Reverb Madness: Mary Kaye Stratocasters
My name is Milo, and I am addicted to — well, among other things, addicted to endlessly trawling for cool pictures and information about guitars and accessories on Reverb.com. I’ve been hooked for almost a year now, and I realized my addiction a few weeks after I started.
I’m a 50-60-pages-of-gear a day man, ideally broken up between lunch and before bedtime. It probably began as simply hunting for more pictures of my beloved “Mary Kaye” Stratocaster, but has snowballed into saving jpegs of Johnny Smith Gibsons, Guild 12-strings and, saints preserve us, any archtop acoustic guitar in a blonde/natural finish. It’s a sickness!
Some of recent images I’ve gawked at [these are so old I’ve lost the link to their listings; my bad, I’ll make a point to bookmark ones I want to talk about on here from now on]:
For my money, the key element in the beauty of a “Mary Kaye” Stratocaster isn’t in its gold hardware or birdseye-maple neck, it’s all about the body finish; a curved slab of swamp ash painted a pale, transparent blonde*. The effect of transparent blonde on a well-figured piece of ash can’t be beat, the figuring almost looking like the blue veins in one’s wrists. The hardware and neck are important for the overall effect, but it don’t mean a thing if the body ain’t right.
*chrome hardware, rosewood necks and white-blonde or butterscotch finishes do not make a Strat a Mary Kaye. Stop listing them as such, damn it. Compare the above with the Strat below, which has a far richer-looking body but just doesn’t come together visually the way a real Mary Kaye does:
It’s easy to find the root of this particular obsession: My first Strat was a Harmony model in a see-through blonde finish, very much like the one below. It’s the only guitar I wish I still owned.
Last but not least, three iconic Mary Kaye players: Johnny Cucci, cradling the very first MK Strat on the cover of the classic but hard-to-find LP HOT CLUB OF AMERICA IN HI-FI:
The photo of Mary Kaye herself holding the the very first blonde-finish/gold hardware Stratocaster, the same guitar that Cucci is playing in the album cover above. This Kaye photo appeared in the Fender catalog for so long that it made her synonymous with the finish that unofficially bears her name:
Keith Richards was the very first Mary Kaye player I saw, in the rehearsal footage of Taylor Hackford’s great documentary CHUCK BERRY: HAIL! HAIL! ROCK & ROLL!, a very odd choice to use alongside Berry’s humbucker-thick Gibson 355, unless Richards played the long, 25 1/2″ scale neck and single-coil pickups to build up his chops for the show, like how Muhammad Ali did his jogging in the heaviest army boots he could find, so that he would be lightning fast for the big fight.