Ana Popović: “I don’t want anything that is not legit on my stage. When it’s a cheap drum kit or a cheap bass, I hear it and it bothers me”

Ana Popovic
(Image credit: Harry Herd/Redferns)

In this instalment of Bought & Sold, the blues-rock powerhouse and Fender Stratocaster aficionado Ana Popović swings by to talk about her biggest gear hits and misses, and shares some tips on gear shopping, too.

Spoilers: there are no beginner electric guitars here. Popović nails her colors to the mast here, favouring vintage and Custom Shop Strats – and woe betide any of her band who comes onstage with anything shonky.

What was the first guitar that you bought with your own money?

“I started playing guitar with a Fender Lead 1. I really wanted a Strat, but this was back in Serbia and, of course, that was just a ridiculous amount of money back then. So I saved and my parents helped and my first Strat was a ’72. There was a friend of my dad’s who had a reissue ’52 Telecaster and we were just drooling over that instrument. 

“Every now and then we would just get it, play it at home and bring it back. I really wanted a Custom Shop reissue, something better, and my dreams came true when my family decided to buy me a ’57 reissue and it’s been with me ever since I was 19 or 20. It’s got a wonderful maple neck and it’s a fantastic guitar.”

What’s the last guitar you bought? 

“I got a ’57 reissue Strat. I really wanted the same sound as the [other] maple-neck reissue so I could have one here in the States and one in Europe and I got it pretty close. It’s just got a very crisp and very clear maple [neck] sound. But I usually don’t buy guitars, you know? I mean, I’ve got my ’64 and you don’t get any better than that. 

“And, of course, I get great deals from Fender – they sent me a Custom Shop ’60. I like to have a maple [neck Strat] on stage and I like to have a rosewood [neck Strat] on stage. I keep it simple because this is what I need to do my work and I love them.”

I get great deals from Fender – they sent me a Custom Shop ’60. I like to have a maple [neck Strat] on stage and I like to have a rosewood [neck Strat] on stage

Have you ever had an incredible find or bargain when you’ve been buying guitars? 

“I remember leaving one because I just didn’t have money for it. It was back just before those old guitars exploded in price, way before I bought the ’64. I would think it was probably when I started my career in the States. It was a left-handed black Strat, and it was in parts, but it was a ’63 or ’62, all original, pretty beat up and in crazy condition. The guy wanted so much money for it, not what they cost nowadays – 20 grand, 30 grand, whatever. And I just didn’t have the money, but I fell in love with that one.” 

Have you ever sold a guitar that you now intensely regret letting go?

“No, apart from that ’72 I haven’t sold a single guitar. They’re all still here. The guitars that I get from builders and stuff that I don’t really use on stage all go back to my hometown, back to my dad who’s a guitar collector, he’s got a bunch of my stuff there. And when I go back, we jam. We have fun. He’s got a music room – we call it ‘the blue room’ – that’s where it all started. So I don’t sell them. People send me stuff and I try it. If I like it, I keep it; if I don’t like it, it’s on the next flight to Serbia.” 

What’s your best guitar-buying tip? 

“Well, it’s the sound, of course. Not only guitars, amps are the same. I remember buying the ’64 and that’s a funny story, too. Back when I bought it, which was 2008, I went to Nashville, to Gruhn Guitars, and I gave myself a day – I don’t know, five or six hours – trying out different guitars. I had 20 grand in $20 bills that I collected over the years of selling my merchandise on stage.

“Back then, I was still living in Amsterdam, and I was touring heavily in the States and every $20 bill that I got from CDs, I would just keep. It was no use turning it into Euros because the dollar was so low. 

“So I’ve got 20 grand in the box and can just choose any guitar. It was a day in paradise, you know, a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I remember trying out a mint-condition ’66 and then there was this beat-up ’64. [The ’66] was a red guitar, not a single scratch on it and sounded pretty good. I mean, I’d spent six hours trying all the guitars they had in that price range and these two were the final pick. And I thought that the ’64 was a wild guitar. 

“That ’66 was proper, it just sounded right but had no life. And [the ’64] was wild; however I strummed it, it gave a different sound. And I just thought it was very inspirational. 

“I don’t know if it was a better deal to get the mint-condition ’66, but I definitely never regretted getting the ’64. I mean, it’s been an everlasting inspiration on stage. You need an instrument that’s going to inspire you, no matter if you’re playing a blues song or a funk song, rock song… you need an instrument that’s going to live through the changes that you make as a musician.”

If you had a choice, would you rather buy a good guitar and a cheap amp or a cheap guitar and a top-notch amp? 

“You know, it’s a tough choice. I’m not a ‘cheap stuff’ person. I’m like that with my band members – ‘I don’t want no toys on my stage!’ No cheap instruments – I don’t want anything that is not legit. When it’s a cheap drum kit or a cheap bass, I hear it and it bothers me. Yeah, people can make those instruments sound good, but there’s something about legit instruments, you know? So that’s your answer. I mean, there’s not really a choice: I just don’t like anything cheap – not on my stage.”

If you had to choose to use either humbuckers or single coils for the rest of your career, which would you choose and why?

“It’s gonna be single coils – that’s just my style. I’ve played humbuckers and I might play them in the future. I played them on [my latest] record, as well. [A humbucker is] wonderful; it just does the work for you. But I guess I like to work from my tone and so it’s always been single coils.”

When was the last time you stopped and looked in a guitar shop window or browsed online and what were you looking at?

“I love vintage shops. We’re gonna play Songbirds again, the guitar museum. We drool over that collection – there’s just some wonderful pieces there that I would love to own. Original ’60s or even ’50s in that collection… I can’t afford them, but I can look!”

  • Power is out now via ArtisteXclusive Records.

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David Mead

With over 30 years’ experience writing for guitar magazines, including at one time occupying the role of editor for Guitarist and Guitar Techniques, David is also the best-selling author of a number of guitar books for Sanctuary Publishing, Music Sales, Mel Bay and Hal Leonard. As a player he has performed with blues sax legend Dick Heckstall-Smith, played rock ’n’ roll in Marty Wilde’s band, duetted with Martin Taylor and taken part in charity gigs backing Gary Moore, Bernie Marsden and Robbie McIntosh, among others. An avid composer of acoustic guitar instrumentals, he has released two acclaimed albums, Nocturnal and Arboretum.