Harry Pellegrin's creation
(Or how I couldn’t find
or afford the Fender offering, so I made my own.)
Rory Gallagher Signature Model Story
Two years ago, Fender didn’t announce the release of the Rory Gallagher
Custom Shop Stratocaster. In Fender’s defense, the forty replicas
were commissioned by an independent
Fender dealership in England, Arbiter of London, so this wasn’t
a catalog item. Of course, both the limited supply as well
as the high demand for this item in Europe (plus Fender’s rather
high retail price dictated by the obvious complexity of the replication
process) placed this guitar well out of my hands. But I still
When I saw a genuine Fender Stratocaster body up
for auction on Ebay only fetching $50.00 in bids, I decided that
I could create my own Rory Gallagher Signature Model, saving a huge
fortune and having an interesting and good time in the process.
I placed my bid and waited. To my
surprise, I won at $55.00! Seen here on day of
delivery, the body was almost too nice to relic as drastically
as Rory’s guitar
While no one will ever see this, the fact that the pickup routing
is mid-nineties in execution – note the humbucker mortise at the bridge position – bummed me
slightly. This lacked authenticity. I also was concerned
that after stripping the paint, I’d findeither a lackluster grain
figuring or a bunch of careless joinery. Let’s face it, solid
colors are not sprayed on AAA grade wood!
A Fender replacement neck of a 1960’s pattern would have had an
incomplete headstock decal as well as cost $325.00. Too expensive
for something unauthentic. Allparts supplied a ‘60’s style neck
with a rosewood board for around 100 bucks. This neck can be
ordered with jumbo fret wire and a slightly flatter board –
modifications that Rory had done to his neck. Stewart MacDonald
supplied all the small hardware including the pickguard, knobs and jack
I have a desk drawer full of Strat pickups and selected two ‘57/62 Custom
Shop pickups for the neck and mid position and a Texas Special
pickup for the bridge position. I understand that Rory used three
’61 pickups. Rory I ain’t; I needed a pickup with more guts in
the bridge position. I had a small assortment of pickup covers in
my drawer and matched the covers to a photo of Rory circa early
’73. The bridge cover appears
fairly white in the photo, the neck position appears cream colored, the
middle is a light cream. The knobs are cream as well.
The tuning machines are ‘60’s vintage reissue pieces, the bridge is the
part number Fender uses on their American Series ’62 Reissue
Stratocaster. It is a beautiful piece -- $69.95.
Well, at this point it
seemed as if I had all the parts and could begin the process. I
decided to start with the body, as this had the potential to take the
most time and most planning. I studied photos of Rory’s guitar
from different stages in his career and the guitar’s
decomposition. I love the look of his guitar in the Irish Tour
’74 video, so decided to go for that replication. I was surprised
to discover that there was quite a bit of the original color – and by
that, I mean the red/brown and yellow of the burst. I wasn’t
to get away with just stripping off paint, I was going to have to burst
areas after I’d stripped them. Using Zip Strip, I began
my attempt to remove the amazingly heavy and durable epoxy(?) finish
from the body. It soaked for two days before the paint would even
do anything more than slightly etch. This Fender finish is good
The photo at right was taken
about a week into the stripping process.
I was hoping to save what I have begun to call the Eagle’s Head Profile
on the upper bout of Rory’s guitar.
Here is a photo taken right after most of this figure chipped
off. A minor setback. Imagine my delight when the paint
came off and I saw that the body was joined in exactly the same places
the replica’s! The grain is light, but tight and
attractive. I seemed to have really scored. The rear of the
instrument may prove hard to duplicate.
Most photos of Rory do not allow one to see the back of the
guitar. I have seen the rear of the Fender
replica courtesy of a German Fender dealer who was offering one
of the forty for sale on the Internet. The back is fairly
stripped – it represents Rory’s guitar as it is today, not as it was
in late ’73 – my target date.
I can only surmise how belt buckles and Levi’s rivets had
distressed the wood. As I have no other complete photo of
the back of Rory’s guitar at my target
date, I decided to fake it following the incomplete photos I
Here is a photo of a portion
of the back after stripping.
