Like most children in primary school, the first instrument I was taught to learn was a horn – the alto saxophone – but until the age of 12 I played keyboards in the most local bands I was in. It was then that I discovered Terry Kath from the band Chicago and my life was irrevocably changed for the better. I forgot about keyboards for a while and started learning guitar.
Terry Kath was second to none. To this day, I believe he is the best, most soulful and versatile guitarist I have ever heard. Even the immortal Jimi Hendrix told his comrades “Your guitarist is much better than me”. No kidding. That’s how great he was. Tragically, his life was too short at 31 and many have forgotten his profound prowess and mastery of the stage. It’s no exaggeration to say that he was the heart and soul of this group. Along with singing the evergreen “Color My World” and many other songs for Chicago, he created some of the most enduring and unique guitar playing in rock history. The solo on “25 or 6 to 4” is a masterpiece for one, but the list goes on and on. No one looked like Terry. He expertly and smoothly combined blues, Hindustani ragas, jazz and rock and no solo was ever the same live. He never phoned her.
His daughter, Michelle Kath Sinclair, kept his memory alive, including a wonderful documentary, Finding Terry: Discovering a Guitar Legend, a few years ago about his life and impact, which took him years to complete. Now she’s convinced the good folks at Fender Guitars to create a commemorative version of her favorite Telecaster, the “sticker” guitar. This guitar has a deep meaning for the faithful of Terry because we mainly think of him playing it on all the early classical recordings and concerts.
Fender has spared no effort to recreate this guitar, down to every decal, every wear mark, and every idiosyncrasy. They smartly chose to correct the wiring diagram of the pickups and overall make the guitar sound stronger and more rollable.
Fans have been making their own versions of this guitar for years, from the Strat guitar tremolo synced with a sawn-off Tele bridge plate to other custom bits. Fender has lovingly recreated everything here: a humbucking neck pickup, custom body routes, reverse pick-up plate, custom tuning machines, and three “winged” string trees. Adorned with Pignose stickers and other intricately placed badges, Fender has really gone the extra mile when it comes to authenticity here. It really is a thing of beauty.
Above all, how does it sound? Succulent. Fleshy, chiming, bold and rich. It rocks. Just like Terry. Only 50 copies will be made and although the sale price is $20,000, I bet it will be a collector’s item for years to come. It will most likely increase in value, but Terry would like it to be played. If you’re lucky enough to catch one, make it proud, and if you’ve never heard of Terry before, I implore you to check it out. Like me, you may never be the same again.
Photo by David Redfern/Redferns