Dylan Guitar Controversy — it’s a rosewood fretboard (!)

One of the symptoms of getting older (much like sprouting nose hair) is suddenly finding myself in thrall to Mr. Dylan and his songs. I tried to get into him before, but until probably five years ago it never really made sense. But now I’m hooked.

If you are nerdy guitary type of person like me, then you have likely picked up on the current controversy surrounding a very famous Fender Stratocaster.

Said guitar– the one Bobby Z was said to have used when he ‘went electric’ at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965– has been allegedly ‘found’ by the makers of reality-TV series History Detectives. The current owner, the daughter of a pilot who used to fly Bob to gigs back in the day, claims he abandoned it on one such flight.

The Dylan camp begs to differ saying

“Bob has possession of the electric guitar he played at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965,” Mr. Snyder said in a written statement. “He did own several other Stratocaster guitars that were stolen from him around that time, as were some handwritten lyrics.”

Ouch. You think you’ve found a genuine piece of rock’n’roll history that could make you seven figures at auction and then the icon in question doesn’t want to play ball! That’s gotta hurt…

Coincidentally I just watched the superb, brilliant, a-mazing Scorsese documentary on this period of Dylan’s career No Direction Home on Netflix. The film has a cut-up chronology, but roughly covers his early life in Minnesota, the move to New York, friendship with Woody Guthrie, initial burst of fame and the infamous ‘turning electric period’, finishing with the bike accident that put Dylan out of the business for a while. This also corresponds to the period covered in his excellent autobiography Chronicles Vol 1. (which I listened to last year on Audible as narrated by Sean Penn).

I think what grabs you when watching the doc is the intensity with which Dylan pursued his art. He describes himself as a “musical expeditionary” multiple times. Going electric was something that he just had to do, even if it pissed off his base of folk fans and fellow artists even mentors he admired such as Pete Seeger.

When you watch the footage now, what strikes you is that Dylan reinvented rock’n’roll at Newport and thereafter, paving the way for the second half of The Beatles career, the psychedelic movement, everything that happened in the seventies (good and bad). It seems he paid a price though. You can see his genuine hurt that his audience wasn’t able to follow him. At points he looks persecuted. Totally overwhelmed by the vitriol aimed at him After an infamous post-Newport UK tour, he returned home to the States, pranged his bike and had a nearly 8 year break from touring.

From a guitar geekery point of view, it’s also interesting to note his choice of axe for going electric. At Newport he chose a sunburst Strat. Blues men such as Clapton and Hendrix preferred maple fretboards, he went rosewood. I have a sunburst Strat with rosewood ‘board that I’ve always wished was maple, but on seeing No Direction Home I felt much better about it. Definitely cool.

In the other concert footage in the film, particularly a show in Newcastle, England he’s using a Tele with a maple board. Mister inconsistency, eh? A mystery wrapped in an enigma that Dylan..

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