By Brian M. Reiser
Published on March 17, 2017
Rory Gallagher & Fender Stratocaster #64351
Rory Gallagher was his Stratocaster.
I’m going to explain what I mean with an analogy to Star Wars. But we’ll come back to that. Let’s start with Rory.
Rory Gallagher, of course, was a famous Irish blues guitarist. Probably the most famous Irish blues guitarist of them all. Born March 2, 1948 in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Gallagher was a true superstar in that corner of the world while he played in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s.
He started off in the band Taste but went on to have an incredible solo career. To my mind, he’s one of history’s most talented guitarists. Certainly one of its most exhilarating. You can’t take your eyes off of him, his fingers, or his guitar while he plays.
And that guitar, Rory’s Stratocaster, is mythological in stature. Just as B.B. King is famous for playing guitars called Lucille, Rory is forever intertwined with his Strat.
This particular Fender Stratocaster is a 1961 Sunburst. The serial number is 64351. It has no name. It’s just Rory’s Strat.
And, as fate would have it, Rory would find his beloved Strat when he was just a kid.
Rory Acquires the Stratocaster
Rory Gallagher was all but 15 years old, living in Cork, Ireland, when he purchased the instrument that he would be associated with forever. He bought the instrument from Michael Crowley, who owned Crowley’s Music Centre in Cork. Rory had seen a different Stratocaster in the window. It was immediate love.
He needed a Strat.
The Strat in the window was not destined to become Rory’s. But Rory expressed to Crowley how badly he wanted one. It was a little too pricey. But Crowley made a promise to Rory’s mother: If he ever received in his shop a used Strat that was more affordable, he would inform her.
When a used Sunburst Strat came into Crowley’s possession, he headed straight for the Gallagher residence. Rory answered the door. As soon as he saw the Strat, that was it. Like Romeo & Juliet, or Spider-Man & Mary-Jane, or Gilmour & Waters, it was a match made in heaven.
Why Rory Chose the Strat
Rory Gallagher paid £100 for his Stratocaster. At the time, that was a lot of money. But it was nothing to a kid who was in love with the guitar. Who was in love with that guitar. Rory’s obsession with the Fender Stratocaster was spurred on by one of his guitar heroes, Buddy Holly, who helped to make the instrument famous.
But it wasn’t all about hero worship. Much of it was also the look and feel. After all, many great guitarists have preferred Gibsons to Fenders and Les Pauls to Strats. What was it about the Fender Stratocaster, and this Fender Stratocaster, that tugged at Rory’s heart so?
Some of it was sound and tone. Rory was of the strong belief that Strats had a much clearer tone than Gibson guitars. And although he acknowledged that Gibsons could get great sustain – sustain he strove to achieve on the Stratocaster – it was that clarity of tone that called to Rory Gallagher like a siren to a sailor.
It was also about the feel of the guitar. For example, Gallagher loved to pursue a phase sound with his guitar by using his volume controls. But he found he was only able to manipulate the controls on his guitar in a comfortable way with the Strat. It was too awkward with a Gibson guitar.
And Gallagher was a Fender man through and through. Although he experimented with Ernie Ball and Clifford Essex, he even wound up using Fender strings. It was as if Rory and Fender were true musical soul mates, kindred spirits.
Rory Gallagher Did Not Beat Up His Guitar
Rory Gallagher’s Stratocaster looked a little beat up. Ok, it looked a lot beat up. It’s famous for its wear and tear. But that’s just part of its charm.
Throughout the years, Rory did minimal work to maintain and adjust the Strat. He did re-fret the instrument a few times. But he never adjusted the truss rod. Not even once.
People thought that Rory had to be very rough on his guitar because of the way it looks. And there’s no doubt that Rory was a physically expressive, aggressive player.
But Rory Gallagher was no abusive husband. It’s just what happens when you play with passion on one and the same guitar for three decades. Rory took his Strat into battle every single night, and the scars showed. But they were scars filled with love and tenderness.
After all, Rory was adamant that guitars were meant to be used, not kept as pristine museum relics. Rory used that Strat. For 30 years. And he never lost his love for the instrument. The paint would chip. So what? He loved the instrument’s soul. This was no superficial love.
Rory Gallagher & Obi-Wan Kenobi
O.K. here’s where we get to Star Wars. If you know Star Wars lore, you know that Jedi Knight – and evil Lords of the Sith – constructed their own lightsabers. Lightsabers, of course, were the distinctive weapon of a Jedi knight.
“This weapon is your life” Obi-Wan Kenobi once said to his protégé, young Anakin Skywalker, the future Darth Vader. It was as if the two became one: Jedi and lightsaber. Man and weapon.
Musician and instrument.
That’s how it was for Rory Gallagher. No, he didn’t construct the guitar himself. But once he possessed it, it became his life.
Rory referred to the Stratocaster that he played night in and night out as part of his psychic makeup. The connection was physical. The connection was mental. It was total.
Whereas another blues legend, B.B. King, had hundreds of guitars that he played – though he famously gave them all the same name – Rory Gallagher had just the one.
So, in a major way, Rory and the Strat were one entity. The man, the musician, put his entire heart and soul into that instrument.
Rory Gallagher owned one Strat. Just one. That was his guitar. He said he would panic if he had to play a different guitar on stage.
So he didn’t.
“This is the best, it’s my life, this is my best friend” Rory Gallagher once said.
It was more than that. The Strat and Rory Gallagher were truly one.