Buddy Guy’s Transformative Journey with the “Joke” Guitar: The Fender Stratocaster

by Madonna

Few musical instruments are as deeply woven into the fabric of rock music as the Fender Stratocaster. Renowned as one of the most iconic guitars in history, the Stratocaster continues to hold an esteemed place in the hearts of musicians across all genres. With legendary artists like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, and Stevie Ray Vaughan among its enthusiasts, the Stratocaster’s historical significance is indisputable.

Among the Stratocaster’s celebrated devotees stands blues icon Buddy Guy. Recognizable by his signature polka dot design adorning most of his guitars, Guy has embraced the Stratocaster as his primary instrument since the late 1980s. However, his journey with this iconic guitar had a rather unassuming beginning, as he initially regarded it with skepticism.


Guy candidly shared his initial impression, saying, “The first time I saw a Strat, I thought it was a joke.” He recounted an encounter with Guitar Slim, a fellow musician, playing a Stratocaster during his early days. At the time, Guy was perplexed and unsure of what to make of this classic guitar. His preference had previously leaned toward hollow-body guitars, but he soon recognized their vulnerability to weather-related damage.


“God forbid one got wet; they’d swell up and break,” Guy explained. “Then I’d have to get them repaired, and they’d have all these nasty scars all over ’em like someone was chopping at them with an axe. So I turned to Strats because they didn’t get overwhelmed by the weather. And I’ve stayed with them ever since.”


The practicality and durability of the Stratocaster won Guy over, leading to a decades-long partnership that has left an indelible mark on the blues and rock music landscape.

As for Guy’s trademark polka dot motif, it carries a sentimental backstory tied to a heartfelt fib he told his mother when he embarked on his journey to Chicago. “My mother would have a stroke with worry whenever I’d go out into the world,” Guy revealed. “At the time, I was working at LSU [Louisiana State University], making nothing. I knew I had to do something different. So I decided to go to Chicago, but my mother was sick over it.”

To ease his mother’s concerns, Guy spun a tale. “So before I left home, I lied to her and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to Chicago. I can make more money there,'” he recalled. “Then I told her, ‘And when I make some money, I’m gonna drive back down to you in a big polka-dot Cadillac.’ That made her smile.”

Reflecting on his decision, Guy expressed a hint of regret. “But I regretted it because I never got the chance to tell her that I lied to her before she passed away,” he shared. “So, I said, ‘You know what? I never did get that polka-dot Cadillac, but I can get a polka-dot guitar in her honor.'”

In this way, Buddy Guy’s journey with the “joke” guitar, the Fender Stratocaster, serves as a testament to the unexpected twists and turns that can shape a musician’s path, all while honoring the memory of a beloved mother.


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