Like most kids in grade school, the first instrument I was handed to learn was a horn—the alto saxophone—but up until age 12, I played keyboards in most of the local bands I was in. That was when I discovered Terry Kath of the band Chicago and my life was irreparably changed for the better. I forgot about keyboards for a while and began learning guitar.
Terry Kath was peerless. To this day I believe he’s the best, most soulful, and versatile guitar player I’ve ever heard. Even the immortal Jimi Hendrix told his bandmates “Your guitar player is much better than me”. No kidding. That’s how great he was. Tragically his life was cut too short at age 31 and many have forgotten his deep prowess and command of the stage. It’s not a stretch to say that he was the heart and soul of that band. Besides singing the evergreen “Color My World” and many other songs for Chicago he created some of the most enduring and unique guitar playings in rock history. The solo on “25 or 6 to 4” is a masterpiece for one, but the list goes on and on. Nobody sounded like Terry. He combined the blues, Hindustani ragas, jazz, and rock expertly and fluently and no solo was ever the same live. He never phoned it in.
His daughter, Michelle Kath Sinclair, has kept his memory alive including a wonderful documentary, Searching for Terry: Discovering a Guitar Legend, a few years ago on his life and his impact, which took her years to get finished. Now, she convinced the fine folks at Fender Guitars to create a commemorative version of his favorite number one Telecaster— the “stickers” guitar. This guitar holds deep meaning to the Terry faithful as we mainly think of him playing it on all the early, classic recordings and concerts.
Fender has spared no effort in recreating this guitar, down to every sticker, every wear mark, and each idiosyncrasy. They did smartly choose to correct the wiring scheme for the pickups and overall make the guitar more solid and road-worthy.
Fans have been making their own versions of this guitar for years, from the synchronized Strat guitar tremolo with sawed-off Tele bridge plate to other custom elements. Fender has lovingly recreated it all here: A humbucking neck pickup, custom body routes, a reverse control plate, custom tuning machines, and three “wing” string trees. Adorned with Pignose stickers and other intricately placed regalia Fender really has gone the extra mile in authenticity here. It’s truly a thing of beauty.
Most importantly, how does it sound? Luscious. Meaty, chime-y, bold, and rich. It rocks. Just like Terry. Only 50 will be made and though the street price is a hefty $20,000, I bet this will be quite the collector’s item for years to come. It will most likely go up in value, but Terry would want it played. If you’re lucky enough to grab one of these, do him proud, and if you haven’t heard of Terry before, I implore you to check him out. Like me, you may never be the same.
Photo by David Redfern/Redferns