Chris Infidel rocking through "Tommy Gun" with the Joe Strummer Tribute Tele, Strummercamp 2007, Manchester, UK. Photo by Raw Music.
The Creation of a Tribute to Joe Strummer
Here is a little information about the construction of this guitar:
All of the parts are genuine Fender or Fender-licensed. I tried to collect as many authentic parts as I could, so much of the guitar has the same parts as Joe Strummer's 1966 Fender Telecaster. For example, the switch, pots, knobs, and backplate are genuine 1966 Fender Tele parts. The bridge pickup is from a 1968 Telecaster (I could not find a '66 pickup). The neck pickup is modern, but an authentic '66 will be added soon. The tuners are authentic early '70s "F" tuners, which Joe put on his Tele in 1978. The bridge is NOS from the period and then aged, as is the switch plate, but the neck plate and one of the string trees are authentic from 1966.
Joe's Tele originally had a sunburst finish, which means it has an alder body instead of ash. He had it painted with grey automobile primer and then black automobile paint in 1976. So we did the same thing. We started with a Fender licensed alder body, finished it as a 1966 Fender sunburst using the same paint and techniques Fender used at the time, and then oversprayed it with grey primer and black auto paint. (That was not easy to do.) We even chipped the pick guard in the same place Joe's was chipped. The Fender UK site had a good photo of the back, which we used for comparison. (For reasons unknown, the official Fender web page dedicated to Joe's guitar is no longer available.) We even applied the "?" Joe Strummer painted on his guitar in the late 70s, and then we carefully sanded it off. There was a sticker back there in 2002, so we tried to duplicate that too. Joe Strummer normally pasted his set list to the top of the guitar near the strap button, so we duplicated these markings too.
I bought the "Ignore Alien Orders" sticker from a guy in London. The "Trash City" sticker was recreated from the artwork on the original 1980s 7" LP, which I bought and scanned. Then it was printed on a 4" sticker from a stationary store, applied and aged according to photos and a screen shot from the DVD of a Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros festival show in Germany.
The hardest feature to get right, other than the aged finish, was the tuners. The Fender UK page on Joe Strummer's Telecaster stated -- incorrectly -- that Joe's guitar has Kluson tuners. Kluson tuners have "tulip" knobs, whereas Joe's tuners are more squared off.
In fact, Joe's guitar originally had Kluson tuners, which were stock on a '66 Tele, but he added "F" tuners when he changed the bridge in 1978. These were used on Telecasters from '67 to '74, so he must have nicked them from another guitar or from the parts bin. The black on black maple neck Tele he started using around '78 also had "F" tuners, so he must have liked them. Joe Strummer may not have liked playing "the fiddly bits" (as he told Musician magazine), but he certainly was a stickler for intonation.
First, I had to confirm that Strummer had switched to using "F" tuners, which was a bitch because there are no photos of the back of the headstock anywhere. Then, I had to go out and find a complete set of original 35 year old "F" tuners that weren't too beat up. This wasn't easy to do because they weren't used for very long, while you can get Klusons anywhere.
Finally, we had to get the little details correct. Questions like "did Joe use strap locks?" and "is the Fender logo on the headstock still visible?" were asked and answered (the answers: sort of, and just barely). As a result, I have added red rubber washers from Grolsch beer bottles to act as strap locks, and adjustments were made to the logo. The guitar has been shown to, and played by, several people who were close to Joe Strummer and the response has been phenomenal. It is an almost exact likeness.
When the guitar appeared at Strummercamp 2007 in Manchester, UK, the response was amazing. Many people confused my guitar with Joe Strummer's actual guitar, an on-line debate ensued over which guitar actually appeared at the festival, and YouTube videos of "Joe's guitar" making an appearance in the wild were mistakenly posted. At first, I was flattered by the comparisons. However, my intent in building this guitar was not to confuse or mislead anyone. Therefore, I have left three or four subtle differences between my Joe Strummer Tribute Tele and Joe Strummer's actual guitar, the most prominent of which is the more visible Fender spaghetti logo on the headstock of my guitar. (The Fender logo on Joe's guitar is still present, but nearly invisible.) The other differences are known only to me and Andy Boo, Joe Strummer's long time guitar tech, who graciously provided feedback after examining the guitar at Strummercamp 2007.
To build this guitar, we used exactly the same techniques the Fender Custom Shop normally uses when it creates an authentic reissue of a famous player's guitar (such as the Jeff Beck Esquire, Rory Gallagher Strat and Eric Clapton "Blackie" Stratocaster). This is the result. The great thing is, it sounds as authentic as it looks. It's not a show piece to hang on the wall -- it is meant to be played. So far, that's what I am doing, and the response has been fantastic.
This site receives between 2,000 and 3,000 visitors each month, so far from every continent except Antarctica (we're still hoping), and links to the site have been posted on guitar forums around the world. Several people have contacted me to express their appreciation and ask for advice about how to create their own "Strummer Teles" as a tribute to Mr. Strummer. In the near future, I will post photos of some of their creation on the links page of this site. In the meantime, please take a look at the Photo Gallery page for additional information and remember, FTFB!