The Fender versus Gibson debate is nothing new – in fact, it’s one of guitardom’s most hotly contested topics of conversations, right up there with the tube amp versus amp sim conflict, and the disagreement over whether tonewoods actually make a difference to sound.
While many pro players dabble with both brands of electric guitars, there are those who almost exclusively subscribe to one school of six-string. Slash, for example, is a Les Paul player through and through.
Robin Trower, though, sits at the opposite end of the spectrum. Since the early ‘70s, the former Procol Harum member has been a Fender Stratocaster loyalist – and in the latest issue of Guitarist, he explained precisely why that’s been the case.
During the conversation, Trower traced his roots with the Strat, and recalled how he immediately switched allegiances from Gibson to Fender when he first discovered the Big F’s double-cut courtesy of Jethro Tull’s Martin Barre.
“I discovered them when I was in Procol Harum when we were opening up on a UK tour for Jethro Tull,” Trower explained. “Their guitarist, Martin Barre, had a Strat as his second guitar and it was on the stage one day when we were getting ready to soundcheck and I picked it up and plugged it into my amp.
“I must admit it was very rude because I hadn’t asked him,” he continued. “Immediately, I thought, ‘I like the voicing of that…’ It had such a different voice to the Gibson I was using at the time.”
In fact, Trower was so taken aback by the guitar that he “went out the next day and bought a Strat and started using them there and then”.
“Once I had the Strat, even though I still had the Gibson I’d been using, I only used the Strat,” Trower admitted. “I think I left the Gibson at home.”
Such was the strength of Trower’s partnership with the Strat, Fender teamed up with the blues-rock guitarist to produce a Custom Shop signature guitar. This specific model become the bedrock of Trower’s tone, thanks to its heavy strings, high action and choice pickups that provided the “secret” to the guitarist’s characteristic warm sound.
Robin Trower’s signature Fender Stratocaster (Image credit: Fender Custom Shop)
Trower’s strong affinity for the Strat – and his preference for Fender over Gibson – is shared among many of his peers. Yngwie Malmsteen, for example, once told Cory Wong that he opted for a Strat over a Les Paul because the latter “wasn’t exciting for me”.
Richie Blackmore – who influenced many future Fender players – also made the switch from Les Paul to Strat in the early ‘70s, just as Trower did, because he “was so taken with their sound”.
However, one player who would strongly disagree with the sentiments of Malmsteen, Blackmore and Trower is Sammy Hagar. Last year, the former Van Halen vocalist likened playing a Strat to “trying to wrestle a professional wrestler”, and flat-out declared, “I can’t play a Fender.”
“I was raised on Gibson guitars, and my hands feel right when I’m playing one,” he said. “I have Strats; I just don’t play them.”
To read the full interview with Robin Trower, pick up the latest issue of Guitarist at Magazines Direct.
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