Fender Deluxe American Standard Stratocaster

Year: 1989
Finish: Dakota Red
Origin: USA
Acquired: 1990
Mods: Bone nut
Still owned: Yes

The Story:
When I first learned to play, I had my heart set on getting a Fender Stratocaster. Fate had other plans and I wound up getting a Gibson Les Paul instead – basically the opposite of a Strat. That didn’t stop me from still wanting a Fender, though, and during my first year of college, I became friends with a guy named Mike Hartnett. Mike was a great bassist and guitarist with some really cool gear (his Rickenbacker 4003 and Steinberger L basses are the only ones I’ve had the pleasure to play) and, for whatever reason, he traded his beloved Gibson 335 for a red Strat over the holiday break. When he brought it back to school, something about it bugged him. After some discussion, we figured out what the problem was: the guitar was red. I would have thought that Mike – who, I might add, is now a teacher – was bright enough to notice that it was red, you know, before he bought it. But while he liked its modern Claptonesque vibe at first, it soon became a source of annoyance and he really wanted to trade it for something less flashy. “If I play this guitar in the bars back home, they’ll kill me,” he said. “Think Blues Brothers. Think chicken wire. That’s where I play. I need something brown.” So, after a really awkward phone call to my Mom (who pointed out that I’d just bought an expensive guitar), I managed to float a loan and pay Mike $500 (which was a few hundred less than he paid just months prior) so he could go to the local store and get a Gibson SG that better suited his personality. “I don’t want to make a profit,” Mike said. “I just want a guitar that’s right for me.” In retrospect I think Mike’s attitude toward guitar trading rubbed off on me; I feel good knowing that when I sell a guitar, it’s going to a good home, and I don’t worry about the actual value as much as I should. I was fortunate to get a few good deals really early so I like giving other people that good-deal feeling too; it’s just good karma to keep passing that along. I also feel strongly that some guitars just fit you and others don’t speak your language. This Strat fit me and wasn’t Mike’s size. Or color. (Yes, I paid my parents back over the summer. I think.)

For 20 years I thought this was a Strat Plus. The body definitely is up to Strat Plus spec; it’s got the updated trem, three gold Lace Sensors, and the TBX tone control, with the detent in the middle. But the neck should have Sperzel tuners and a roller nut, and it doesn’t — which were crucial elements of the Plus. Turns out Jeff at xhefriguitars.com knows more about Strat Pluses than anyone I can think of, and he says it’s a Deluxe American Standard Stratocaster — probably made a few months before the Strat Plus was introduced, and only in production for a year between 1989 and 1990. So depending on how you want to look at it, it’s either an American Standard with upgraded electronics, or Strat Plus from the neck down. In any case, it’s pretty close to Clapton’s signature model of the era, which always made me feel good, no matter its origin.

This is the instrument that started my love affair with candy-colored guitars, and of Fender guitars in general. I still use it often; I love it and I don’t see a reason to mess with a good thing with lots of mods (though I did briefly swap in a fancier scratchplate and knobs, but ultimately went back to the classic flat look). In college, Kat learned how to make friendship bracelets out of embroidery floss (as was the vogue activity of the day) and she made me one in rainbow colors. I wrapped it behind the nut and stayed there for more than a decade. The finish is actually a lighter color/less yellowed where it sits — like a tan line!