It was just about at this point that I developed
a serious need for a glimpse
of the progress being made towards the guitar
of the Master. Even with the neck raw – and there’s a story here
too, just wait a paragraph or two – and the hardware still out
rusting in the back yard, for a giggle, I wanted to see what the
instrument would look like ‘together.’ You’d be amazed (or maybe
not) at the charge I got out of this peek. This photo has been my
compute desktop background for a few weeks now!
The Decal Saga
Now for the Decal Saga. For a time now, folks have been
auctioning Fender decals on Ebay. Fender
Musical Instrument Corporation routinely shuts down these auctions
and their perpetrators, so you have to just catch things at the
right time. These decals are almost always home-brewed, and
as I have purchased a number of them from various sources over the past
few years, I can tell you that quality varies greatly, in both clarity
and color of artwork as well as the workability of the decal –
when applied under lacquer.
These decals usually will set you back about twenty bucks – when you
can find them. In the past, I had refinished the neck of my 1995
Strat Standard that had seen better days. I had played 150 shows
a year on that guitar for four years straight. The maple neck’s
finish was worn through all over the place. I purchased one decal
from a source that promised that the merchandise would be good – and it
was a very clear and well-colored decal. It
just wouldn’t stand up to even the lightest fog coat of lacquer.
had to purchase a second one from him and try to figure why I was
having difficulty. I finally got an acceptable result by applying
over a light base coat, then using a pin and alcohol, pricking the
all over and slightly melting the plastic carrier with the alcohol – a
delicate and time-consuming task.
This time around, I found a decal on Ebay with a
BUY IT NOW option, so that was what I did. Not the greatest
clarity, so I tried another vendor – one who was just in the throes
of being shut down by Fender. I purchased one decal, she sent
her entire remaining stock! Score one for our team, her decals
are awesome both in clarity and color as well as ease of application
Applying the finishes
But now you will note from
the pictures above that the neck was quite light in color and I am
going for the aged and sweated-on look of a vintage piece. Enter
Guitar Re-Ranch from Texas. They offer vintage refinishing
supplies and are a great website for information as well as
product. Their instructions for a vintage amber
Fender neck refinish seemed well thought out and logical, so I took
a gamble and ordered what I needed.
They suggest a two
step application. Step one is an aniline dye in amber. This
colors the maple. A nitrocellulose lacquer top-coat glosses it
and keeps the aniline dye from coming off on your fingers. Note
pale headstock on left. Note rich amber color on the after shot
to the right. See how great – and authentic the decal
looks. Here’s a gesture to the Custom Shop Replica: In the supply of decals
my merchant sent, there were two Fender Custom Shop headstock reverse
decals. I figured why not mimic the replica a bit here? The
following shot shows my Custom Shop logo on rear. Notice in the small
photo from the German dealer’s website a few pages ago that the neck is
discolored where the left hand has rubbed the lacquer from the wood and
finger oil and dirt has been absorbed. At first, I thought to
myself that I’d leave the neck raw in that area and let my hand do the
dirty work, but then I realized I could apply a way heavier coating of
the aniline dye there and rather than lacquer over it, apply tung
oil. This will retain the feel as well as the look of the raw
wood plus give
me that lived in vibe that I’m looking for.
At this point, it’s back to the body. I’ve
sanded it lightly though I’ve left the original black paint (busted
up, of course) along the edges and n a few key spots on the front
and the back. I feel that leaving some of the guitar body’s
original finish lends it a bit of mojo that would otherwise be
I traced the patterns of paint from a photo of Rory circa 1974.
To the right, you’ll see the photo that for me is the benchmark.
I know that this is because I saw Rory in late ’73 – November 1973 to
be more precise at New York’s Felt Forum and this is how I remember him
and his guitar. I don’t know
who took this photo as someone sent it to me as a JPEG, but it is a
Here is a close-up of the upper bout and my tracing applied to
it. The entire guitar will be masked, except for the areas within
these tracings. Then I will apply a three-color sunburst and
Below is a detail of the area of finish remaining in ’74 in the area of
the bridge and jack plate mortise. Masking tape was applied over
the outlines of the paint chips.
