Restoration of a Genuine Vintage 60’s Fender Stratocaster

There are times in life when you get what you wish for and restoring this great vintage Strat was one of those times. It’s more and more rare to find a true vintage guitar, let alone one to do a full restoration on. I am grateful to my client for knowing my work and trusting me to pull his beloved guitar to pieces!

The guitar has a very interesting history. It was purchased used in the 70’s in London, a blonde Strat with a standard neck and parts which all pointed to a 70’s one. It was his main guitar for many years and as time passed, he bought other guitars and this one was put to one side for quite a while. Recently he took it out again and brought it to me with quite a few questions.

He always had suspicions that the guitar is older than it is and the colour is not original. Looking at it carefully, it was quite clear that the varnish on it was put on later (badly) and it was a modern lacquer, not nitro cellulose. The trem assembly was older than 70’s but the saddles were 70’s type along with the neck which too was later. So it was decided to really dig in and find out some facts.

Upon stripping all the components down, it became very evident that the guitar was definitely re-sprayed more than once in its lifetime. Back of the scratchplate was the first pleasant surprise as this was not 70’s but early 60’s! Excitement and beads of sweat set in! The pickup cavities were all covered in black gunk (shielding compound) so no help there, the neck mount was all covered in white undercoat from previous solid coats as well as the back of the trem assembly, alarm bells started to ring! I scratched off a tiny area in the back of the trem assembly and below the white undercoat was a hint of pinky red colour!

Immediately contacted my client and told him what I discovered and as a true guitar freak himself, he told me to go ahead and strip it down and see what was underneath, brave move but not surprising from a fellow guitar nut!

I stripped the horrible varnish off which took ages as it was really thick and I did not want to damage any of the wood underneath with too much chemicals or rubbing. I then set about clearing out all the gunk from underneath the pickguard which were many layers thick, filler, undercoat, more black, undercoat and suddenly…. pinky red! As I cleared more and more of it, it became very clear that the original guitar was in fact a Fiesta Red. It all fitted into place, this body was a genuine early 60’s Fiesta Red (popular at the time) and obviously as the colour became less popular, it was repainted in the 70’s and newer bits put on it.

This was great news to my client who gave me the go ahead to restore it to how it should be in the proper Fiesta Red nitro cellulose finish. Red rag to a bull, I dived at the opportunity, stripped it down fully without losing any wood material from the body and restored it to the finish it should have been. I also made sure not to fill in any of the dents and imperfections the original had as that would mean using fillers (bad for tone) or sanding down loads (loss of wood).

The final finish is the look of a 60’s guitar which has been well looked after with the imperfections it would have for the age, I’m sure you’ll agree from the end result. With all the electrics restored, rewired back to original spec it was time for the neck. The guitar was going to be used on a daily basis and a low playable action was required for this purpose. Putting on a standard Strat neck with 7.5” radius would mean high action and choking at high end during string bending.

As the neck was not of the right year anyway, it was decided to source a modern” vintage” neck with a compound radius (10-16), slab rosewood fretboard etc. This neck was then sprayed with nitro cellulose lacquer, aged to look the colour it would now be, fitted with correct age tuners, decals etc and fitted.

There’s a final twist to this story, the body originally had a strap pin hole for a left hander player which was definitely there before the guitar was rebuilt with the blonde finish (which had covered it).

Now call me a romantic, misguided or whatever but I don’t know many left handed guitarists in the 60’s who played a Fiesta Red Strat other than a certain Jimi Hendrix (there are pictures of him doing just that in London) which might have had a broken neck (not surprising), thrown out or swapped and then put together as a new guitar and sold on! No one thought about collecting Hendrix goodies back then and many of his guitars were scattered around and pushed on! Can’t prove anything of course but it’s such a lovely thought that I might have been instrumental in restoring a guitar back to what the great man might have played. My client is also over the moon knowing he might be the owner of such a guitar. What a lovely possibility!

Plugging in the guitar and hearing it for the first time was possibly one of the most satisfying times of my life. The sound was stunning, effortless tone, sustain without any need for tone adjustment, pedals etc, it simply sounded blinding and immediately harking back to those great clean chord tones of Hendrix we all wonder about. I’m proud of the quality of my work and it’s the greatest reward to rescue and unleash a tone of something so beautiful, a truly moving experience!

Hope you enjoy the demo video below.

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