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….”

_________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

December 11th, 2019 Update:

After the many suggestions and theories regarding the origins of Joe’sTelecaster, I contacted Richard Dudanski, the drummer with the 101’ers, and asked if he had any memories. He had this to say:

“….Your question re the guitar. The Tele that he bought in early ’75 was the sunburst axe that you see in the early Clash gig photo….RCA I presume. I am pretty certain (but not 100%) that it is the same one that he later customized. I have vague memories of him telling me that it was the same guitar….”

So, that is good enough for me at this point – it was an original ‘Sunburst’….bought in Charing Cross Rd, and quite quickly repainted matte black to how we’ve always seen it. I’m amazed that in seven years working with them day-to-day this never came up once (and none of the biographers caught it….). It just shows what a closed book Joe was in many ways. But it’s good to have a forum like this to unearth these hidden gems so if you have any other questions or tidbits, keep ’em coming. My blog is here for you guys…..YOU were the Clash!

PS. Thanks Snakehips….

The Baker.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

December 17th, 2019 Update:

I received what seems to be the definitive history of Joe’s 1966 Telecaster from David Concannon. He writes:

“….Thanks for the post on Joe’s iconic Telecaster. I spent two years researching this guitar for the tribute that I built in 2006-07. Here’s what I came up with: http://www.strummerguitar.com/evolutionofalegend.html

It was originally a 1966 sunburst Telecaster, painted with grey primer and then black. Joe added “new” Tuners and parts to it around 1977. I love that guitar, and mine is a faithful reproduction in every way.

He also writes:

“….My guitar was a labor of love.  When I posted a photo of it online, someone from Joe’s “Manc Posse” saw it and asked if it could be flown to England to be played at Strummercamp.  Of course I said yes.  People thought it was Joe’s Tele, liberated from the RNR Hall of Fame.  A photo even appeared in Rolling Stone!  Somebody sent me a photo of Joe’s tech (Eric Bu?) marveling at its accuracy.

You may be interested to know that I have made four dives to explore the Titanic and I played the Clash and Joe’s solo music on each dive.  I thought I’d entertain the ghosts with a few toe tappers.  They went from hearing “Nearer my God to Thee” to “Armagideon Time.”

All the best, David….”

So there you have it….as I replied to him, “Its a shame you didn’t answer when the questions were first put….but, in retrospect at least it led us up some blind alleys and up the garden path for a while, which was fun.”

I strongly suggest everyone check out his website as it does really seem to seal the deal!

http://www.strummerguitar.com/evolutionofalegend.html

The Baker.

 

I had an e-mail from the chap that owns the Clash spares flight case. He writes:

“….neil.hughes1966@gmail.com

Hi Barry,

I hope this email finds you well and apologies for contacting you ‘out of the blue’ after so long.I still have the pilgrim flight case, but have decided it is time to sell it as it is now languishing under a tarpaulin in my garage. Would you mind if I used your previous email to confirm it’s authenticity?

I’m thinking of putting up for auction via a Bonhams (or similar), but if you know of anybody who might be interested then please feel free to pass on my details. 

I attended the free London Calling Exhibition at the Museum of London recently and saw  the band’s the guitar cases. It seemed a shame that the flight case wasn’t in there as well! I also (literally) bumped into Johnny Green there, which was nice. 

Regards,Neil Hughes…”

So if anyone fancies bidding on “The Pilgrim” this would probably be a good time. I tried to connect him with a music producer in Brooklyn some years ago about selling it. It would have been on display in his corporate lobby for everyone to see but unfortunately the deal could not be completed. E-mail him and find out how much he wants at : neil.hughes1966@gmail.com

The Baker

24 thoughts on “The Only Guitar That Mattered…

  1. Fabrice

    Hello there Baker hope yer well and keeping warm! Trawling YouTube as I do, I once saw a terrible picture or even a short film extract, forgot, it showed Joe sporting a…STRATOCASTER!!
    Flipping neck! Jesus weep…Strummer playing a Strat? What a disturbing sight…I can only assume someone was fixing a broken string on the legendary Tele whilst Joe had to make do with playing that entirely different instrument. Jones’ best git in my humble opinion was the Black Les Paul with the big black panther sticker over it. Also, while we’re discussing instruments here…I love the story behind Joe’s White Falcon and of course its origin, being Genzale’s guitar for a while, passed on or sold cheap to Punk Icon Number One! Salut !!

