David Gilmour’s black Stratocaster is undoubtedly one of the most iconic guitars in rock history. It’s been featured on some the biggest selling albums of all time, including Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, and guitarists around the world are making their own replicas, eager to capture the Black Strat look and tone.
I started researching the Black Strat in the late 90s. The internet was still in its infancy and it was hard to find any information on David Gilmour’s guitars and gear. The information that was out there, on the internet and in magazines, was often vague and conflicting.
At this point, the Black Strat was far from being the legend it is today. It was just a black Stratocaster and discussions among fans evolved around whether or not David had one or several black Stratocasters in the 70s due to the many modifications that we now are aware of.
It was not until 2006 and the release of David’s On an Island album, that Phil Taylor, David’s long time technician, would confirm in an online Q&A that the guitar David played on Live at Pompeii was the same guitar he used on Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, The Wall and, at the time current, On an Island.
I got to see Pink Floyd perform at the Live 8 show in Hyde Park, London, in July 2005. I remember standing in the middle of the huge crowd and just being in awe of the sight. David Gilmour was playing the Black Strat. It had returned after years in hiatus and I’m not sure whether I was more excited about seeing the guitar or Pink Floyd back together.
The Black Strat has been covered in detail in Phil Taylor’s book The Black Strat – A History of David Gilmour’s Black Fender Stratocaster and Christie’s The David Gilmour Guitar Collection catalog. I will cover the guitar’s technical details and basic time-line in this feature.
The Black Strat original specifications 1970
- Fender 1968-69 alder body with black finish painted over the original sunburst finish
- Fender late 60s maple neck with large headstock and 21 frets
- Fender late 60s single coil pickups
- Fender F-style tuning machines
- 3-ply white pickguard
- 3-way pickup selector
- Fender synchronised tremolo bridge with normal size arm
The Black Strat specifications 2006 – present
- Fender 1969 alder body with black finish repainted over the original sunburst finish
- Fender 1983 57 reissue maple neck with 7.25” radius fingerboard, 21 vintage style frets and Gotho vintage style tuning machines
- 1-ply .120” beveled black acrylic 11 hole pickguard
- Fender neck and middle pickups dated 1971 (installed the whole pickguard assembly from a 1971 bullet truss rod Strat in June 1973) and a Seymour Duncan custom wound SSL-1C bridge pickup (installed late 1979)
- Fender synchronised tremolo bridge (the original bridge re-fitted in 1997)
- 5-way pickup selector (replacing the original 3-way in 1985)
- Custom mini-toggle switch on the pickguard for neck/bridge combo
- Shortened tremolo arm to 4.25″
David Gilmour has been using GHS strings since the Wall era in the early 80s. The set is a custom selection with gauges 10, 12, 16, 28, 38, 48.
1970 May – Manny’s New York
Pink Floyd start their North American tour playing the Fillmore East in early April 1970. David visits the legendary Manny’s Music on West 48th Street in New York and buys a 1969 Stratocaster, with black body and a rosewood neck, with the typical large headstock of the era. The guitar can be seen on the An Hour with the Pink Floyd TV appearance for PBS/KQED recorded on April 28th 1970.
On May 22nd, after having played two nights in New Orleans, the band discover that the van with all their gear is stolen. The van is tracked down by the local police but a few items are missing. Including David’s new Stratocaster. The rest of the tour is cancelled and the band heads back to New York on their way back to Europe.
David Gilmour pays Manny’s a second visit and buys the Black Strat.
1970 June – Bath Festival
The Black Strat makes its debut performance in front of 200.000 people at the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music in Bath and West Showground, Shepton Mallet, England on June 27th.
1970 November – Road Runner sticker
The Black Strat is seen sporting a sticker with the cartoon character Road Runner during a performance at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Netherlands on November 6th and on the following night at the Grote Zaal in Rotterdam.
The sticker is visible at the band’s show in Halle Munsterland, Munster, Germany on February 24th 1971.
