Gearhead: Dave Stryker’s Plex-able Guitar Mods

A sodium chloride problem led the guitarist to customize his treasured Gibsons

For nearly 30 years, Dave Stryker has been nearly inseparable from his Gibson ES-347s. “I saw Marvin Horne playing one at the Village Vanguard with Elvin Jones,” he explained while touring to promote his latest release, Eight Track III (Strikezone), on which he covers an assortment of ’70s pop tunes with the help of organist Jared Gold, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, and drummer McClenty Hunter. “I liked Marvin’s sound. Then I saw what would become my main guitar, a tobacco sunburst 1980 ES-347, hanging on the wall at a guitar store in Brooklyn. I traded my ES-335 for it.”

Known for his rich tone, textured chording, and articulate yet soulful solos, Stryker is often asked about his gear after shows. Yet he still chuckles over the query he hears almost every time: “The question asked most often is about the tailpiece,” he says. “The ES-347 originally had microtuners on the tailpiece. Because I like to palm the bridge, I removed them. But then my sweat wore off all the gold finish—and that bothered my skin. So I had my guitar tech make a black plexiglass cover for it, and people are always like, ‘What … is … that?!’”

Aside from his unconventional use of “plexi” (sorry, Marshall amp purists), Stryker’s ES-347s are stock, with slight cosmetic differences reflecting changes to the design that occurred over its original late-’70s-to-early-’90s production run. “I now have three: the 1980 tobacco sunburst, a later-model black one, and a blonde,” he says. “I love the feel of the neck and the ebony fingerboard, which sets them apart from 335s. They all have the hotter ‘Dirty Fingers’ humbuckers [with coil-tap option] that Gibson made in the ’70s. They’ll overdrive a small amp almost instantly, but with the right amp, they give me tons of sustain and punch.”

As he has on most of his albums, Stryker plugged straight into a 4×10 Fender Blues DeVille amp on Eight Track III. On tour, he usually relies on his 1×12 Fuchs Jazz Classic. “I sometimes use an Earthquaker Dispatch Master reverb/delay pedal, but I don’t use a lot of effects,” he says. “I also have an L-5, an ES-175, a 1950 ES-350 with P-90s, a Guild X-175, and other guitars, but the ES-347 is my sound. Lately, I’ve also been playing my Benedettos. I love the GA-35, which is slightly smaller than the Gibson, and my Bravo Deluxe. Those guitars are articulate and detailed in a way the Gibson isn’t. You hear every note of every chord.”

Emile Menasché

Musician, journalist, and author Emile Menasché has composed soundtracks for Oscar- and Emmy-nominated documentaries. He is jealous that his dog Hudson gets more attention from passersby whenever they’re seen in public together.