The Only Guitar That Mattered…

retrieving guitar2

The old ‘Ignore Alien Orders’ Tele coming back on-stage.

I had an interesting question regarding Joe’s old trusted Telecaster from John McGill. It reads:

“….Hi Baker,

I’ve always been fascinated with the history, iconic look, and electronic voice of Joe Strummer. That being his famous telecaster! Some day I would love to hear the stories that surrounds that particular instrument. It has to be one of the most recognizable instruments in the music business not to mention the “Only guitar that mattered!” for the Clash.

During its infancy it was just another guitar, but boy as the years went on I’m sure you have some interesting stories about all the fans who may have wanted to get their hands on it. Not to mention it getting misplaced with airport baggage and or Joe heroically tossing it 10 feet across the stage with hopes that the roadie would catch it! And what the hell would have happened if it ever got stolen or lost on a roadies watch?!!

I read years ago, shortly after Joe’s passing, that a wealthy Japanese fellow (if I recall accurately) wanted to pay his wife over a million to purchase it.

Personally I was able to get up to it as it sat backstage at a Mescalaros show in Philly in the early 2000’s. I was fascinated and star struck by what lie in front of me. I respected it to much that I did not want to put a finger on it. The road crew was setting up but did not bother me as I looked at it. It really is a piece of art!

I also had a chance to strum it as Joe held by the side of his leg at a show in El Paso, 1983 I believe. These were the final warm up shows leading to the U.S Festival. Straight to Hell was the song being played and Joe just let me strum “dampened” strings as it sat at the front of the stage. Meanwhile another fan began to pick and attempt to peel the “Aliens” sticker before I shoved his hand away. Unfortunately I can’t find a bootleg of that show, although trust me, I’ve tried my damnedest though out the years looking for one! Just some small fans stories in an evolution of that iconic Fender.

Sadly now that same guitar happens to be the closest we’ll ever get to feeling Joes presence.

Thanks Baker, and you have a God given gift of telling stories with such a magnificent aptitude! Always refreshing and colorful. You put us all in the mosh pit through your story telling.

PS; What was your timeframe with the band? I know you were there in the beginning.

Thanks, 

John McGil….”

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Well, it truly was an incredible instrument, seemingly with a soul of it’s own. It’s provenance is well-known having been explored by many of the biographical writers of the band. We did try to replace it many times but were never able to replicate it’s sound and ferocity.

First came a shiny, black Telecaster provided by CBS from the store in Soho Square. But Joe didn’t even like the look of the high-gloss curiosity, much less the sound. We may have used it for a back-up but it very quickly disappeared from the inventory.

blond

Joe’s ‘blond’ Telecaster.

Next up came the ‘blond’ Telecaster which ran a close second for sound. Despite taking it to quite a few guitar repairers and wizards, we could never duplicate the sound of the original 1966. No matter what ‘pick-ups’ or strings or electronics we tried out Joe always came back to his original. It was much the same with his old Fender Twin Reverb amp – although we eventually switched to ‘Music Man’ we could never achieve the ‘cut’ of the “Twin”. So, the ‘blond’ became his 2nd back-up guitar.

holiday

Joe and Mick with white ‘Holiday’ Telecaster.

The last of the three main Tele’s was the white “I Need A Holiday” Telecaster. It came close to the 1966 but no cigar. We tried ‘tweaking’ it as we had done the ‘blond’ before but again it never quite felt or sounded quite as fierce or heated. So it remained No. 2 and Joe decorated it according to his mood at the time.

Joe was always quite curmudgeonly when it came to equipment and looked upon ‘new’ items with suspicion. He refused to use a wireless pickup which would have meant he could have run all over the entire gig. But he insisted on being plugged-in to his amp, maintaining that it gave him a sense of where he was (and should be). The rest of the band followed suit.

Likewise, the only plectrum he would use was a CMS number two. These were made by only one place….Cardiff Music Stores. But such was the lack of quality control we had to order as many as possible and I would physically test them out to find as close to ‘good’ as possible. Too hard, and he would go through a set of strings in one number. Too soft, and his hand would end up as a bloody mess. No matter where we were playing, I would try all the local music stores for CMS picks….we could never get our hands on enough and many times Joe would drop it into the audience and then bend down demanding to be given the plectrum back! (lol).

 

strummer_1966_fender-telecaster-featured

‘Old Faithful.’

 

And he played this battered old instrument until the end, wielding it like a weapon in battle. In anyone else’s hands it would have probably sounded like any other old ‘Tele’ but when the two of them were paired it sounded like nothing else.

Now you get the chance to send me strange pictures of unknown guitars that passed through his hands over the years like when we played the Bilsen Festival in Belgium and we had no spare. I ran to The Damned’s caravan backstage to get any kind of guitar I could lay my hands on. Brian James immediately handed over his Gibson SG for Joe to use (all credit to him knowing full well the punishment that Joe would heap upon it.)

Or this strange looking article Joe was playing back in the very early days at Rehearsals….

oddity

Weird Telecaster and even weirder hair by Mick.

Thanks for the question John. Your questions, comments and ideas are always welcome and I will endeavour to answer them as truthfully as possible (or memory allows).

The Baker.

PS. John – I turned up at Rehearsal Rehearsals around the beginning of August in 1976 (before the press-only gig on 13th), and gave up the ghost a week after Mick was sacked the first week of September 1983. There was hardly a day off in-between.