In most photos, you’ll see Buddy Holly wearing eyeglasses with thick rims and a beaming smile. The last thing you would think of when looking at this musician is that he was a rebel. However, Holly (who was born with the name Charles Hardin Holley) was a revolutionary when it came to rock ‘n’ roll. He innovated almost everything he excelled at. At a time where recording artists tended to be packaged by executives at record companies, and backed-up by studio songwriters and samples, the template Buddy Holly and the Crickets developed would go on to establish the artist’s career: songs were written by the band, who played at recording dates of their choosing, and – along with the assistance of a sideman here and there – performed live when they wanted to.
The way Holly played was just as innovative, integrating high-string lead work and chunky rhythms into a style influenced by a touch of R & B, rockabilly, and country music. In the midst of such unconventional behavior, Holly’s choice of guitar was just as radical: while newcomers on the blooming scene of rock ‘n’ roll were playing big-bodied archtops (usually by Gibson or Gretsches), Holly borrowed some money from Larry, his brother, and bought another Fender Strat - a guitar developed for country musicians and released to the market the year prior. Holly was the first popular musician to regularly perform with this instrument.
The first Strat Holly played was either a late ’54 or ’55 model, which he used for a couple of years. It can be heard in a number of his early hits, such as “Peggy Sue” and “That’ll Be the Day.” The guitar was stolen in 1957 in Michigan our of a tour bus (during Alan Freed’s package tour entitled “Biggest Show of Stars”). The ’57 Strat he replaced it with, which was hastily purchased in the city of Detroit before his performance later that evening, may be the most well-known of the Stratocasters owned by Holly. As another two-toned Sunburst with a maple fingerboard, a number of photos show him playing the instrument in the years ‘57 and ‘58. The neck and middle pickup covers, right under the E string, exposed the fiber coils in black underneath.
This legendary ‘57 Strat was with Holly during most of his prominent performances. It set the bar for Fender’s body design standards. It can be seen on Holly’s television appearances, such as the “Arthur Murray Dance Party” and the “Ed Sullivan Show” (a Fender Bassman tweed amp can be seen in the far background). It also accompanied Holly on a British tour of the UK. In the spring of 1958, another Strat went missing – this time from Holly’s possession, specifically from the station wagon the band was traveling in (after making a pit stop in St. Louis to eat). Before he died in 1959, Holly would own as many as three more Stratocasters. The last one he owned can be seen in Lubbock, Texas (his hometown) in the Buddy Holly Center.