When Tash Sultana was gifted their first Fender at the age of three, no one could possibly imagine the artistic force that kid would grow into. From unchaperoned open mics, to bedroom recordings, to sold-out stadiums, the multi-instrumentalist has flourished into a formidable producer and songwriter, adored by fans across the world. Australia produces a lot of incredible talent, but Tash is easily one of the most prolific and dynamic guitarists to come from our shores.
Now, they have one more achievement to add to the resume, as the first Australian artist to land their own Fender Signature Series. We caught up with Sultana to chat through the guitar, customisations, and what the future looks like.
HAPPY: Congrats on this series, this is insane! First Aussie with a signature series.
TASH: See, I didn’t know that.
TASH: Nah, I didn’t even fucking know.
TASH: Well, I just got a massive array, huge collection of guitars, but there’s specific ones that I will use live just cause I don’t see them half the year, because they’re in a vault in another country. But, when I first started making a little bit of money when I was playing music, obviously the first thing I did was upgrade equipment, buy guitars, just realising that I could actually afford a guitar that I wanted. Whereas before, you know, I didn’t have two fucking sticks to rub together. When you’re busking, I bought that Jazzmaster with pretty much coins.
TASH: I went to the CommBank and they had a little coin counter, I put all my little coins in there. And then you get a receipt and you take it to the teller and they give you cash. Then I went to the store and I bought that Jazzmaster. That’s what I did [laughs]. But the Strat, it was my first electric guitar. I had a little Fender Squire that my dad got me for my eighth birthday and we kind of met again with the Strat later on down the line. I played, as you said, a lot of Teles, Jazzmasters, a whole different range of guitars, but there was a sound that I was searching for and I couldn’t find. Then I realised, I had these people whose sounds that I love and what fucking guitar they playing? They were Strats, so I went that direction.
HAPPY: Well, the guitar itself doesn’t have the traditional look of a Strat. How does this model suit the way that you play?
TASH: All of my guitars all have a little bit of a custom element to them, so there’s no to two that are the same. They all have different pickups, they all have different fretting, they all have different neck radius, they all have different gauge strings and so on and so forth. But I had this American Pro Series Strat that I really, really loved. When we approached the idea of doing a signature guitar, I thought, well, what’s a really good, reliable sounding guitar that people seem to love? And the American Pro Series Strat is kind of a new age, sculpted, moulded Stratocaster. It’s got the elements of your ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s Strats, plus with the modern-day technology. That’s kind of what I went for, is an all in one. One size fits all.
HAPPY: Yeah, totally. And it turned out so beautifully.
TASH: I’m really happy with it. I wanted a guitar that looked custom. I mean, it is custom because it’s a signature Strat and I wanted it to be a really classy statement piece that was affordable for people. Just a guitar that is their guitar that looks nice and plays well, I didn’t put my logos anywhere that could be seen. I put them on the back because I didn’t want that to deter people from a great guitar by having my name flashing on their instrument. Ultimately, I designed the guitar but it’s actually their instrument. So, I moved all that shit on the back and yeah. You wouldn’t even know.
HAPPY: [Laughs] I’m so excited to see the red and gold on stage. I feel like that’s just going to be so beautiful.
TASH: I’ve whipped it out before, actually. The prototype was finished last year. So when I played at the Enmore last year, the Fender guys came down to the Sydney show and that was the first time I’d ever seen the guitar. It actually had a tortoiseshell scratch-plate on it and I liked it, but there was something that was drowning with the cherry red. It was a bit of a conflict between the two and, yeah, I played the guitar that night. It was sick. I was gentle with it, actually. Very gentle with that one.
HAPPY: Yeah, if it’s just the prototype, you probably can’t go too hard on it.
TASH: Well, I mean, I get in the moment and I get excited and all sorts of shit happens. I step on glass, I step on staples, I step on nails, and I throw the guitars around. If anyone wants a relic, give me your guitar and I’ll just sort that out for you. All my guitars are starting to look a little bit relic and it’s literally just from fucking throwing them around.
HAPPY: How long did the whole process take?