    Reply
    1. thebaker77 Post author

      Like you surmise Fabrice, it was probably an emergency….if you had the photo I might be able to identify the gig. But like you say, “Jessus weep.”

      The Baker.

      Reply
      1. thebaker77 Post author

        That would make sense….the truck was impounded at customs and never made it to the Vienna gig – we had to rent all the equipment on the spur of the moment. What a shambles! From the video though it looks like Paul has his bass….I cannot figure out that one. Thanks for the comment and clearing up the Stratocaster mystery….

        The Baker.

      2. Fabrice

        I have an idea for your BLOG topics, I just need to remember it…wait…why did I think all these years that REVOLUTION ROCK was a strummer/jones tune and it s not !!! silly me. Those guitar arrangments are absolutely incredible Jones…what a great idea Mingay and Hazan had to reuse THE RIFF here or there in their film! I love that song

  2. John McGill

    Great read Baker! The strings and pick story are ones that add another interesting caveat and can only be told by those in the midst of it. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    1. thebaker77 Post author

      My pleasure Jon. If you have any questions about those times or ideas for blog topics don’t hesitate to pass them on….(including ‘London Calling’ questions), as there seems to be a surprising amount of chatter crossing the pond lately and from what I’ve seen some quite astounding effusive hyperbole….

      The Baker.

      Reply
  3. radiovalvular

    Hi Baker

    I think the weird sunburst Telecaster is “the” Telecaster. Joe just hadn’t painted it black and put the stickers on yet. He used the sunburst Tele with the 101’ers and that photo Is from an early Clash rehearsal, before creating all their new looks (instruments includes) and even before their debut. What do you think?

    Reply
    1. thebaker77 Post author

      If it was before I was there I cannot speculate. I do not know of this process you speak about regarding “painting a guitar black”….that would be an extremely difficult process and way beyond Joe’s practical or financial means. Not being a paint expert I would think it would involve:
      * removing the neck and all hardware
      * sanding it down to remove all gloss paint
      * applying a primer coat, then a first coat
      * sanding that coat before at least a couple of top coats
      * reassembling the whole guitar including perfect alignment of the neck

      It would be impossible for Joe to do this as far as I can see. The guitar was never repainted all throughout it’s working life and remains with it’s original matt black finish worn down to the wood through use.

      I once tried to paint my own van camoflage olive drab without preparing it first….it was a disaster! Stripping down paint and repainting an object is a very complicated and specialised procedure in my book. If there are any Clash fans out there who work in the repainting business I would love to hear theories on how he could have done this back in those crude, penniless times. Sadly the only other person that would know would be Mickey Foote who has passed away.

      Once we got the advance from CBS, I found a guitar technician to service the guitars between tours -a bloke called Barry Magee who lived out in Hounslow. He had a workshop in one of his upstairs bedrooms.

      Thanks for the comment radio…

      The Baker.

      Reply
      1. Fab

        Hello gain. Sorry I have hdhd of the Internet I also have a theory. The paint wore out in a rather strange way, unlike a Fender factory job. I have the feeling Joe might have persuaded the garage guys who did the Clash stencils in the early days, to repaint his priceless instrument . Meaning it could be the heavy duty polly-esther based paint one would use for cars. Of course all the electrics had to have been taken out and necks on these unbolt easily .

      2. thebaker77 Post author

        Hi Fab, that’s an interesting theory and quite plausible although I have two main problems with it:

        1. Joe only became their singer about a month before I arrived there with the Subway Sect (we first went to rehearse at the beginning of August, 1976). Although I wasn’t physically involved with their gear at the time (being the Subway Sect roadie), I don’t remember ever seeing Joe with a sunburst Tele and I don’t think he would have had the time, or the inclination at that particular juncture to have such a detailed procedure carried out by a bunch of auto mechanics.