Then with an Exacto knife, I cut along the line and removed the masking
tape from within the delineated area. The rest of the body was
masked off with tape and shop toweling. The burst is a three-part
process, a yellow dye (I used the same aniline dye as on the neck) a
reddish brown lacquer, the black edging lacquer and a clear coat over
I guess it’s really a four part process…
You can see the masking tape quite clearly in the following set of
pictures. The burst was quite easy to shoot and I would feel
quite comfortable doing this type finish on an entire guitar. It
even looks quite good on the paper towel!
Note that I changed the shape of the Eagle, which looked too
‘modern’ to me.
the black edging.
Here’s a close-up of the Eagle’s Profile. There are two small
chips below the Eagle, you can see them in the masking tape in the
picture to the left. The back was outlines from a few incomplete
photos and a brief instant that I caught with the digital camera by
snapping the TV screen during the Irish Tour ’74 video. Are you
beginning to see that this was a labor of love? Same sequence.
Here’s the final back, there was some bleed of the red/brown through
the masking tape. This easily sands out with 320 grit.
Here is a photo of a portion of the back after stripping.Here
is a photo of a portion of the back after stripping. It clearly shows the Eagle’s
Profile and to my infinite grief, it appears a different shape than my
careful reproduction from the other photo of similar vintage. I
attribute this to the fact that the guitar is being viewed from
different angles. I hope.
Photo from the back of the Deuce album
At this point, I was more
or less happy with the paint on the guitar, both for color as well as
placement and ‘relic-ing’, but I was
not so pleased with the pale, raw wood. I tried a number of
natural means to stain the wood and make it look like it was
These included both tea as well as coffee applied to the wood.
You might be surprised how much coffee can be absorbed by raw wood
while leaving hardly a trace!
In this picture, one can clearly see the smooth contoured edge of
the old black paint on the lower body by the jack socket mortise.
Very unauthentic. A rasp took care
But back to the light color of the raw wood. After experimenting
with various household concoctions (I figured Rory’s guitar was
discolored by who-knows-what, but it certainly didn’t come out of a can),
I had to resort to a store-bought preparation.
I studied the MinWax color samples at the hardware store and
settled on Early American #230. It did a remarkable job in two
passes (rub on with a cloth,
clean off the excess with a cloth) of darkening the
wood to match the early photos.
This photo gave me pause to truly rejoice at the
progress this project has seen.
Adding the Hardware
the Completed Strat
I believe that Rory’s guitar was rewired so that
one tone control rolled off the higher frequencies on all three
pickups (unlike the stock set-up where neck and middle have an
independent tone control each, the bridge pickup is only controlled by
the volume control.) I’ve been playing Strats for more years than
I will admit to here and am used to the stock set-up, so that’s what I
used on my Rory Strat.
The rest of the hardware was installed with a minimum of fuss – the peg
holes had to be reamed slightly to allow the grommets to press
fit. The body and neck didn’t go together quite as intended. The
neck sat about an eighth of an inch too high, so I
had to carefully drop the neck pocket in the body. Assembly took
six hours including a complete and thorough set-up.
Today I played the Strat for the first time in performance. The
neck and mid pickup provide that wonderful glassy, shimmery Fender tone when the
volume knob is rolled back to the seven-eight position. They
fatten up and (with a Blues Driver pedal) distort in a very vintage
way when full on. The bridge pickup, my Texas Special, is a
snotmeister and very much needed for my playing style. The
neck is terrific. It feels just like my 1971 Telecaster (a
good thing) and very close to my ’62 Strat reissue.
I’m very happy with the outcome of this project.
Total cost? $107.00 for the neck, $55.00 for the body,
$60.00 in stripper and paint, $110.00 in assorted hardware and three
months of experimentation and futzing. Much better than 6000
quid! Plus, there’s the pride of accomplishment! Strat seen
here with my Elaine.
This is Harry Pellegrin's story and his Strat. Sorry, I don't have any
decals, nor does Harry!
John Ganjamie (