For many fans, David Gilmour’s red Stratocaster is as iconic as the Black Strat. The guitar defines the look and sound of the post Waters era Pink Floyd. In this feature we’ll look at the origins and performance history of the red Stratocaster.
One of the first memories I have of discovering Pink Floyd was watching their performance at Knebworth on TV in 1990. David played the red Stratocaster and I remember thinking that this was probably the finest guitar and tone I’d ever heard.
I got to see Pink Floyd perform in Oslo, Norway, on the 1994 Division Bell tour. That whole era is very special to me, with the release of Division Bell and Pulse and David playing that red Stratocaster. Everything came together just as I was starting to play guitar and experiment with tone.
While the Black Strat seemed like an illusive thing of the past, the red Stratocaster was still current in the late 90s and early 2000s and easier to research, mainly through magazine articles and interviews. However, and ironically perhaps, the last pieces of its origins came to place with the sale of the guitar in 2019.
David and his long-time technician Phil Taylor, visited the Fender Warehouse in Einfield, Middlesex, England, in January 1984 and tried a bunch of the new reissue guitars from the Fender Fullerton factory.
David stated in an interview with International Musician in August 1984, that he didn’t want to bring his old guitars on the road for the upcoming About Face tour. He did however, use the Black Strat for several songs on the tour.
They ended up with at least seven guitars
David also acquired some lesser known guitars from the same batch
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. The original 50s and 60s models had a 3-way pickup selector, with obvious limitations for the modern player.
According to project manager Dan Smith, the reason for making 57 Stratocasters 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 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 England in January 1984 and had to be shipped from the US.
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.
The guitar is used for a promotional shot for About Face in March 1984. The picture shows the guitar prior to any modifications.
David did not use the guitar for the About Face tour between March and July 1984.
The red Stratocaster made its stage debut on July 13th 1985 during Live Aid at Wembley Stadium, London, England.
David played guitar with Bryan Ferry and started out with a 1983 sunburst 57 reissue, which failed during the first song, Sensation. David swapped the sunburst with the red, which he used for the remainder of the set.
The guitar can be seen sporting EMG SA single coils, replacing the original 50s reissue pickups. The setup also featured the SPC and EXG active tone controls.
The original tremolo arm was replaced by a custom shortened 4.25” arm.
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 57 reissue Stratocasters (the red, the vintage white / cream and the sunburst), 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 bit 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.
The 9V battery, which is required to power the pickups, is located in the back cavity of the red Stratocaster, next to the tremolo springs.
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 appear to have kept the EXG control low or off 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 appear to have kept the tone controls off or 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 guitar is fitted with a Dive Bomber Tremolo Upgrade system for better tuning stability. This is a kit featuring a graphite nut and string trees, saddles with roller nuts and high quality springs. The system was soon removed.
The red was used extensively during the 1986-87 recording sessions for Pink Floyd’s 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 1987-90 A Momentary Lapse of Reason tour, favouring in particular the 1983 57 reissue vintage white / cream 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, the red Stratocaster cements it self as David’s primary guitar for both stage and recording lasting up to 2005.
While on tour with Pink Floyd in Sydney, Australia, in February 1988, guitar technician Greg Fryer performs repairs and modifications on the red Stratocaster, 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.
The 90s saw David Gilmour doing numerous guest appearances on stage, albums and TV-shows. The red Stratocaster was used for most of them.
David used several different guitars for the Division Bell album, including a 1955 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop and a 50s Gretsch Chet Atkins. However, the red Stratocaster was the main guitar for the sessions and was used extensively on the album.
The red Stratocaster is David’s main guitar for the 1994 Division Bell tour and recorded and filmed for the Pulse live album and concert film released in 1995.
For the tour, David wanted a back up guitar for his favoured red Stratocaster. They managed to track down an identical 1983 57 reissue at Charlie Chandler’s guitar shop in Hampton outside London, England. Apparently, the guitar used to belong to Humble Pie/Bad Company guitarist Mick Ralphs, who played rhythm guitar with David on the About Face tour.
David performed a 3 song set at the Strat Pack Fender 50th Anniversary show at Wembley Arena, London, England, on September 24th. The red Stratocaster was used for Sorrow, while the 0001 1954 Stratocaster was used for Marooned and Coming Back to Life. The show was released on DVD in 2005.
Pink Floyd reunited for a last time on July 2nd 2005 at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, London, England. David is seen using the red Stratocaster during rehearsals but favoured the Black Strat for the actual performance.
David toured his new album, On an Island, between March and August 2006. By now, the Black Strat had regained its position as David’s main guitar. The red Stratocaster was used for one song only, Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
David performed at the shipyard in Gdansk, Poland, on August 26th 2006 in front of 50.000 fans. This marks the last stage appearance of the 1983 57 reissue red Stratocaster. The show was released on audio and DVD in 2008.
On June 20th 2019 the red Stratocaster is sold for charity for a price of 650.000 US$ at the Christie’s David Gilmour Guitar Collection auction.
It is not known whether David Gilmour is still in possession of the second 1983 57 reissue red Stratocaster that he bought in 1993.
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
The Strat Chronicles by Tom Wheeler
International Musician (August 1984)
Guitar Player Magazine (1984)
Vintage Guitar Magazine (2004)
Kit Rae’s David Gilmour tone building site