1979 Fender Black Stratocaster, as made famous by The Edge
As close as we'll get to one of The Edge's many 1970s maple-fretboard CBS-era Black Strats. An absolute beauty, loved and roadworn, with a weight and sustain that matches a Les Paul. Perfect for every New Year's Day.
But before we get to the guitar . . . U2 played at the first gig I ever went to. Sunday 19 October 1980. The Lyceum, London. Big moment for me (first gig!), probably a slightly bigger moment for U2, just one day before the release of their debut album, Boy. It wasn't even U2 I was planning to see. I'd never heard of them. I was there for the headline act - 70s glam giants, Slade, riding the wave of their revival in 1980. Revivals came around quicker in those days. It was only 4 years since Slade had had their last big hit, happily wrong with "Let's Call It Quits". Nowadays, they're most remembered, every year, without fail, and with royalties to match, for "Merry Xmas Everybody". But if that's all you've ever heard, you're missing out. Dig out any Greatest Hits album, and you'll know why.
Anyway, back to the Lyceum. Slade were supported by Australian punks The Last Words (true to their name, they split up the next year), punks-on-the-verge-of-metal Discharge (where are they now?) and new wave hopefuls U2 (where aren't they now?). As the 80s unfolded, U2 became inescapable - as did the love 'em/hate 'em Marmite reaction. Early days, but the opposing sides were already drawing ranks. That Lyceum gig was reviewed by Gary Bushell. Definitely in the hate 'em camp. But you've got to hand it to him for spotting behaviours that stuck with the band, pretty much for the rest of their careers: "the newer material confirmed the impression that U2 are letting their pretensions run away with them . . . Bono's glum, self satisfied pronouncements became increasingly offensive as the night progressed. It seems like he's beginning to believe the messianic treatment he's getting from the self-styled radical press . . .". Fair enough, though they didn't do too badly in the end. I'm in the love 'em camp.
In those early days, The Edge was probably most recognised with an Explorer in his hands. But he loved Strats, and bought a 73 Black Strat as soon as they got their record deal. You'll find it (or the two or three other Black Strats he picked up along the way) in his hands at all the right iconic moments: Under A Blood Red Sky in 1983, Live Aid 1985, Where The Streets Have No Name on that Los Angeles rooftop in 1987. As he talked about his Signature model, released in 2016, "I can only describe it in terms of like getting on the back of a great motorcycle and opening the throttle and just tearing up the highway. It's that sort of adrenaline rush." And this one delivers that rush in spades. It's a heavy Strat - 8lb 2oz - with all the sustain that that weight is going to give it. Roadworn it may be, but it plays like a dream. Maybe, finally, I've found what I'm looking for ;-).
See & Hear It In Action
New Year's Day, Under A Blood Red Sky, 1983: The second time I saw U2 was in March 1983, supported by Big Country (a far better line-up choice!) at the Hammersmith Palais in London. By then, it was a plan to see them, not a lucky mistake. Riding high on the release of War, this was the song that did it for them. And the Red Rocks video was a staple of any U2 fan at the time.
Sunday Bloody Sunday, Live Aid, 1985: One of the stand-outs from Live Aid, and an iconic moment for the Black Strat.
Where The Streets Have No Name, 1987: When the shooting of a video was a major event. The first track from The Joshua Tree, for many U2's finest album - though not for me, mine's Achtung Baby ;-). That multi-delayed guitar sound, though, that was something that every guitarist wanted to try their hand at.
The Edge on his Signature Black Strat, 2016: Yes, I know that he sometimes had a white pickguard on his Black Strats, but why white for the Signature model. All black is so much better!
Number of Frets
Fender Fixed Pole Single Coil
Fender 1971 - 82 Bridge & Vibrato
It's called a Stratocaster. That's it. One of the last from the long run of Stratocasters that started in 1954, only to change its model name to "Standard Stratocaster" in 1981. Around the same time as Fender started to go large on reissues, signature models and anniversary releases. But you can still trace the lineage of these "Standard" models to the present day. From "American Standard" to "American Series" to "American Standard" (again) to "American Professional". Whatever else Fender produce, the bloodline stays the same.
The classic combination of large headstock, rhomboid tuners, bullet trussrod, maple fretboard, Fender fixed pole pick-ups and Fender tremolo system, and that iconic black finish and pickguard.
The Edge may have modified his ones during his career, with a brass bridge and DiMarzio single-coil in the bridge position, but this is the closest we can get to his 70s black Strats (though why the Signature model has to have the white pickguard, I don't know . . . This looks better in all-black!).
Huge sustain with that bigger headstock and weighty body. Plenty of wear - the sort of ageing that people will pay good money for to get their relic nowadays. But why go for the relic, when you can play the real thing? A beauty to behold, and a beauty to play!
Sources & Links
1979 Fender Catalogue: OK, it's in Japanese, but you can still see the Black Strat as it would have looked brand new, thanks to The World of Musical Instruments Brochures.
1979 Fender Price List: Dream on. The days when a brand new US-built Stratocaster could cost you $680 . . . Thanks to Guitar Compare for the archive!
70s Stratocasters, courtesy of Joe's Vintage Fenders: A proper collector and curator, and perfect for anyone who wants to get into their 70s and 80s Stratocasters - including ones that are even heavier than this one!
Gary Bushell Reviews Slade, U2 & Discharge: Just in case you wanted to get the vitriol (for U2 and Discharge) and the love (for Slade)!