        2. ‘Harry Motors’ and their workers were no friends of ours. They were further down the yard and went out of their way to avoid us – they probably eyed us with suspicion and contempt at the weird haircuts and gaily spatter-painted Oxfam clothing. They probably thought we were a bunch of poofs…..
        I remember one night in 1977, I was upstairs in the office of Rehearsals. I was on my own – I don’t remember where everyone else was. The Clash would have gone home as they rehearsed during the day and the Subways at night. Suddenly, a bunch of Harry Motors heavies came crashing through the door and proceeded to give me a good kicking. I had no idea what it was for! They smashed the place up a bit (though there wasn’t much to really smash), so I took the brunt of it.

        Afterwards I just picked myself up, checked nothing was broken (on me), and just forgot about it. Such was life back in those days! I avoided their garage whenever possible (not hard as they were further down the arches). Even to this day I have no idea what the beef was….maybe Bernie had done the dirty on them….maybe one of the band had spat at the wrong time in the wrong place….who knows?

        A year later, in the ‘Gun’s On The Roof’ incident, I believe it was one of the mechanics who owned some of the racing pigeons that allegedly got shot and that’s probably why such a big stink was made of it. I can’t be sure after all this time but I’d like to think so….

        Thanks for the brilliant inspiration though Fab. The only way we could really know is I asked someone like Tymon Dogg or Richard Dudanski from the 101’ers if they remembered the sunburst Tele. Mickey Foote would have definitely have known but is sadly no longer with us.

        Cheers,

        The Baker.

      3. radiovalvular

        Hi!
        I think in the photo you captioned “old faithful” there’s some sunburst below the black paint near the pickguard. That’s why I was almost sure about that. But I didn’t know all the process. Thanks!

      4. thebaker77 Post author

        Yes, I see where you mean radio. That’s actually a very low-res photo I put up so it’s hard to tell (my fuck-up). There’s definitely some light brown colour coming through on that photo although it looks to me like it’s been over-saturated in Photoshop to enhance the colours. That’s the problem today – using software you could make it look convincingly rainbow-coloured in five minutes. But we’ll keep digging.

        Cheers,

        The Baker.

    1. thebaker77 Post author

      Hi radio, Yes that’s about as hi-res as you can get. I still can’t make out what the light brown bits are though. Just one search on the internet gave me dozens of companies selling exact replicas…full-size, miniatures, – all pretty indistinguishable from the original in a photo.
      I also came across this website:
      https://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/untold-story-punk-hero-joe-14847627?utm_source=sharebar&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=sharebar

      Plenty of inaccuracies, but probably some little-known truths in there.

      Another site just says: “After he acquired the guitar in the early 1970s, Strummer took the guitar to an auto-body shop, where he had it spray painted with gray primer.” Again, removing all the hardware, electronics, wiring and neck is not really within the expertise of an auto-mechanic. Getting that neck back on, aligned so it stays in tune, requires much adjustment – the neck will bend as the strings tighten so the tiny increments of fine-adjustments to be made.
      No details, and it’s five years out of date. The picture just looks to me like its the light brown of the wood exposed after years of abuse. But who can say for certain. I have an e-mail into Richard Dudanski asking if he or his brother Pat Nother remember the colour of the Tele Joe first bought after marrying that girl to get her a visa.
      https://www.newseum.org/exhibits_rockhall_strummertelecaster/

      The only thing we know for certain is that the original sits in Lucinda Tait’s collection of memorabilia and so far she has resisted all attempts to buy it. I’m sure it will get auctioned off at some point.

      Just like the flight-cases – the tall guitar flight-case we called “The Pilgrim” is sitting in some guys basement in the midlands underneath a tarpaulin. I offered to buy it on behalf of a big-shot music guy in NY but he refused to part with it for less than thousands of pounds. He only bought it for 460 pounds, I looked it up on the internet.

      My own drum-spares flight-case presently sits in the warehouse of a lighting firm in South London called “Supermick” where it houses a large disco ball….

      Cheers,

      The Baker.

      Reply
  4. radiovalvular

    Hi Baker,
    Thanks for the updates on the ‘sunburst’ investigation.
    Richard Dudanski is really nice. I also sent him some questions for my blog a couple of years ago and he had no problem to answer them.

    Happy New Year!

