Richard Smith is the curator of the Fender Gallery at the Fullerton Museum Center. He is shown with a 1952 Fender P-Bass, the instrument that influenced the design of the Stratocaster.
Fullerton collector puts Fender guitar up for sale
By Anders Howman - Orange County Register
March 19, 2014 at 6:25 am
FULLERTON – Richard Smith’s two girls are in college, and that can cost a bit.
So dad is willing to part with the first Fender Stratocaster to ever roll off the production line.
You can have this 1954 ax that has barely been played for $250,000.
“I’m thinking it’s time for somebody else to enjoy it,” said Smith, a Fullerton resident. “I don’t play it that often, obviously, and I have the other ones that I play.”
This sunburst-finished beauty is on consignment at George Gruhn’s guitar shop in Nashville, Tenn. With its poodle-style case, Gruhn lists it at a quarter-million bucks.
“This is special,” Gruhn told The Associated Press. “It’s not special as memorabilia because it was owned by anybody special.
“But it is special because this is effectively like having the right Rembrandt or Van Gogh or da Vinci. It’s special because of what it is and who did this. Not because of who owned it.”
Smith bought the guitar in the early 1980s from the original owner, a carpenter from Kern County. While he wouldn’t say for how much, Smith did say he offered the “going rate.”
“It’s been part of my collection for about 30 years,” said Smith, 63.
He owned more than 60 rare guitars and amplifiers at the height of his collection; he now has 20.
First produced in 1954, the Fender Stratocaster is described as the guitar that changed the world. Its design was space-age, and its tone distinct.
Strats were played by Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly and Bob Dylan. After 60 years, the design has remained largely unchanged.
Gruhn said that Stratocasters are the best-selling electric guitars of all time.
In 2004, Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” fetched $959,500. Recently, the Strat that Dylan played at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival went for $965,000.
When it comes to guitars, Smith is a walking encyclopedia.
The Fullerton native attended middle school with Jackson Browne; the first guitar Smith played was Browne’s. He strummed in Dick Dale’s band, the Del-Tones, for a couple of years.
Smith wrote a vintage-guitar column, “Rare Bird,” in Guitar Player magazine during the ’80s – just as guitar collectors were starting to pay big money for rare Fender Strats and Gibson Les Pauls.
Smith knew Fender’s founders, George Fullerton and Leo Fender; he would occasionally test their prototypes. When Fender died in 1991, Smith plucked “Faded Love” at the guitar legend’s funeral.
(While Fender was founded in Fullerton in 1946, the company’s manufacturing headquarters these days are in Corona, also home of the famed customs shop and a visitor’s center where the public can take tours.)
Now, Smith – curator of the Fender Gallery at the Fullerton Museum Center – needs to pay for his daughters’ college: Sarah Smith, 21, is studying architecture at USC, and Amy Smith, 18, is studying cinematography at Emerson College in Boston.
One reason Smith didn’t play his historic Strat a lot is because, being the first one off of the line, Fender was still working out design kinks.
“As far as a player’s guitar that I would want to have and hold and play, even if it wasn’t that valuable, it wouldn’t be the first one that I choose,” Smith said. “But it has historical significance.”
Gruhn says it is a national treasure: “It’s a piece of art, it’s a piece of industrial design, it’s a piece of musical history. And it’s part of our national heritage.”