Born on April 13, 1945, in Hollywood, California, Lowell Thomas George was a singer, songwriter, producer and guitarist. From his career inception with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in the late 1960s, passing through the days with his own band, Little Feat, to the grand finale of his short-lived solo career, Lowell George could become a significant hero of the Stratocaster if it wasn't for his premature death on June 29, 1979. It is enough to listen to any of Little Feat’s landmark songs of the 70s to understand why. Alongside that soulful voice, George’s Strat sound stands out as one of the most distinctive of his times. George told Dan Kening, a journalist of Guitar Player, in 1976 that he always preferred “to buy a stock guitar so if it gets stolen I can replace it easily”. That is just a small piece of the story of what went into creating that unmistakable tone. Looked from another angle, he managed to turn that “stock guitar” into something entirely different from a standard Stratocaster.
As he also told Guitar Player magazine, George bought standard, off-the-shelf 1970s Stratocasters at the peak of his success because he had several of them stolen on the road. However, the best known of these had several modifications that helped it achieve that famous signature tone. The Strat’s standard neck pickup served his sweet-sounding moments well, whilst a slightly fatter Telecaster pickup to the bridge position, combined with an Alembic Blaster preamp, supported extra punch. The brew was completed by a set of heavy-gauge flat-wound strings, put it in open-A tuning, a Sears Craftsman 11/16 socket wrench slip on his little finger for slide and a custom-made Dumble amplifier. Definitely a long way from “off-the-shelf Strat”, enhanced by George’s tasteful slide work. Lowell George had at least two ’70s Stratocasters modified as such, one with a natural finish and another in blonde, as witnessed in photos and live performance videos, but he probably owned several more over time. Not all of them were modified with the Tele pickup or the Alembic preamp, but they tended to evolve toward that ideal setup as he tried them out on the road and into studio recordings. None of the great studio albums exhibits the peculiar tone of this special gear mixture. However, the Little Feat’s live album from 1978, Waiting for Columbus, which eventually became their best selling record, came close to it in the blistering slide tones of tracks such as “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” “Dixie Chicken,” and “Rocket in My Pocket”. This songs also enhance, just as crucially, how important the use of restraint, and silence, is to George's playing style too. They could not be played by any other than Lowell George at his best. All the more tragic that he died at the age of 34 for heart failure, just two weeks into his solo tour and when he finally found the perfect sound he was looking for.
Next player: David Gilmour