David Gilmour’s 1969 Fender Stratocaster “The Black Strat”
David Gilmour bought this guitar in May 1970, at Manny’s Music shop in New York, after both of his Stratocasters were stolen a few weeks earlier. This is the guitar that can be considered the most important instrument in David’s collection, as he used it on many of his and Pink Floyds’s most famous hits including “Money”, “Comfortably Numb” and “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”.
I believe it was made in 1969, and I bought it at Manny’s on 48th Street in New York in 1970. It’s been on pretty much, well, most Pink Floyd recordings from then up until the 80s when I put it out to pasture for a while. But then I brought it back again, and it’s still the guitar I play more than any other.The David Gilmour Podcast – The Black Strat (Episode 1)
Although most Pink Floyd fans know this guitar by its black-on-black look and understand that it’s now heavily customized, it started its life just as a standard 1969 Fender Stratocaster.
The Black Strat Originally
When David purchased the guitar it was a completely stock 1969 Stratocaster finished in black color, featuring a neck with a maple fretboard.
Today, a guitar like this one is usually considered to be less desirable compared to something like an early 60s Stratocaster. By 1969 CBS took over Fender, and the production quality suffered somewhat, and people nowadays usually prefer pre-CBS models.
It is interesting though that a guitar that is today considered to be less desirable ended up being one of David’s favorites, even though, of course, he later modified it to better fit his needs. Another example of this is Jimi Hendrix, whose favorite guitar was a 1968 Fender Stratocaster practically identical to David’s.
The only thing that intentionally was not stock on the guitar was the finish. The guitar was originally sunburst, but it was at some point repainted black. Some sources claim that this happened at Manny’s and that someone there repainted it, but others claim it happened before the guitar left the factory.
The guitar went through a number of mods over the years. All of these are explained in detail by David’s guitar tech Phil Taylor in the book “The Black Strat“, so out of respect for him, we’ll only summarize the mods.
The book can now be harder to find since every new edition gets sold out basically immediately, and people are re-selling the older editions at a crazy price. It is a great book though, written probably by the most knowledgeable person on the subject – so if you’re lucky to find a copy at a fair price, be sure to get one.
The first major mod that happened to the guitar was in the early 70s when David added an XLR connector for the guitar’s input to reduce the noise generated by Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face which he was using at the time. At this point, he also added another toggle switch on the pickguard, which allowed him to switch from the XLR to regular input.
Pickups in David Gilmour’s Black Strat
This mod however didn’t prove to be of much use, and David quickly removed the XLR jack. Around two years later in 1973, he attacked the same noise problem by adding a humbucker pickup to the guitar. Interestingly, he did not remove any of the three single coils (usually people remove the bridge pickup when doing this), but he added the humbucker in between the middle and the bridge single coil. This also meant that he had to route out the body completely in order to fit the larger pickup in.
But, this mod too didn’t last for long, and by early 1974, the Black Strat was fitted with the pickguard and the pickups from one of David’s other guitars – a 1971 Stratocaster. From this point on, the original 1969 pickups were never fitted onto the guitar again. Also shortly after this, the original 1971 white pickguard was replaced with a single-ply black one, which remains on the guitar to this day.
This change in the pickups also means that the album Dark Side of the Moon was recorded on the original set of pickups, plus the humbucker, while Wish You Were Here was recorded on the pickups from the ’71 Strat.
Regarding later albums – before recording Animals in 1976, David switched the bridge pickup with a DiMarzio FS-1, which also remained in the guitar until after the sessions for The Wall were wrapped up. Around that time, Seymour Duncan sent out a prototype pickup for David to try out, which was apparently an early version of the SSL-5, which David ended up liking so much that he replaced the DiMarzio with it.
Based on the info from Phil Taylor’s book, it sounds like the guitar remains in this state to this day, at least when it comes to pickups. However, according to David, the story is somewhat different. Based on his words, it sounds like all three pickups were replaced at some point with a custom-wound set from Seymour Duncan.
Years ago, I met up with Seymour Duncan and we picked three really nice-sounding pickups he had. We rewound those three and they’ve stayed on it ever since. But I’ve always considered that to be my bodge-up guitar that nothing is sacred on. I’ve had holes drilled in it. It’s still a good guitar.Classic guitar interview: David Gilmour, 2006
This quote from David is from 2006, and Phil published his book in late 2008, so it could be that in those two years the two talked, and figured out that Phil’s version of the story is the actual truth.
The Different Necks
Apart from the pickups, David also experimented with various different necks on his Black Strat. The first major change happened in the early 70s when he fitted the Black Strat with an early 60s neck with a rosewood fretboard from one of his other Stratocasters. This neck remained on the guitar all the way until 1978, which means that it was on the guitar when David recorded The Dark Side of the Moon, Animals, and Wish You Were Here.
In 1978, he fitted the guitar with a maple neck made for him by Grover Jackson of Charvel, and by 1982 he replaced that neck with another one made by Grover, but with 22 frets. Around a year later, this second neck was later fitted with a locking nut to go together with a Kahler tremolo bridge that was fit on the guitar.
it was in this state that David loaned the guitar to the Hard Rock Cafe in 1986, where it remained until 1997. Upon taking the guitar back, David removed the tremolo and the neck, and made an effort to return the guitar back to its “original condition”. From that point on he use a couple of different necks but eventually settled on a 1983 maple neck taken from one of his guitars.
The first time David played this guitar was at the 1970 Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England. From then on, for a few months, he rotated between a few different guitars and finally settled on the Black Strat by early 1971 as his main guitar.
This is also when he started using the guitar for the first time in the studio. According to David, he first used it on the Meddle studio sessions, and that was basically the beginning of him using the Black Strat as his main recording guitar. From that point on, he used it on all of Pink Floyd’s major releases, including Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall.
I would guess (Meddle was the first one). It became my main guitar, the one I used pretty much on everything unless there was a reason to want a different sound. So that’s on Meddle, on Dark Side of the Moon, the solo on Comfortably Numb.
The four notes on the begining of Shine on You Crazy Diamond popped out of this guitar. Because it was there – and in my hands.The David Gilmour Podcast – The Black Strat (Episode 1)
He continued using the Black Strat as his main guitar until the late 80s when he also started using a few different Strats regularly. The Black Strat was finally semi-retired in 1986 when David leaned it to the Hard Rock Cafe to be shown on display for the fans to see, where it remained for more than 10 years.
After getting it back and having it restored and fitted with a new neck, David continued to use it until the day he decided to sell it in order to generate money for a climate change charity.
The Black Strat on Auction
David decided to auction his Black Strat in 2019, together with 125 of his guitars. All the profits from the auction went straight to ClientEarth, which is an environmental law charity with a focus on climate change and the protection of nature.
You know something? For me, I can let go of it, It’s going to bring a lot of people to have a look at this sale, and it’s going to do that job. It’s a lovely guitar. … I did my ‘Comfortably Numb’ solo on it. The notes for the beginning of ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ fell out of it one day.David Gilmour – Rolling Stone interview
The amount generated by the auction was $21 million, $3,975,000 of which was solely from the Black Strat. The final bidder on the Black Strat was Jim Irsay – an American businessman, known for being the owner and CEO of the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL.
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