Buddy Holly’s Stratocaster

During the all-too-brief career of Buddy Holly, he did much to change the world of popular music and create the sound known as rock and roll. One of his most innovative actions came in the form of choosing a Fender Stratocaster as his stage and recording guitar. He was the first rock and roller to do so, and through this decision, Holly influenced many guitarists who would come after him including The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Don McLean and Bob Dylan. Rolling Stone Magazine ranks Holly as one of their “Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time.”

Buddy was born Charles Hardin Holley to a musical family in Lubbock, Texas. He learned to play guitar, violin and piano as a youngster and was always called Buddy at home. As a teenager, he teamed up with his friend Bob Montgomery and the two played and sang at local events and talent shows all around their hometown.

When Buddy saw Elvis Presley perform in 1955, he began to add some rockabilly stylings to his music and his signature rock and roll sound evolved. In 1956, he signed a contract with Decca Records who mistakenly spelled his last name without an ‘e.’ Buddy adopted Holly as his stage name and formed a band known as the Crickets. His group was one of the first to write, arrange and perform its own music.

In 1957, Buddy appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show playing a Fender Stratocaster with a maple neck. Although the instruments had been in production for three years, their popularity exploded after Holly’s performance. When The Crickets’ ’57 album was released, which pictured Buddy holding a sunburst Strat, more musicians began to explore the brand.

One of Holly’s early Strats was stolen from the Crickets’ van when the group stopped for lunch in East St. Louis Missouri in 1958. Manny’s music store in New York City shipped a new one to him in July of 1958, and it was the one he was playing on tour when he was killed in a tragic plane crash less than a year later.

Holly’s final Strat was a ’58 three-toned sunburst model. It had a body made of alder and a slim neck that measured .84” at the first fret and .992” at the twelfth. The guitar was recently cleaned and restored in preparation for its entrance into permanent display at the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock. During the years since Holly’s death, the instrument had been handled by dozens of adoring fans who visited Buddy’s parents in their home. It had also been borrowed by the Dallas Hard Rock Café for a couple of years, and had accumulated a layer of grime.

John Page, head of the Fender Custom Shop cautiously restored the Strat, but found it was basically in very good condition. Page was careful to keep the setup just the way Holly liked it. ”All I did was let the guitar show itself, and re-emerge from the dirt and grime,” says Page. “There was very little impact on the instrument itself.” After a thorough cleaning and polishing which took more than twelve hours, the famous Stratocaster was ready to impress thousands of Buddy Holly fans.

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