying it for about 3 nanoseconds before realizing that I had no means of paying for it. My combined credit limit on my cards fell about 10 Grand short and I couldn’t see myself standing in front of the ATM pulling out wads of $50 notes for 2 hours.  Did make me wonder how one would go about paying for such a thing if they were really serious. Oh, and of course there would have been the difficulty of explaining to the wife why the children were no longer going to college when they were older…

Anyway, this was the first time I had played one of these recreations that have been all the rage recently – personally I prefer new guitars and think this fad of taking a perfectly good guitar then beating the shit out of it so it looks worn in is a bit daft; of course I appreciate that this is a bit different but, meh…  it just didn’t push my buttons…

I can see why someone might want one of these if they were a big Clapton fan. I can see why someone might conceivably think this might be a good investment that they could make money on (frankly I don’t think these will appreciate a whole lot). Playing the thing though is a bit of a different matter – while the guitar had a nice jangly and discrete-noted feel in the neck position and plenty of Strat ‘quack’ in the full treble with some nice in-betwen sounds (5-position selector) at then end of the day it’s an unremarkable, if faithful Strat sound. The neck, while well worn in, felt sticky in the places where the lacquer had been deliberately removed to replicate Clapton’s finger wear and I never quite felt that it was a comfortable player. Honestly, the ‘new’ neck on my Strat Deluxe with the rolled edges felt much nicer. I also noticed that there was not block of wood behind the tremolo (maybe some kid stole it when he asked to try it out) but I was under the distinct impression that there should have been one to facilitate Clapton’s famed bends. As it was, the trem springs extended on bending and frankly the bent note targeting wasn’t as sharp as I expected.

Presumably owners of these won’t end up playing them at pub gigs on Saturday nights down the Dog & Duck, perhaps taking them out of the case now and again to impress friends now and again. The relicing itself looked very artificial in places (not as crap as the Rory Gallagher by any stretch though) particularly on the back. Of course, I’ve never seen the real Blackie, but a lot of those belt-buckle marks on the rear of the body looked all the same age – I’d expect more for $40 Grand. Still, having subsequently played the SRV ‘Lenny’ tribute ( a snip at $SGD 25,000) I have decided firmly that the relicing and tribute models fad is really not for me (I wonder if the Yngwie tribute will change my mind, seeing as I’m much more fanatical about him) and that at the end of the day, I like my guitars to be new, without anyone else’s grubby paws having ever been near them. Even Eric Clapton’s.

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