I picked up the guitar in my early teens. The first guitar I got was an acoustic nylon string that I borrowed from a friend. A year or so later, I got my first electric. A 1976 Ibanez Artist 2676 Les Paul and I also got a Marshall 5210 50 solid state combo.
This was really a dream setup for me at the time and I spent hours every day learning Kiss, Sabbath, Zeppelin, Whitesnake and tons of classic rock stuff. That’s really my musical background and music that still influence me today.
My first Stratocaster was a mid 70s Japanese Asama, which was a really nice copy, with mid 50s specs and one of the best necks I’ve played. I was a teenager at the time and obviously didn’t have the money for a US Gibson or Fender but these Japanese copies were, and still are, extremely good and I still go after these when I’m looking for something new.
I don’t have a large guitar collection. There’s a few Strats, Les Pauls and a couple of others and I guess my main goal is to at least have something for every occasion, whether it’s a fat sounding Les Paul or twangy Telecaster. There was a point where I played Strats exclusively but I tend to rely on P90s and humbuckers more and more.
I’ve never been interested in brands or origin. I’m always looking for guitars that sound and plays well acoustically. Hardware and pickups can always be replaced and customised and for me, that’s part of the fun.
I have a Stratocaster that I bought new in 1996 at a shop in Oslo, Norway, where I live. It’s a Fender Japan MIJ 50s Collectable, the forerunner to the now Mexican made Classic series. Like many of the Japanese series, the guitar was a hybrid, with a ’54 reissue soft V-shaped maple neck, ’62 contoured basswood body and 50s era pickups.
Current specs are
Fender MIJ Japan ’62 reissue basswood body
Fender CIJ Japan ’65 reissue oval C-shaped neck with rosewood 7.25” fingerboard and binding
D Allen Voodoo 69 neck and middle pickups and S Duncan SSL5 bridge pickup
5-way pickup switch
Callaham Vintage S tremolo system with 5 1/4” arm
250k volume and tone pots
Custom 1-ply black pickguard
Original plastic nut replaced with bone nut
Inside cavity of the body covered with copper foil for better shielding and ground
Back in 2010 I swapped the original ’54 reissue maple neck with a Japanese Fender CIJ ’65 reissue from another Stratocaster that I’d just bought. It’s a oval C, with a beautiful binding very similar to the Eric Johnson signature.
I’ve also experimented with different pickup sets and combinations over the years, including full sets of Fender Texas Specials, Fender Custom Shop 54, Fender Custom Shop 69s and EMG DG20 before settling on D Allen Voodoo 69s in the neck and middle positions and a Seymour Duncan SSL5 in the bridge.
The ’69 can often sound a tad too bright but they fit this guitar incredibly well. I’ve set them just a hair closer to the strings than “normal” to have a better balance with the SSL-5, which has a considerably higher output. The combination makes the guitar incredibly versatile and with the right pedals, it can sound pretty heavy too.
I also replaced the stock tremolo system with Callaham Vintage S, including a shortened arm, for better operation and more sustain, and upgraded most of the hardware and electronics. The inside cavity of the guitar is covered with copper foil for better shielding and ground. Combined with high quality cables the guitar is surprisingly silent.
I like the basswood body. To my ears it just sound more punchy and snappy compared to ash and alder. I know there’s always the debate on whether wood has any influence on the tone or not and maybe it’s just a feel but I always come back to basswood for these qualities.
The guitar is obviously inspired by David Gilmour’s Black Strat. It started out that way but now it’s become so much more.
It’s always hard to explain why a certain guitar or instrument becomes a favourite. I got this Stratocaster at a time where I started to develop a style that I would say is me. I can still remember that transition and I recognise much of the playing when I go back an listen to those early recordings.
The guitar has been featured on every Airbag and solo album, including songs like Steal My Soul, Homesick, Redemtion, Disconnected and Where Are You Now.
It’s been with me all the way and I do feel that we’ve evolved together. I know every nuance of the guitar and I know what I need to do to reach its potential or sweetspots. I’m sure many guitarists has at least one guitar that they have a special connection with. It’s probably a process and something that develops with time too.
I don’t think I would have become the guitarist I am today without it. Had I gone for a Les Paul or Telecaster or something quite different, my style and technique would have been different too. When ever I play this Stratocaster I feel that I express myself much more personally. That doesn’t mean the guitar always is my first choice but when I do need it, it feels just right.