The sticker is not on the guitar for the performance at the Garden Party, Crystal Palace Bowl, London, England on May 15th 1971, indicating that it was removed sometime between February and May 1971.
1971 October, Desember – Live at Pompeii
David is playing the Black Strat on Pink Floyd’s legendary concert film Live at Pompeii, filmed in the Roman amphitheatre on October 4-7th.
The original volume knob was replaced with a Telecaster type silver knob with a rubber band for easier action. This was taken off right after the filming in Pompeii, which resulted in a small continuity error during the night/studio footage filmed in Paris, France, on December 13-20th.
1968 – 1971
After joining Pink Floyd in early 1968, David would employ a wide range of different guitars. Among the more frequently used are the mid 60s white Stratocaster with the rosewood neck, the Bill Lewis Custom and the 1959 sunburst Stratocaster with the 1963 rosewood neck – which fits into the story later.
During this period, the Black Strat seem to have been just one of many that David would play and eventually begin to modify. It is not until summer or autumn of 1971 that the Black Strat seem to become David’s go-to guitar and by January 1972, with the premiere of Pink Floyd’s new suite Eclipse, the guitar had unquestionably become David’s main guitar. It would remain as such up until 1984.
1972 February – Early modifications
Around the premiere of Pink Floyd’s suite Eclipse in early 1972, David drills a hole in the side of the Black Strat to install an XLR input to eliminate noise from the Fuzz Face. A mini toggle switch is installed next to the pickup selector to allow for the volume control to be used as a master control.
The XLR socket is visible during the band’s performance at the Rainbow in London, England, February 17-20th. Apparently the modification didn’t work as intended and was removed by David while on tour in Japan in March 1972.
Also around this time, the stock F tuners were replaced with Schaller tuners for better tuning stability and the silver volume knob, seen on the Live at Pompeii performance, is refitted but soon removed once again.
1972 June – The 1963 rosewood neck
While spending most of June 1972 at Abbey Road recording Dark Side of the Moon, David replaced the stock 1969 maple neck on his Black Strat with the 1963 rosewood neck of the sunburst Strat he frequently used during the 1970 Atom Heart Mother tour.
The Black Strat sporting the rosewood neck made its debut at the The Dome, Brighton, England on June 28th.
The original maple neck would eventually be fitted onto the sunburst Strat. David is seen using both the Black Strat, now with the rosewood neck, and the sunburst Strat, now with the maple neck, at the Empire Pool, Wembley, London, England on October 21st 1972.
1972 Fall – Extra pickup selector switch
The Black Strat originally featured Fender’s era correct 3-way pickup selector. Sometime during the early fall of 1972, David install an extra pickup selector switch allowing him to combine the neck pickup with either the middle or bridge pickup. The extra pickup selector switch is visible during the performance at Empire Pool, Wembley, London, England on October 21st 1972.
The Black Strat on Dark Side of the Moon
David’s guitar parts for Dark Side of the Moon was recorded at Abbey Road between June – November 1972. The Black Strat featured the 1963 rosewood neck and the original late 60s single coil pickups. The extra pickup selector switch installed in the fall of 1972 might have been used during the sessions.
1973 January – The Gibson PAF humbucker
The Black Strat is fitted with a Gibson PAF humbucker that’s placed between the bridge and middle pickups. A large portion of the body cavity is scooped out and the pickguard is modified to fit all four pickups. The mini pickup selector switch now switched on/off the humbucker.
1973 June – New single coil pickups
David removes the Gibson humbucker and install the three single coils and the white pickguard of his 1971 Fender bullet truss rod. The neck and middle pickups are still present in the Black Strat.
1974 mid summer – The black pickguard
Pink Floyd’s show at the Palais des Sports, Paris, France on June 25th is the last performance of the Black Strat with the white pickguard.
Sometime during July or August, David replaced the white pickguard, with an 1-ply .120” beveled black acrylic 11 hole pickguard.
