Rory Gallagher

William Rory Gallagher, born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal (Ireland), on March 2, 1948 (died on June 14, 1995) and raised in Cork, was an Irish blues and rock songwriter and producer. He started his musical career with the band Taste, with which he played during the late 1960s, and continued to record solo albums throughout the 1970s and 80s.

Gallagher bought his famous Stratocaster guitar in 1963. It was not only the first Strat he had ever seen, but it was believed to have been the first one imported into Ireland. It was ordered for another local guitarist who thought who wanted to buy a red Stratocaster. When a sunburst instrument arrived, he played it for a while, then decided to pass it along to Gallagher. A fortuitous decision; Rory Gallagher and this passed-over guitar produced a mountain of fiery, emotive, heartfelt blues that contributed to establishing the Fender-based blues-rock tone idolized to this day.

Amid all the battered Strats recorded in the annals of electric guitars, Rory Gallagher’s leaves a bolder impression than most. This road-worn 1961 Stratocaster embodies the instrument of the hard-travelling, hard-playing, hard-living blues rocker.

In addition to its famous disappearing finish, Gallagher’s Strat shows all the pieces of evidence of the wear and tear that will scar any hard-gigged electric guitar. Its replaced tuners (mismatched, with five Sperzels and one Gotoh), single white-plastic fingerboard dot substituting one missing clay twelfth-fret marker, rewound pickups, and replaced potentiometers are all necessary repairs, carried out by an artist who made this his main instrument throughout his career. Gallagher owned another Strat, but he rarely played it, plus a 1957 Sunburst with maple neck bought as a backup, a Telecaster, a Gretsch Corvette, and a handful of other guitars. Mike Eldred, the head of Fender’s Custom Shop, examined the original Strat during the process of creating Fender’s Rory Gallagher Tribute Stratocaster and found out that there were many further modifications under the hood. “Inside it was pretty trashed. Replaced wood, bad wiring job, bits of rubber. It was a mess,” Eldred said to Patrick Kennedy for Strat Collector in 2004.

The decay of Gallagher’s ’61 Strat’s, however, was not the result of abuse, as  Gallagher adored it and cared for it lovingly, but the consequence of Rory's body chemistry. According to his brother Donal, who is now the guitar's owner, Rory had a rare blood type that gave his sweat extremely acidic properties. Gallagher sweated a lot in any concert and the Strat's finishes paid the price. Rory Gallagher said that he had to remove the waterlogged neck to dry it out as the sweat penetrated the maple wood after the clear nitrocellulose lacquer was worn off. The amount of bare wood on this legendary ’61 Strat has helped the spreading of the belief that guitars with thinner (or no) finishes resonating more freely and have a better sound than those with thick, non-breathable lacquer finishes. There might be something true in this theory, but it’s reasonable to assume that the magic radiated by Rory Gallagher and his battered Strat was the results of the artist’s unchained heart, head, and hands rather than the absence of the lacquer.


Next player: Lowell George