I was reading a post in the Forum about one of Duane’s old Strats and this story came flooding back…
From day one, Duane could play just about any guitar, and make it cry, but he had a real Fender fetish in the early days. Probably his all-time favorite guitar from his early Allman Joys/Hourglass days, when I knew him was a Telecaster body with a Strat neck, hybrid that he coveted. According to Paul Hornsby, Duane lost that guitar when it was stolen, by some bottom-feeder, while the Hourglass was touring the mid east in late 67 or early 68.
About the same time that Duane’s Tele/Strat hybrid was stolen, the guitar player in my band acquired a blond neck Strat that had to be totally rebuilt out of “junk” pawnshop parts. If I remember correctly his “new” guitar (new to Ralph, anyway) was purchased in multiple pieces; all of which were crammed into a pasteboard box. The price in early 1968 for a guitar in pieces? Under $100.
First, Ralph had the body painted, sort of a Robin Egg Blue by a friend at the local facto-bake, $49.00 paint and body shop. Weeks passed, and by the time he finished sanding, lacquering, rewiring, and otherwise putting the puzzle back together, Ralph was delighted to discover that his “bits-and-pieces” Strat sounded great…better than great, it was beyond all of our expectations. It was a wonderfully punchy/gutsy guitar, and Duane Allman lusted after that guitar from the first time he touched it like a stray dog after a T-bone.
Duane would come into the club that we played in, and ask to sit-in (I’m sure) just to get his hands on that guitar. He begged, borrowed, and even tried to trade a pretty nice Les Paul for my buddies guitar. Tempting, but no deal. We had all put too much time, and elbow grease into the Robin Egg Strat to let it go…even to Duane.
One night when Duane was playing my buddies guitar, and was lost in one of his searing trademark, where-the-hell-are-we-going-next, eyes-closed solo’s, Duane forgot that he had tucked a just-lit cigarette under the strings near the first tuner when he had started playing that song. By the time that Duane finished his solo, and rejoined the rest of us mortals on stage, the cigarette had long burned out, but it had also burned the pristine maple headstock on my friends guitar. Duane was horrified that he had blemished the cherished guitar, and apologized over and over, but in reality, what he had done was sanctified the guitar for all time. Even at seventeen or eighteen, we all knew Duane was destine to be someone special, and my buddy looked at the burn-mark as Duane’s signature.
I have cherished pictures of Ralph playing the “Duane Strat,” as it was called after that night. As if it was last night, I can still hear the Hourglass playing “Now is the Time,” “Power of Love, and “I Still Want Your Love” among others with Duane using that guitar. When Duane played that Strat, he tantalized and teased us all with incredible throwaway licks before each song, adjusting the tone, lovingly. All we could do is sit back, and shake our heads. I think that he just liked to listen to the way it sounded. Duane always tried to visit that guitar when he was in town…it did sound wonderful. Duane’s burn marks were never removed…actually, they were lacquered, and forever enshrined.
The Allman Brothers Band was still in its infancy when my buddy traded that guitar to his brother for a semi-hollow body Gibson. His brother needed a Strat for the road, and my friend was in college, and didn’t need the solid body as much anymore. After all, he traded it to his brother, and Ralph always knew that he would get the guitar back one day.
Sadly, the “Duane Strat” went the way of many great-sounding guitars that wind-up getting used on the road. Backs were turned for a split-second, and it vanished after a show somewhere in New Jersey. I can only hope that the bottom feeder that stole that particular guitar at least played well, and recognized how wonderfully powerful it sounded. I’m sure that the perpetrator had no clue of the history of that guitar. The “Duane Strat.”