The instrument surfaced in 2014, shortly after Eddie died in 2012. I searched my records to see who I bought it from and it appears it was acquired from a person up in the Pacific Northwest.
Eddie played with the Bel-Airs until he left and started Eddie & the Showmen who had some surf-rock hits back in the day.
Eddie started his own band and that’s when he got this guitar – an original Dennis Swiden sparkle finish 1963 Fender Stratocaster. So it’s from the height of the surf-rock era in California.
Dennis was the guy you wanted to paint your sparkle guitar. He got paid $30 per guitar from Fender. And when he would go to the factory to drop off and pick up bodies, he would literally park in George Fullerton’s spot. He was kind of a VIP. He painted many different guitars.
This guitar is quite faded, but it’s basically a silver undercoat with a black ’burst around the edge. There was a copper metal flake put into the paint, which is really the only part of the guitar that still sparkles.
The silver sparkle has gone dead, but there’s a little bit of copper fleck still visible.
Many sparkle finish Fenders are painted over sunburst or over other custom colors.
Interestingly, on the wood underneath the pickguard on this particular guitar are inscribed the words ‘For Sonic Blue’. So I think that the original plan for this body was that it was going to be a Sonic Blue for someone else.
Then they got the special order for a silver sparkle finish. It looks like it was just written in pen; in the right light and at a certain angle you can see it underneath the finish.
There are pictures of Eddie Bertrand playing this guitar, but there is also a picture of him playing a sunburst sparkle Strat. I have that guitar also. It’s a slab-’board from ’61. It’s another Dennis Swiden sparkle finish.
I’ve been through so many of his guitars, I know the tell-tale signs he left behind that make his guitars his and not someone else’s.
He stayed true to form. He sprayed these guitars like a Fender employee; he used a proper paint stick and really did a wonderful job of making them perfect.
The depth of Dennis Swiden’s sparkles are so much better than the others. It’s pretty easy to spot an original, as opposed to an imposter.
There were other sparkle finish guitars that were painted by other people, but his stuff stands out. He’s like the Peter Max or Pablo Picasso of sparkle finish Fender guitars.
Dennis Swiden did the best work and Fender thought so, too.
At some point somebody thought that this guitar belonged to the sax player Larry Robbins, but it appears he may have made the initial purchase for Eddie. Maybe Eddie couldn’t afford it. Who knows?
But there are pictures all over the internet of Eddie playing this guitar with Kathy Marshall and many other heavy surf people. So it’s pretty concrete.
I don’t believe that Larry Robbins played the guitar; it’s likely he was helping out his friend.
The neck is a standard C-shape, but it’s fairly large – like a lot of ’63s it feels kind of chunky. There is some wear to the back of the neck, but it’s not completely worn down, it’s more satin-y feeling. It feels wonderful.
The frets are good and the neck is straight. It plays good all the way up without choking.
It’s got three well-balanced pickups that all come in around 5.5k. To me, it sounds exactly like you would expect a ’63 Strat to sound like.
There haven’t been any modifications or broken solder. It’s just as original as it was to begin with. It has a white Fender case that looks pretty beat up. It looks like it’s been on the road a bit, which matches the story of this guitar perfectly.
Overall, this Strat has got some pretty good wear and tear on it. As a guitar it’s really been loved and played. You can see great evidence of the silver metallic undercoat in the body horn areas and also in the forearm area where it’s worn through the clear and the black.
It’s usually the case that pro-played guitars like this sound and feel really good. That’s why people continued to play them, otherwise they’d just get something else.
I think a really good guitar usually starts off that way.
Vintage guitar veteran David Davidson owns Well Strung Guitars in Farmingdale, New York.
info@ wellstrungguitars.com / 001 (516) 221-0563
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Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar World, Guitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.