The fact that our guitar heroes don't always use expensive custom gear is no state secret. It's also been shown time and again that if you put a cheap electric guitar in the hands of a master, they'll still sound exactly like themselves.
With all that in mind though, it's still quite surprising when an incredibly accomplished guitarist for one of rock's most reliably arena-filling bands reveals he's using a guitar most associated with beginners.
Such is the case though, with Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford, who – while on the road with the reunited rock giants for their recently postponed The Last Domino? tour – has taken to using ultra-low-budget Squier Bullet Stratocasters onstage.
When asked by Guitarist what guitars he's been using onstage for Genesis's 2021 tour, Rutherford said, “I've got my main Strat but here's a funny thing: last year, I went to Cape Town for two weeks and got stuck there in lockdown for two months because there were no flights. And just prior to lockdown, I thought: ‘Christ, I haven't got an electric guitar…’ So I went to a music shop there and I bought two Squier Bullet Strats. You know, Indonesian-made, standard spec... and one of them I just love.
"It cost £200 at the most, and I play it on stage on Mama and No Son of Mine," he continued. "I just love it. It's got a life to it. It's a little bit lighter than some and it's got a slightly smaller neck which helps my aging fingers."
When asked by Guitarist if there had been any mods made to the Squiers for onstage use, Rutherford said, "My guitar tech Steve Prior, who’s the best guitar tech in the world, did change the machine heads. But it's about what works for you, really."
Further investigation by Guitar Player revealed that Prior had done a bit more tweaking of Rutherford's Squiers than the guitarist let on, but still left them – to a greater extent than one would expect – largely factory standard.
“The Squier Bullet Stratocaster is his [Rutherford's] favorite at the moment, it really is,” Prior told Guitar Player in an interview. “And I’ve just bought him a couple of others which I’ve found rather cheaply in the clearance section at Guitar Guitar in Newcastle [England]. They were only about 100 quid each! I mean they’re unbelievably good guitars for the money."
“His favorite one is an unusual color; it’s a limited-edition finish called Sonic Grey,” Prior continued. “Squier Bullet Strats in this finish were imported into South Africa from Indonesia. Mike bought the guitar in a shop in Cape Town because he forgot to take his black Clapton Strat with him on a visit. He actually bought two.
“Sitting at home in Cape Town plugged into his Blackstar 3-watt amp, Mike just fell in love with it playing along to his laptop and relearning all the Genesis songs. That was him for almost all of the first lockdown because he wasn’t allowed out of Cape Town. He was stuck there. But he came back saying how much he loved this guitar.”
“It’s super lightweight; it feels like balsawood,” Prior elaborated. “But I have changed the bridge/saddles and put Gotoh tuners on just to make it more reliable for the tour. Mike loves the sound of the pickups, although on a couple of these guitars I have put Fender Noiseless bridge pickups in, just in case we get any interaction with the stage's enormous 70 feet LCD screen.
“If you want to put Gotoh tuners on you’ve got to enlarge the peghead holes. I also recut the nut and dressed the frets. I would maybe recommend upgrading the electronics to Switchcraft and CTS too. It’s about fine-tuning the guitar really.
“Mike has got so many other wonderful Strats, but he also loves using these Indonesian-made Squier Bullet Stratocasters. He can’t put the Sonic Grey one down. It’s the first guitar he wants to play every day and he uses it for some big songs in the Genesis set including No Son of Mine and Mama.
“I asked him if he’d like me to take the Squier decal off the headstock but he said he wanted it stay. Fender are probably over the moon about that!”
To read the full conversation with Rutherford, be sure to keep an eye out for the next print issue of Guitarist.