date_range 1998

John Frusciante’s 1962 Fender Stratocaster

This guitar was purchased by Anthony Kiedis when Frusciante joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers again in 1998. According to Anthony, at that time, John didn’t have a guitar of his own (all of his old guitars were either sold or lost in a fire that caught his house), but according to John himself, he did have his red Fender Jaguar. It is likely that what Anthony actually meant is that John didn’t have any decent guitars of his own since the Jaguar was pretty beat-up, and probably not good enough for studio use. Furthermore, John stated himself that he needed a Stratocaster specifically – a guitar that he probably preferred recording on.

The major problem was John didn’t even have a guitar to his name. So we went over to the Guitar Center, and I bought him a great old ’62 Stratocaster. [Scar Tissue, Anthony Kiedis]

I bought that (the red Fender Jaguar) at a guitar store, I think it was Voltage Guitars on Sunset, in 1997. I didn’t have a guitar and then I got some money and that was my Christmas present to myself. Then when the guys asked me to rejoin the band I said that I really need a Stratocaster. So Anthony lent me some money and we went to Guitar Centre and I got one with the rosewood neck. It’s a ’62 and I used that one on practically every track on By The Way. [Guitarist (UK), June 2003 – Universaly Speaking]

Frusciante’s 1962 Stratocaster Specs

John’s Stratocaster was made in 1962, which is the third year of Fender using rosewood fretboards on the Stratocaster model. However, around July/August 1962 Fender went from slab to veneer fretboards, meaning that the rosewood fretboard that was glued onto the maple neck became thinner in profile. Based on photos, John’s Stratocaster had a thicker slab fretboard, which means that it was made from early to mid-1962. The fretboard radius used by Fender at that time was 7.25 inches, as opposed to 9.5 used nowadays – which is much flatter.

The body of John’s Strat was finished in what commonly known as ‘3-tone sunburst’. As opposed to finishes that were used on the earlier 50s models, which went from black to opaque, the three-tone sunburst has a red tint between the black on the edges and opaque in the center.

John Frusciante performs onstage during the British leg of the Live Earth concerts at London’s Wembley Stadium, Saturday, July 7, 2007. Photo by Rogelio A. Galaviz C./Flickr

In recent years, the finish on John’s Strat is completely gone on some parts of the body due to extensive use. If you’re curious why this happened on John’s guitar to such a great extent, and why this is something you don’t often see on modern guitars – it’s because the guitars in the sixties were finished in nitrocellulose lacquer. This lacquer, in contrast to polyurethane which is used on modern guitars, was applied in much thinner layers and is much less resistant to scratches and wear. For this reason, you’ll often see guitars from the 60s period worn to the extent where there’s almost no lacquer left on the body (for example, see Stevie Ray Vaughan’s and Rory Gallagher’s Strats). Although people have argued about its impact on the sound, a nitro finish is nowadays considered a selling point if you’re in the market for a vintage-sounding Strat.

Most of the hardware on John’s guitar appears to be original, starting from the Fender tremolo bridge with six mounting screws and bent saddles (as opposed to the block saddles you’ll often find on modern Strats). The tuners/machine heads, however, appear to be newer, and if we had to guess, are most likely nickel Klusons.

Less important but also worth noting, the pickguard and the knobs, as well as the pickup covers, all appear to be original (even though the pickups themselves are not, more on this later). If you’re curious, the pickguard on the vintage 60s Strats turns to a greenish color over time, which is something that happens only on the guitars that were built around this period. Nowadays, you’ll find that Fender (as well as many other off-brand manufacturers) sells pickguards in a ‘mint-green’ color, which is essentially a replica of a pickguard that would naturally age to this particular color. As the early 60s Strats are considered to be the best in terms of quality, and in terms of vanity, many people opt-in for that mint-green look on their own guitars.

The Pickups in John’s 1962 Strat

Although the guitar had the original pickups in it for some period of time after John acquired it, according to him, they were replaced with Seymour Duncans which John had installed prior to this in his 1955 Stratocaster (the maple neck Strat you’ll often see him use on ‘Dani California’ for example). To our knowledge, John never stated the exact model of the pickups, but people have guessed that they were Seymour Duncan SSL-1s.

I had my ’62, which has the original pickups, and then I had the [’55] with the Duncans, and the sound was very similar. The differences had more to do with the guitars than the pickups. Eventually, I had to get Duncans in the ’62, as well. [VintageGuitar magazine – John Frusciante Red Hot On The Empyrean]

However, John’s guitar tech was recently interviewed by the members of the John Frusciante Effects fan page/website on the subject of pickups and there seems to be some confusion about which model of pickups ended up being installed in the 1962 Stratocaster. Dave Lee, who worked as John’s guitar tech on tour from 1998 to 2007, argues that they were just basic Fender pickups found in the American Standard Stratocasters.

I remember reading that and realizing John was wrong in that interview (I never told him). We were experimenting with a number of different pickups at the time. And he must’ve gotten confused. The actual pickups we settled on (and John never knew this) were stock, brand new, Fender Strat pickups. [JF Effects Interviews: Dave Lee (Guitar Tech)]

This does come as a surprise since many have argued that the low output SSL-1 pickup set sounds identical to John’s pickups. Countless people have probably invested in the set in order to emulate his sound, likely switching away from the Standard Fender set – which ironically seems to be the real thing.

Just in the case you’re reading this with the intent to figure what to upgrade on your own guitar, we would probably recommend the SSL-1 set over the Standard American set by Fender if you’re going for pure vintage 60s sound. You can buy SSL-1s with wiring harness (tone pots and switch) for relatively cheap on Amazon, and those are fairly simple to install by yourself. The second option would probably be Fender’s own ’57/’62 Strat Pickups set which is somewhat cheaper when compared to the SSL-1s.

Be that as it may, it seems that the few songs on the ‘Californication’ album on which the guitar was used, and which the band worked on in the studio from December 1998 to March 1999, were likely recorded on the original pickups. The swap probably happened sometime closer to the ‘By The Way’ release in 2002. If you happen to have a more conclusive date, please be sure to leave a comment below.

Usage in the Studio and Live

You can see John’s 1962 Fender Stratocaster on almost all of the live performances, and he usually uses this guitar for most of the set – except for those couple songs which require of him to use a different instrument (Californication, Zephyr Song to name a few). It was used less often on “Californication” – where John used his ’55 Stratocaster more, but the next album “By the Way” was recorded mostly just using this guitar. Stadium Arcadium was also recorded mostly using this guitar, although John used a couple of different guitars on that one.

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