A Stratocaster Collection: Not-so-heavy Metal

A Stratocaster Collection: Not-so-heavy Metal

by Tom Watson

Fender Stratocaster collector Kevin Schultz is no stranger to dangerous curves. His lifelong labors of love – building and working on show cars, hot rods and offshore racing boats – provide ample proof. But Schultz has extended his fascination with dangerous curves and anodized aluminum to another love – the Fender Strat.

Starting in 1993, Fender experimented with an alternative to the use of wood as the guitar-body material by producing bodies made of aluminum. Most likely, the thinking was that aluminum is cost effective, lightweight, durable, and fits with the classic Fender production philosophy of a “component” guitar.

The aluminum experiment resulted in the production of several different Strat models with aluminum bodies. Though the concept hasn’t led to a general production aluminum model, it has seen the light of day in several limited edition and one-off Stratocasters, which form the core of Schultz’s collection.

Schultz’s Stratocaster collection (pictured below), currently includes: Top row (left to right): chrome Custom Shop aluminum Strat (one of 50); gold-plated Custom Shop aluminum Strat (one of 3); Aloha aluminum Strat (#083 of 153). Middle row (left to right): Blue tie-dyed aluminum Strat; purple tie-died aluminum Strat; flag-graphic aluminum Strat; one-off Peter Kellet floral aluminum Strat. Bottom row (left to right): green splatter Custom Shop aluminum Strat (one of 36); green splatter Custom Shop aluminum Strat (one of 36); red splatter Custom Shop aluminum Strat (one of 6); green splatter Custom Shop aluminum Strat (one of 36); green splatter Custom Shop aluminum Strat (one of 36). Not pictured: one-off artist signature chrome Custom Shop aluminum Strat; two 75th Disney Anniversary Strats (#13 and #39 of 75); and Harley-Davidson Anniversary aluminum Stratocaster (#21 of 109).

From Kevin Schultz…

I have worked on cars all my life, and my hobbies included building and working on my friends’ and my own show cars, hot rods and offshore racing boats. One thing they all had in common was anodized aluminum parts. I have always liked music, and when I saw my first anodized aluminum guitar, something just clicked.I work for General Motors building prototype and test cars. I also work part-time at Huber & Breese Music. It is a local independent music store that has been in business for 32 years. I used to be a customer of theirs. As a matter of fact, I bought the Aloha Strat from them. I spent so much time at their store they asked me if I wanted to work there. I did. I now handle their Internet sales.

I’m not really much of a player. My interest is purely in the art of these guitars. There are many people who collect art that cannot paint. I collect these as my art.

I found my first aluminum guitar (pictured on the left) on eBay of all places. It was an anodized floral-patterned guitar. I was really amazed by the pictures of it because almost all anodized aluminum I had seen to that point was only one color. “Anodizing” is an electrostatic process that dyes the metal. This guitar, however, was multicolored.

I ended up the only bidder on the guitar and it was sent to me from England. I found out that it was colored and built by a gentlemen in California. His name is Peter Kellet. I looked everywhere to find out more information on these aluminum guitars. I was able to track down Peter, and he told me quite a lot of the history of the Fender aluminum guitars. These guitars are not painted. Kellet is one of the few individuals able to do multicolor anodizing. Turns out that Peter did many anodized guitars for Fender and he made some of his own also.

In general, the aluminum Strat story goes something like this…

In 1993, Fender purchased some aluminum bodies and had some engraved for the 1993 NAMM show. In 1994, Fender made approximately 400 American Standard Stratocasters and 100 American Standard Telecasters anodized in three colors. There was a blue tie-dye, a purple tie-dye and an American flag [popup image] pattern for Fender’s 40th Anniversary. Unfortunately, Fender didn’t keep records of how many were made in each color.

At the same time the Fender Custom Shop in California was busy making versions of their own. The first was a chrome body with a black anodized aluminum pickguard with the Custom Shop logo etched on it (pictured on the right). This guitar, as well as other Custom Shop aluminum guitars, featured Custom Shop Texas Special pickups, highly figured maple necks (either flame or birds-eye maple) and a black painted headstock.

Another model was a mirror-image guitar that featured a black painted body with a chrome pickguard and painted headstock. Only six of the black guitars were made. The Custom Shop and then Custom Shop General Manager John Page showed Peter Kellet some prototype aluminum bodies. Peter did a proto body and John liked it. He gave Peter 20 more bodies. Peter made six in a green splatter finish (pictured below), six in a red splatter finish, and the remaining eight were one-of-a-kinds. John liked the green splatters and had 30 more made, for a total of 36. Peter’s work can also be seen in the Fender Custom Shop book. He also worked on the anodized Aloha and Flamingo guitars.

The Custom Shop did quite a few other aluminum guitars, The highly engraved chrome Aloha, the chrome Mustang Strat for Ford Motor Co., and many limited editions or one-of-a-kinds. The most famous is the 1993 Harley Davidson Anniversary Stratocaster. Most of this information can be found in the “Vintage Guitar” magazine, July 1997 and July 1998 issues.

I started out collecting aluminum Strats for personal enjoyment, but, now knowing how few of these guitars were made, it has slowly turned into an investment. I will never lose the enjoyment from them, though.

I play them very little. The bodies are very prone to dents as they are thin, stamped aluminum. This is part of the reason I believe Fender stopped making them. Dealers sent quite a few back to the factory for this reason and also the fact that the anodizing didn’t take well to the welded seam.

Unplugged, the aluminum Strats have an acoustic tone to them as they are hollow. Through an amp, they sound like a wood-bodied Strat but have a somewhat brighter tone because of the metal body.

While I am very interested in the aluminum Strats, I have two wood-bodied Strats that I think are very special – two of the 75 Strats [popup image] made to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Walt Disney company. Disney first commissioned the Fender Custom Shop to build an over-the-top guitar [popup image] for Disney’s 75th Anniversary. This guitar was given away in a contest. They then had 75 plainer ones made to sell at the Disney Galleries. Quite a few went to Disney employees and never made it to the public.

I found another quite rare guitar about a year ago. The Fender Custom Shop made three gold-plated Aluminum Strats. This guitar [popup image] features all gold-plated parts, down to the strings. It also has a very figured stained neck, [popup image] which is also quite rare from Fender. The other two belong to “Lifetime” Fender employees.

Another unique Fender aluminum Strat in my collection features a chrome body with the black Custom Shop pickguard loaded with chrome-covered Lace Sensor pickups. The neck (pictured on the right) is the unique part. Instead of dot position markers, it has all the artists’ signatures from the Signature Series models Fender made in 1996.

My aluminum addiction is not limited to Fender. I also have a Travis Bean Artist [popup image] (#405 of 755); a Jackson Custom Shop Roswell Rhoads [popup image] (#062 of 123); and a Veleno Original (#138 of 185).

Is my collection “complete”? Never. As most people who have a passion to collect know, there is usually not a point where you can say it is complete. There is always just one more out there waiting to be discovered.

July 07, 2004