    Reply
  5. Eric Schafer

    Hi Baker,
    I’m an impossible Clash fan, of course. I just wanted to add a word about Joe’s guitars. The white one – which looked so beautiful, by the way, at the Kampuchea Concert, before he’d marked it up, is actually not a Telecaster, but an Esquire. This was an invention by Fender in the mid-1950s to offer a slightly lower price to musicians. It was a Telecaster in every respect, except it did not have a neck pickup – note in any photo the completely smooth white pickguard on Joe’s, with no break for the silver “lipstick tube” pickup cover.

    Esquires had the single bridge pickup of a normal Telecaster…and so what do you then do with the three-way pickup selector switch (bridge – both – neck)? Fender didn’t want to machine an entirely new selector/volume/tone plate, so they simply re-wired the single bridge pickup from its normal configuration. Thus with the Esquire you had three choices by flicking that selector switch to one of three positions: Normal bridge sound that responded to the tone control knob, just like a Tele; Tone cut-out, in which the tone control had no effect on the pickup’s sound and it went straight, untreated, to the amplifier (had to be incredibly brittle and trebly); and finally, a bass override, in which there was a severe treble cut and all the amp got was a deep, bassy tone, almost like a baritone guitar. This last never sounded good and I doubt anyone ever used it for anything.

    I imagine Joe just kept it in the Normal position, as he kept his amps so clean and trebly anyway. The white one would have been produced sometime between 1959-1965, when Fender was still making Esquires and they’d introduced the dark rosewood fretboards that this one has. I reckon he picked it up in America some time in 1979, as it first seems to appear late that year. I was right at the front of the stage for the Clash’s October 2, 1982 concert in Binghamton, NY (my hometown) and Joe used this Esquire for the entire show. Best concert I ever saw in my life.

    Blessings to you and everyone in Clash World,

    Eric S.

    Reply
  6. radiovalvular

    Hi Baker, I’ve just read in a Facebook group called Rebel Clash about a gig in Finland where the Clash had to borrow Abba’s equipment. Can you tell us something about that?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. thebaker77 Post author

      Yes we did radiovulvar. It was while we were recording in Wessex Studios (probabably August ’79) Caroline Coon had been sacked and Blackhill still had not been engaged as management so we were still broke and existing on the recording budget from CBS (piling everything on….) Ian Flooks no longer headed up ‘Wasted Talent’ (our old promoter) and had gone solo. He called us at Wessex and said there was this festival being organised by Thomas Johanssen (Abba’s manager), in Turku Finland. At the mention of Abba, out ears pricked up.

      Graham Parker was the headline act and was getting paid 7,500 pounds. We decided we desperately wanted to do it, BUT, we couldn’t dismantle and ship the gear with no money, so Thomas would have to provide the gear and up the fee in cash. To our amazement he agreed. So that weekend, we took the guitars only (and Topper’s snare drum) and flew out to Finland with Jeremy Green (the sound engineer at Wessex to mix out front and help with the guitars.

      Thomas Johanssen was a perfect gentleman and everything was laid on. We thought it was hired gear but eventually found out it was their backline, PA system, microphones….we were enthused. Johnny pressed and pressed for a visit from any of Abba but alas, it was not to be. So we played a blasting set, ran overtime of course, and took the money (Johnny held it all in his pink flightcase briefcase). It was like a mad military operation gone right. That night at the hotel there were the usual chaotic scenes – one incident involved Topper’s spurs (which he wore constantly since we came back from the States, a six-foot Finn who’s head got clipped by said spurs, much anger and shouting and us all piling in to subdue the crazy Finlander.

      Next day on the plane, Johnny dished out the dosh like Monopoly money….”One for you, two for you….” The other passengers looked on in amazement. Back in those days before Blackhill it was all-for-one and one-for-all. I naively thought it would never end and would always be that way, but Johnny knew otherwise and as soon as Blackhill took over the reigns the cameraderie begun to seperate and it became far more ‘automated’ (?) It was inevitable, I guess.

      Monday we were back in Wessex, ready for the first take of the day.

      The Baker.

      PS. Sorry for the delay radiovulvar….

      Reply

Leave a Reply to Jon Wurster Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s