Bonnie Raitt’s Signature Stratocaster

Bonnie Raitt is the only female in Fender’s long list of artists who have been honored with a signature Stratocaster created to their personal specifications. This blues-playing California gal is unique in several other respects, as well.

Bonnie was born to a musical family. Her father was a noted Broadway performer (John Raitt) with starring roles in musicals like Pajama Game. Her mother was a singer and pianist. She was raised as a Quaker in southern California and was often called upon by her parents to sing for friends and family members. When she was eight, she received her first guitar (a Stella) for a Christmas gift and she took to it at once.

Bonnie says she played guitar through her school years and at summer camp, even though none of her girlfriends was similarly inclined. When she was about 14 she heard the album Blues at Newport 1963, and became fascinated with the sound of the blues in general and slide guitar in particular. She always considered music to be merely a hobby, however, and when she left home to attend Harvard’s Radcliffe College in 1967, she pursued majors in African Studies and Social Relations. She wanted to go to Tanzania and help in the creation of a new democratic/socialist government there that would try to undo the damage done to its culture by Western colonization.

She never fulfilled this dream, however, because as a freshman student she met Dick Waterman, a noted blues producer. He became her mentor and encouraged her to improve her slide guitar skills. He arranged for her to meet many prominent blues musicians and she performed with them in clubs around Boston, playing R & B and folk tunes as well as the blues.

By 1971, Bonnie had dropped out of school and news of her talent had spread. Warner Brothers signed her to a record deal and her first self-titled album came out that year. It featured some classic blues tunes by the likes of Robert Johnson as well as some more contemporary works and several pieces she wrote herself.

From there, her career had several ups and downs. She won three Grammy nominations in the 80s but was also struggling with alcohol and drug problems. Bonnie moved from Warner Brothers to Capital Records and toured extensively. She devoted herself to many political causes whenever she was not on the road including nuclear disarmament, women’s rights, environmental protection, and anti-apartheid efforts. By 1990, she was clean and sober and won four Grammy Awards, three of which were for her album Nick of Time.

Throughout her career, Bonnie favored Fender Stratocasters. In 1995, her signature Strat came out. It features a lightweight solid alder body, a narrower-than-average neck and a large, 70’s style head. The neck is made from light rosewood and maple with a satin finish. The 22 frets are medium Jumbo. It also has Seymour Duncan Texas Hot Strat pickups. The bridge is a vintage tremolo. It has a five-way selector as well as volume and tone controls.

Ever true to her activist leanings, Raitt donated a portion of all the sales of her signature model to a program dedicated to providing guitars for at-risk youth, especially girls. Working through the Boys and Girls Clubs, Bonnie and Fender have provided guitars and lessons to hundreds of inner-city children.

In 2000, Fender discontinued the Bonnie Raitt model and it is now highly desired by collectors. Bonnie often plays one herself as she continues to tour and join with her friends to support causes she believes in.

If you love the blues and want to improve your skills as a guitarist, you might want to consider a comprehensive set of guitar lessons like Learn and Master Guitar or Guitar Tricks. The first is a DVD-based home study course and the second provides online instruction. Both courses will help you fill in any gaps in your knowledge of guitar technique and theory, and can give you the motivation you need to play like Bonnie.