David debuted the now all black guitar on his guest appearance with Roy Harper at Hyde Park, London, England on August 31st 1974. The black pickguard is still present on the Black Strat.
1976 spring – The DiMarzio FS-1 pickup
David installed a DiMarzio FS-1 pickup, with a black cover, in the bridge position while recording Animals. The pickup had a higher output compared to the 1971 pickups that were in the Black Strat at the time.
The DiMarzio FS-1 was also used for the following 1977 Animals tour, David’s 1978 self-titled debut solo album and the 1979 Wall recording sessions.
1978 – New neck and pickup toggle switch
In the fall of 1978, after releasing his debut solo album in May, David replaced the 1963 rosewood neck, with a newly commissioned Grover Jackson/Charvel maple neck customised with a Fender logo. The rosewood neck was refitted onto the sunburst Strat.
A mini toggle switch was added to the pickguard, allowing David to combine the neck pickup with the middle and bridge pickups. This was the same modification David had done in 1972 but later removed. The new switch is still present on the Black Strat.
The Black Strat on The Wall
David employed a number of different guitars for the Wall recording session, including the 1955 Fender Esquire, 1955 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop and the Black Strat, which now featured the Grover Jackson/Charvel maple neck, the 1971 neck and middle pickups and the DiMarzio FS-1 bridge pickup, with the black pickguard and the extra pickup toggle switch.
1979 late autumn – The Seymour Duncan SSL1C pickup
After finishing recording The Wall in October 1979, David replaced the DiMarzio FS-1 bridge pickup with a Seymour Duncan SSL-1C pickup. The FS-1 and SSL-1C are similar sounding but David apparently favoured the Duncan.
According to former Seymour Duncan employee Evan Skopp, the SSL-1C is an overwound version of the SSL-1 specifically designed for David Gilmour. The SSL-1C is the same pickup as the current SSL-5.
The Seymour Duncan SSL-1C was first used on the 1980 The Wall tour and is still present on the Black Strat.
1982 – The Final Cut
In early 1982, just prior to recording Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut, David replaced the Grover Jackson/Charvel maple neck, with a new custom Charvel maple neck with 22 frets, Fender logo and Kluson tuners.
The neck was used for the Final Cut recording sessions and later on the recording sessions for David’s 1984 About Face solo album and tour.
1983 June – The Kahler tremolo bridge
The original Fender tremolo system is replaced by a Kahler tremolo bridge with locking tuners. Its big size demanded that a piece of the body needed to be removed.
The new tremolo system was first used on the About Face recording sessions in autumn 1983 and the following tour in 1984.
1984 early spring – The short tremolo arm
David starts customising his tremolo arms to about 4.25″.
1985 – New pickup selector
The original 3-way pickup selector is replaced by a 5-way.
1986 August, 1997 May – Hard Rock Cafe
David now preferred his 1983 Stratocasters and retires the Black Strat. The guitar is put on display at the Hard Rock Cafe in Dallas, Texas, USA, in August 1986.
Upon request the guitar is returned to David Gilmour in May 1997. Although in a poor condition, with lots of wear marks and missing hardware. Apparently due to lack of protection during display.
Guitar technician Charlie Chandler refitted the original Fender tremolo bridge and filled the whole from the Kahler system. A new Fender 57 reissue maple neck replaced the Charvel neck. The neck does not have the Original Body Contour decal.
2003 – Dark Side of the Moon, Classic Albums Documentary
Filmed at Abbey Road and David’s Astoria studios sometime in spring or summer of 2003, David used the Black Strat, along with other era correct gear, to recreate some of his guitar parts on Dark Side of the Moon.
The Black Strat now sported a second new Fender 57 maple neck, with a slightly different profile for comfort. This neck is recognised by an Original Body Contour decal on the headstock.
2003 October – 2004 January – Pink Floyd Interstellar Exhibition
The Black Strat is displayed alongside a vast collection of Pink Floyd gear at the Interstellar Exhibition in Paris, France, between October 13th and January 15th.
