Fender Mary Kaye Stratocaster, the first custom guitar
Fender Stratocaster “Mary Kaye” was Fender’s first custom Strat guitar, this “blonde” has a very particular and interesting history.
What is the Fender Vintage Mary Kaye Stratocaster?
The “Fender Mary Kaye Strat” or “Mary Kaye Strat” is the name for the first Fender custom electric guitar built by Fender. The Fender Mary Kaye is a 1950s Strat with an ash body and a translucent blonde finish, called White Burst, maple neck and gold hardware.
This mythical model is a classic that Fender fans covet. So much so, that many famous guitarists can be seen playing the Fender Mary Kaye Stratocaster. Joe Bonamassa has a 1958 Mary Kaye Strat, Keith Richards is another guitarist on the long list.
History of the “Mary Kaye” nickname for the blonde Strat
To understand the story, we must start with who Mary Kaye is . Mary, called “the First Lady of Rock and Roll”, was a renowned artist whose professional career developed mainly between the 1940s and 1960s.
Although Mary Kaye never actually owned this Fender Stratocaster, nor did the Mary Kaye “signature” exist at the time, her name has become synonymous with this unique Strat. The Strat Mary Kaye, with its translucent Whiteburst finish on a swamp ash body with gold hardware, is one of the most iconic Strats of the 1950s. It was assembled in 1956 and was the first Custom electric guitar made by Fender.
An advertising model Strat
The Fender Stratocaster Mary Kaye was used to advertise the brand. In the photo below the Mary Kaye Trio, which shows Mary with the Strat, was taken just before a show in Las Vegas in early ’56. Although the guitar was never given to Mary, she was allowed to use it during the filming of the movie “Cha Cha Cha Boom!” The Mary Kaye Trio was featured in this movie. To promote this film, Columbia did a photo shoot of the Trio in which Mary posed with the guitar, these photos were used for the color posters of the film. This exposure was one of the main reasons why this symbiosis between Mary Kaye and this special Strat was created.
History of the Fender Mary Kaye Strat, the first Custom
Serial number 09391, this guitar was assembled in January 1956, a year before the Blonde / Gold combination was available to the public. Fender president Don Randall kept the electric guitar in his office for six months. At the time, it was used by many Fender endorsers, including Mary Kaye, who posed with the guitar for some publicity photos of the brand.
Johnny Cucci, the real owner of the Strat Whiteburst «Mary Kaye»
After Fender used this electric guitar in commercials with the Mary Kaye Trio and other endorsers and in the movie “Cha cha cha Boom!” Played by Mary, the guitar was used by Johnny Cucci at the 1956 New York NAMM Show. Randall subsequently gifted the guitar to Cucci, who was the true owner of the original Fender “Mary Kaye” for several decades.
Unfortunately, the neck was twisted shortly after being gifted to Johnny. Randall offered to replace the guitar, but Cucci declined. Then the president of Fender sent Cucci a replacement neck in September of that same year, 1956, requesting that the original be returned for quality inspection. This explains the nine-month gap that the guitar has between the body date (01/56) and the neck date (09/56).
Cucci recorded with the Mary Kaye the album Hot Club of America on Hi Fi, which was released in 1958. On the cover, Cucci is shown wearing a blonde Stratocaster with gold hardware. The ash body grain on the album cover is so evident; there is little doubt that it is the same electric guitar. There’s even a subtle dark stain on the neck that matches a cover image seen on page 136 of Richard Smith’s Fender: The Sound Heard, Round the World.
Trail of the «Fender Mary Kaye Stratocaster»
Johnny passed away in November 1986. When Johnny’s health began to decline, his wife sold all of their guitars. The Strat was sold to Guitar Trader in New Jersey in early 1982. Thereafter, the guitar changed hands several times, but its basic condition remained the same.
In hindsight, perhaps this Strat style would have been more appropriately dubbed the Strat Johnny Cucci. Whatever it is, the Mary Kaye Strat nickname will live on, as it is not only associated with this guitar, but it has its established name in reference to all blonde-finish Strat’s with gold hardware. Later, Fender even released the Mary Kaye model officially in commemoration of the birth of this iconic guitar.
The first official Mary Kaye model
Although it took almost 50 years, in 2005, Fender issued an official model of the Strat Mary Kaye. It was a limited edition Mary Kaye Tribute Stratocaster. Later, in 2007, when Mary Kaye passed away at the age of 83, Fender posthumously issued another special reissue: the 1957 Mary Kaye Commemorative Stratocaster, made to the original ’57 specifications.
While Fender does not currently offer a “Fender Mary Kaye” Stratocaster, the “Fender Mod Shop” offers gold accessories and a new translucent “Blonde White” paint option that recreates the same appeal as the original Fender Mary Kaye Stratocaster electric guitar.
You can share your thoughts on the Strat Mary Kaye in the comment section.
Other Iconic Fender Guitar Items:
- Eric Clapton’s Blackie: History of the Great Fender Stratocaster
- David Gilmour’s Black Strat, and its incredible story