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1956 Blonde Stratocaster Mary Kaye

Serial# 09391

1956 Blonde Stratocaster Mary Kaye

Most associated with:

Mary Kaye (Malia Ka‘aihue)
Born: January 9, 1924
Died: February 17, 2007

Current Ownership:

Private Collector

Previous Ownership:

Fender Custody (50's)
Johnny Cucci (1956-82)
Jimmy Crespo
Elliot Mechanic
Michel Begue
Ed McDonald
Alan Rogan (89-95)
Lloyd Chiate (95-98)
Iain Andrew Hershey (98-2015)

All Information and Cover Photo about this guitar from Vintage Guitar Magazine written by Iain Hershey

This 1956 Stratocaster saw the day of light in Las Vegas when Fender went there to get a promotional shoot for their 1956 Catalog. If the guitar was made exclusively for this is not known. Never the less, it has a nice story.

The guitar is the stuff of legend. A Blonde painted ash body with a maple neck. The body is dated January 56. The neck is dated September '56. The reason for the gap i explained further down this article.

This guitar was basically a custom build from Fender, Don Randall decided to use the guitar for publicity photo shoot for their ´56 catalog with Mary Kaye who was helming "The Mary Kaye Trio" back in the 50's. trough the 60's. and was top draw in Las Vegas playing Calypso Jazz and other genres. They eventually coined the "Lounge" genre.

Mary Kaye Trio photo publicity shot by Fender and Don Randall in Las Vegas 1956.
Mary Kaye Trio photo publicity shot by Fender and Don Randall in Las Vegas 1956.

Don Randall showed up early 1956 in Vegas prior to a live performance of MK Trio with the guitar, asking Kaye if she was up for a photo holding it. Kaye was not really into Stratocasters at all there and then. At the time, she enjoyed playing her D'Angelico arch-top on her shows. But they eventually agreed to pose for Don and his photographer. (But in her old age many years later, She actually found love with the guitar when Fender bestowed her (For real this time) a tribute Mary Kaye Replica Stratocaster) But ultimately, Randall and the crew got the photo they needed, but it was not planned to gift the guitar to Mary Kay at all. Just use it as a prop for the shoot. It ended up going back to Fender in Fullerton and stayed in Randalls office for a few months until Kaye actually got to use it again for the movie "Cha Cha Cha Boom". You can see the performance with the guitar here:

Later the same year, Randall and Leo Fender would head over to the NAMM Show in New York to demo some Fender products. With them was the very same Blonde Strat he used in Vegas with Kaye. Before he left for N.Y, Randall had contacted musician Jody Carver asking him to help out demo the Fender 1000 Lapsteel over the duration of the event. Jody agreed, and got permission to bring Johnny Cucci over as well play with him. Cucci was a more accomplished musician and the two had met in 1953, but was not a recording act yet at the time. Cucci was simply there inpromtu. Randall or Leo must have liked what he heard, and then decided that Cucci should keep the Blonde Kaye Strat and gifted it to a surprised Cucci. Cucci was quite honored to receive it, but like Kaye, he played D'Angelico and Gibson arch-tops, but he eventually adapted to the instrument and ended up loving it full time.

Shortly after receiving the Strat, the neck of the guitar had to sadly be replaced as it developed a twist render it unplayable. He contacted Randall asking for a solution, and Don in return decided to ship a new neck to Cucci to replace it in exchange for the warped neck to be returned for inspection. The new neck is dated September 1956. This explains the date gap of the body and neck.

Two years later, the duo finally manage to get a recording contract after much sweat and tears. The guitar was then featured on the cover of their album "Hot Club Of America In Hi-Fi". in 1958. If it was used on the recording is uncertain. I will let your ears decide.

As time passed, the duo drifted apart. Jody actually ended up working full time for Fender and Johnny Gucci kept playing guitar for other acts. He held on to that guitar for almost the rest of his life. Sadly, Cucci health worsened towards the end of the 70's and he quit the business and moved to Florida to spend his last years. His wife sold off all of his guitars while his health was failing him. This included the Blonde Strat that went to GuitarTrader in New Jersey in 1982. Cucci passed away in November 1986.

Since then, 'The '56 Kaye' has changed hands with several collectors and musicians (Including Aerosmith stand-in Jimmy Crespo. more are listed below) Iain Hershey was the the last known owner of this guitar for several years until he passed away in 2015. Word on the street says it is now in the hands of a unknown private collector. Some say Hersheys family has it. It is a little unclear. However though, the gold hardware and the blonde color will forever be tied to Mary Kaye. For Kaye herself, the Strat has kept her from fading into obscurity and her name is well known within the guitar community, and the "Mary Kaye Strat" kept her name relevant. The hazy blond-see trough finish has been forever dubbed "Mary Kaye Blonde" and Fender does now and then issues out tribute models of this timeless and beautiful combo. If you ever put together a Blonde see-trough with maple neck and gold hardware, its instantly a "Mary Kaye" no matter how you twist it around.

Mary Kaye died in 2007. The only interview of Mary was done by Fender themselves during the release of the Tribute Stratocaster they issued out.


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