By Christopher Scapelliti
Of all the stars in The Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese’s documentary of the Band’s extravagant 1976 farewell concert, perhaps the most iconic—for guitarists—is Robbie Robertson’s 1954 Fender Stratocaster.
“When we were preparing to do The Last Waltz, I thought, I should do something for the occasion, and I had it bronzed,” Robertson told Guitar Aficionado in 2011. “They dipped the body in bronze, just like they do with baby shoes. They dip it in, leave it for a minute, and then take it out.
“So then they put the guitar back together again, and it had a completely different sound to it. Just like you would think, it had a more metallic sound. And I liked the sound I got out of it, but it was heavier.”
As Robertson can best recall, he bought the guitar used from Norman’s Rare Guitars around the end of 1973. The instrument began life with a red finish and made its mark on some storied performances and albums. “I used it on the tour with Bob Dylan in 1974,” Robertson says. “I used it on Planet Waves, which we recorded with him right before we went on tour, and it’s on Before the Flood, the live album from that tour.”
After the Last Waltz concert, Robertson used the bronzed Strat a few times—“I’m pretty sure I also used the bronzed one on a couple of things on [the Band’s 1977 album] Islands”—but after that, he put it away.
Recently, he pulled the guitar out again so the Fender Custom Shop could recreate it for a limited-edition release: The Last Waltz Stratocaster.
In this new clip from Fender, Robertson talks with master builder Todd Krause about the guitar’s history and the modifications he made to it over the years. Krause also opens up the pickguard to talk about the guitar’s unusual pickup modification: Robertson grew tired of his fingers hitting the middle pickup, so he had it moved toward the bridge, which consequently fattened up the Strat’s tone.
“To me,” Krause says, “it is one of the most important guitars in rock and roll.”
The Fender Custom Shop has made 40 replicas of the bronze Strat, with just 17 pieces available in the U.S. To learn more about the Fender Custom Shop Last Waltz Stratocaster, watch the video below, and visit FenderCustomShop.com.