The guitar feature a Fender 57 maple neck, without the Original Body Contour decal, indicating that the guitar either sports the first of the new maple necks or a third.
2005 July – Live 8
The Black Strat makes its definitive return at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, London, England on July 2nd 2005. David is seen using his then favoured red 1983 Stratocaster during rehearsals at Black Island Studios in London, but swapped it for the black. This was the start of the second era of the Black Strat.
The Black Strat featured the Fender 57 maple neck without the Original Body Contour decal.
2005 Summer – On an Island and the 1983 maple neck
After the Live 8 concert and while recording On an Island, David needed to replace the neck on the Black Strat due to low frets. The Black Strat is fitted with a 1983 Fender 57 reissue maple neck taken from the blonde/cream Stratocaster that was purchased in early 1984 and used on the About Face tour and early dates on the 1987 A Momentary Lapse of Reason tour. This neck has the Original Body Contour decal.
The 1983 Fender 57 reissue neck is still featured on the Black Strat.
2006 – On an Island, Albert Hall and Gdansk
As on the album, David used a wide range of different guitars on the On an Island tour. Including the 1983 red Stratocaster that was notably used for Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
The Black Strat however, was David’s guitar of choice for the tour, as seen on the Live in Gdansk live album and DVD and Remember That Night – Live at the Royal Albert Hall DVD.
2008 September – Fender David Gilmour Black Strat
Fender release the David Gilmour Black Strat Replica and NOS guitars. The project is a collaboration between Fender Custom Shop Master Builder Todd Krause, David’s long time technician Phil Taylor and David Gilmour.
While the NOS model is a new model, with the specifications of the Black Strat, the Replica is an exact copy of David’s Black Strat, with all the dings and scratches.
David tested a wide range of different pickups for the project. His original Black Strat feature the 1971 neck and middle pickups and the Seymour Duncan SSL-1C but for the Replica and NOS, he favoured a Fender Fat 50s for the neck, a custom wound middle pickup similar to late 60s specs and a Seymour Duncan SSL-5, Duncan’s new version of the SSL-1C.
David used a NOS prototype for his guest appearance with Ron Geesin on June 15th 2008 at the Chelsea Arts Festival in London, England, for a performance of Atom Heart Mother. David has used the NOS on several guest appearances since 2008 and as a spare for the Black Strat during the 2015-16 Rattle That Lock tour.
The Fender David Gilmour Black Strat Signature Stratocaster is now discontinued.
2014 – The Endless River
While not used on the original 1993 recording sessions, David did use the Black Strat on the 2013-14 sessions held to complete the Endless River project.
2015 – Rattle That Lock
David’s fourth solo album, Rattle That Lock, was mainly recorded in 2014 and early months of 2015 at Astoria and David’s new recording studio, Medina, located in Hove, England.
Although employing a large collection of different guitars, the Black Strat remains as David’s go-to guitar and is featured on a large portion of the album.
2016 July – Live at Pompeii
The Black Strat was David’s main guitar for the Rattle That Lock tour of 2015-16 making its triumphant return to Pompeii on July 7-8th 2016.
The show was filmed and released as a live album and DVD in September 2017.
2016 September – Black Strat’s last performance
David Gilmour and his band perform a series of 5 sold-out shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall between 23-30 September 2016. This would mark the end of the Rattle That Lock tour and David’s final performance with the Black Strat.
2019 June – Christie’s Auction
On June 20th 2019 the Black Strat is sold for charity to Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for a price of US$ 3,975,000 at the Christie’s David Gilmour Guitar Collection auction.
The Black Strat – A History of David Gilmour’s Black Fender Stratocaster by Phil Taylor
The David Gilmour Guitar Collection Christie’s auction catalog 2019
The Complete Pink Floyd – The Ultimate Reference by Glenn Povey
Guitar World, May 2006
Sound Magazine Guitar Heroes, May 1983
Guitar and Bass Magazine, March 2008
Guitarist Magazine, issue 390 2015
David Gilmour Gear Forum