July 27, 2015 in Historic Fenders

The Hellecasters 1997 Fender Signature Models

51499MQ-4RL._SL500_SY355_In 1990, two musicians sat down and talked about forming a guitar-focused instrumental music group with plenty of room to stretch out, but with serious focus and attention to melody and harmony. Soon these two guitarists – named Jerry Donahue (from Fairport Convention fame) and Will Ray (a session player from Virginia) – joined forces with The Desert Rose Band and Elton John studio/touring ace John Jorgenson, and The Hellecasters were born.

The trio of talented players named their group and together they started writing their own blend of guitar licks, riffs, and solos – in three-part harmony. Together, they quickly made a name for themselves, as plenty of gossip appeared in both rock and country music circles. The idea of having three beyond-talented players harmonizing together made everyone drool with anticipation in hearing this “guitar choir” in action. A harmonized wall of sound not only interested country musicians/fans, but many instrumental rock and shred musicians/fans were interested in hearing what these Nashville session-aces had up their sleeve.

In 1993, The Hellecasters innocently released their debut album, entitled The Return of the Hellcasters. The album is distinctive and unique, as the trio of guitarists clearly found their voice with this collection of instrumental songs. The music and musicianship found on this album cement the fact that The Hellecasters were a creative force to be reckoned with, and their three-part harmony lines made everyone stop and take notice. On their covers of songs such as Roy Buchanan’s ‘Sweet Dreams’ to their take of ‘The Orange Blossom Special,’ it was clear that they were crafting a sound and style that was uniquely their own, which could also be heard on their songs, with cuts such as ‘Highlander Boogie’ or ‘Rockin’ The Dog.’

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During the mid-1990’s, The Hellecasters won countless readers polls from several guitar and music magazines, and toured relentlessly between their debut album and their follow-up – 1994’s Escape From Hollywood. After plenty of additional touring, live appearances, individual session work, and their own solo efforts, the group returned to the studio and released 1997’s Axes To Grind, which was the final studio album for The Hellecasters.

In 1997, Fender released a trio of signature models for this legendary super-group of players, and each one of these models has become a sacred artifact of unique Fender craftsmanship and design.  From the unique look and layout, to the unusual modifications and upgraded appointments, each Hellecaster signature model is one hell of a guitar.

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John Jorgenson’s Hellecaster Strat featured an unusual pickup design and configuration, in addition to the reverse-headstock and unique glitter-sparkle finish.  Jerry Donahue’s Signature Stratocaster featured a striking sapphire blue finish with a contrasting pickguard that helped give his model a traditional, yet classy look, and it also featured custom-wound Seymour Duncan pickups and an exclusive “tone plate” that was a custom feature for the model. Will Ray actually had two designs released by Fender, including his signature Jazz-A-Caster and Mojo-Tele models.

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Each of these guitars were limited to an original production run of 500 guitars (each), making these guitars highly desirable and collectible instruments. Needless to say, if you see these guitars floating around on eBay or Reverb, you should totally snag them up, as they’re becoming very difficult to find these days.

Good luck and happy hunting!

UPDATE
08.04.15 – via Facebook message

I think the actual numbers (of guitars produced) are lower, with around 200 of Will’s made and roughly 400 each of Jerry’s and mine, but I don’t think we ever got exact numbers from Fender.  I’d be interested to hear who may have the highest serial number of each model.” – John Jorgenson

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