David Gilmour is widely associated with the Stratocaster. For many, the Candy Apple Red V57 is perhaps the most iconic. Especially of the post-Waters era of the 80s and 90s. In this feature we’ll look at the technical details and history of the guitar.
In early 1984, David and his long-time technician Phil Taylor, visited the Fender Warehouse in Einfield, Middlesex, UK and tried a bunch of the new reissue guitars from the Fender Fullerton. This was just prior to David heading out on the About Face tour and apparently, he didn’t want to bring his old guitars as they now started to rise in value (International Musician August 1984).
They ended up with at least seven guitars, including the candy apple red V57, a vintage white V57 Stratocaster (referred to as Cream #1 – main guitar on the 1984 About Face tour and first half of the 1987-90 Momentary Lapse of Reason tour), a fiesta red V62 Stratocaster (used extensively on the 1984 About Face tour and later performances in 1985-86) and a butterscotch V52 Telecaster.
David also acquired some lesser known guitars from the same batch, including a sunburst V57 Stratocaster (used on Live Aid 1985), a black Elite Stratocaster (heavily modified with Khaler tremolo system and Charvel 22 fret birds eye maple neck as a backup for the Black Strat) and a black V57 Stratocaster (later fitted with Kinman HX pickups and used by Tim Renwick on the 1994 Division Bell tour, Phil Manzanera on the 2006 On and Island tour and John Carin on the 2015-16 Rattle That Lock tour).
Fender 1982-85 American Vintage Reissue series
By the early 80s Fender began to realise that the 70s had been disastrous for the company. Other guitar companies were starting to make copies of the Fender guitars that were superior to their own, which obviously was not good for business.
The new line of vintage reissues were starting to appear in late 1982, although not fully realised and distributed until late 1983. The line ran up to 1985, when CBS pulled out of Fender. The vintage reissue project became the forerunner to the later Fender Custom Shop.
All guitars were faithful to the originals, with original body and neck contours, nitro lacquer and vintage style hardware and pickups. The only obvious upgrade on the Stratocaster, was the 5-way pickup selector. According to project manager Dan Smith, the reason for making 57 Strats and not 54 or 56, was basically because 57 seemed to have been a defining year in American art and pop culture.
David Gilmour’s #1 red
David Gilmour’s Candy Apple Red Stratocaster is often listed as 1984 (including the original paperwork for the purchase), although a late 1983 would probably be more accurate, given that the guitar was purchased in the UK (it had to be shipped from the States) in January 1984.
Upon purchase, the guitar sported a 1950s contoured candy apple red nitro lacquered alder body, a 7.25” C-shaped nitro lacquered vintage tint maple neck, 8 hole 1 ply white pickguard, white pickup covers and control knobs and 50s era pickups.
The guitar is first spotted on a promotional shot for About Face in March 1984. The picture shows the guitar prior to any modifications.
June – July 1985, original pickups and tone controls replaced with EMG SA single coils and SPC and EXG active tone controls. By now the guitar also sported David’s custom 4.25” tremolo arm.
October – November 1985, the guitar is fitted with a Dive Bomber Tremolo Upgrade system for better tuning stability. It’s a kit featuring a graphite nut and string trees, saddles with roller nuts and high quality springs. The system was soon removed.
February 1988, during Pink Floyd touring dates in Sydney, Australia, guitar technician Greg Fryer performs repairs and modifications including maintenance on the frets and nut and carving out the cavity of the guitar to be able to lower the EMG pickups even more.
EMG SA pickups
EMG had been making active noiseless pickups since the late 70s. The SA single coils (Single coil Alnico magnets) feature alnico 5 magnets, internal shielding, a low impedance preamp and 9V battery powering.
According to David Gilmour, the reason for installing the SA pickups in his new V57 Stratocasters (both the red and the vintage white), was to reduce or eliminate noise. Passive single coils and long cable runs were constantly picking up RF noise and hum from the ever growing light rigs and often, a recording studio was no better.
Active pickups will also drive the signal through large pedal and amp rigs, which certainly must have been a reason for David to use them.
Soundwise, the SAs are very similar to early Fender pickups and the 60s era in particular, with a tad more mid range and compression due to the slightly higher output.
While EMG recommends placing the pickups close to the strings, David preferred them as low as possible to emulate the output and tone of his passive single coils.
David also installed EMG active tone controls, the SPC boosting the lower mid range (400-500Hz) and the EXG, boosting the bass and treble frequencies.
David seems to have kept the EXG control low or flat for most of his tones, while the SPC was often boosted slightly for solos in particular, anything between 2-7, allowing the tones to both cut through and sustain. For clean tones and milder overdrive, he seems to have kept the tone controls off or flat, occasionally boosting the SPC slightly.
Surely, David would adjust the tone controls based on what he needed right then and there, depending on how the guitar sounded in the particular venue or studio.
By 2005 and the recording and touring of On an Island, David went back to his Black Strat favouring both its performance and tone, commenting that the EMGs “didn’t sound quite as “Stratty” in some ways”. (Guitarist 2006)
The candy apple red V57 made its stage debut July 13 1985 at Live Aid at London’s Wembley Stadium. David played guitar with Bryan Ferry and started out with the 1984 sunburst V57, which failed during the first song. In the middle of Ferry’s Sensation, David is seen swapping the sunburst with the red, which he used for the remainder of the short set. The red now sported the EMG pickups and tone controls and David’s custom shortened tremolo arm.
The red was used extensively during the 1986-87 recording sessions for Pink Floyd’s next album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason, alongside a wide range of different guitars, including a Steinberger GL 3T.
David would use different guitars during the first leg of the subsequent tour, favouring in particular the 1984 V57 blonde Stratocaster, also sporting EMG pickups and the shortened tremolo arm, and a 1981 Charvel Glendora, modified with an EMG H humbucker and shortened tremolo arm.
By early 1988, as the Pink Floyd tour continued, the red became David’s guitar of choice and remained as his primary recording and touring instrument until 2005.
The guitar was used extensively throughout the 90s on several guest appearances and perhaps more notably, on the 1994 Division Bell album and tour, including the Pulse live album and DVD. For the tour, David wanted a second red V57 as a back up for his #1. They managed to track down an identical guitar in Charlie Chandlers guitar store right outside London. Apparently, this was the same guitar David had his eyes on back in 1984 but Mick Ralphs beat him to it. Mick was of course David’s rhythm guitarist on the About Face tour.
David used the red for a performance of Sorrow at the Fender Stratocaster 50th anniversary show September 24 2004 at London’s Wembley arena (released on the Strat Pack – Live in Concert DVD 2005).
On July 2 2005 Pink Floyd reunited for a last time at the Live 8 concert in London’s Hyde Park. David is seen using the red during rehearsals but favoured the Black Strat for the actual performance. Although the red would be employed for the 2006 On an Island recording sessions and tour, Live 8 marks the return of the classic Black and semi-retirement of the red.
The red V57 was displayed at the 2003-04 Interstellar Exhibition and at the Their Mortal Remains exhibition in 2017.
The guitar was auctioned at the 2019 David Gilmour Christie’s auction fetching USD 650.000.
It is not documented whether David still own the second red V57 purchased in 1993.
“The Strat Chronicles” by Tom Wheeler, International Musician (1984), Guitar Player Magazine (1984), Guitarist (2006), Vintage Guitar Magazine (2004), The Black Strat – A history of David Gilmour’s black Fender Stratocaster by Phil Taylor, The David Gilmour guitar collection Christie’s Catalog (June 2019), Kit Rae’s David Gilmour tone building site, EMG.com and fryerguitars.com