TASH: I reckon we’ve probably been etching it out for almost two years now. There was another prototype before this red one which was very brown and it had a rosewood neck, but you can’t manufacture those guitars on a global scale anymore because of the wood. So, I changed the course of direction. That guitar was really, really nice. It was all brown and gold hardware but, I’ve said this in a couple of other interviews, it looked like a classic, older man-style Stratocaster. And I’m not a 65-year-old man. So, I kind of re-approached it thinking, “oh, if I walked into a store, what guitar would I pull off the shelf and buy?” We looked at mint and seafoam and everyone’s just done it. Everyone’s done the blues and everyone’s done all that. I was looking among my guitars and I was like, “what colour don’t I have?” And it was red. So I thought, it’s got to be red. It’s got to be cherry red, the headstock’s got to match. It’s going to have gold hardware and it just looks like bling.
HAPPY: Yeah, and it all ties in with the whole point that you just wanted it to be a versatile instrument that’s beautiful and that everyone wants to play because it’s just so eye-catching.
TASH: Well, ultimately, not everyone is going to want to play it. Some people are going to look at that and just go, “ugh.”
HAPPY: “Ew, red.”
TASH: “WTF is that? Eye sore!” Which actually, to be honest, what I’ve come to realise is that most things that I think are really beautiful, other people think are just a complete and utter eye soar. Like, I’ll see this pair of pants and I’ll think they’re sick and everyone else thinks they’re fucking hideous, you know? I wanted to come up with a guitar that wasn’t a minority style guitar, and that was a tepid, affordable, playable, majority, good quality for your 12 to 30 year-olds, and above that as well. But yeah, I wanted a little bit more of a youthful, adolescent approach to the design.
HAPPY: Late last year, you announced that you were moving away from your solo roots and going down a more band-oriented project and chapter in your music. Are we going to be hearing a lot of the new guitar in this new chapter?
TASH: See, people have taken that so fucking out of context, hey? You know, I wouldn’t have even said it if I knew people were going to take it like that, because people have taken it as though I’ve quit being Tash Sultana and now I’m just in a band? And that I don’t write my songs anymore and all that sort of shit.
HAPPY: [Laughs] Even though you’ve just brought a band on board?
TASH: Actually, what it is, for anyone who needs clarification, I still wrote everything. I am always and forever will be a solo artist because that is my roots. But I just encountered difficulties with my limitation by thinking that I had to do all of it on my own, perform all of it alone, you know? So, this new record is everything that I’m already known for, looping etc, but I’ve just got support from three other people to fill in sections of songs that I don’t have enough arms to play live. In the studio, you know, I did play the parts. I’ve done the horns and the drums and the bass and I did a couple of collabs as well, don’t forget that. But I needed to figure out, how do I bring the songs that I’ve given myself no limit, live? Well, I need some other motherfuckers to help me execute this shit. Somebody who’s gonna hold down those baselines, somebody who’s gonna hold down that beat. And I surrendered to the idea that, you know what? Let’s add on. Let’s have an extension of this establishment. I actually haven’t even seen my band members for the entire year. I’ve written this album, it’ll come out next year, and when all the borders open again, hopefully, beginning of next year, that’s what we’ll be doing. We’ll be locking the fuck down and working it out and I’ll be ripping out that signature Strat.
HAPPY: Ripping it out 24/7.
TASH: 24… I’m looking at it right now actually. It’s just sitting behind the phone.
HAPPY: I noticed that in all of your new music that you’re putting out, you’ve been playing with these bigger soundscapes. Has having the band on board given you a bit more freedom to work with those kinds of sounds?
TASH: It’s just the stereo field on steroids. I don’t play anything mono, well apart from the bass and your kick, you want that straight up the guts. I really tried to play with the stereo feel in place, as everyone does with their mix, but I just wanted to expand that sound. It’s going to be sick to fucking bring that on the stage… And swap instruments with people! Give the bass player my guitar and I’ll grab the bass. Or the keyboard player grabs a guitar and I jump on the keys. All those things are real possibilities now, while also still doing all the solo stuff that I’ve always done. But having a moment and a mood in the show for 45 minutes or an hour, and then the band comes on and we rock out. The thing is, for me, is that it really feels like the beginning. I feel like I’m actually just at the beginning of who I really am and where I really want to go with stuff. I just feel like when you open up your eyes to being really grateful for everything that’s happened, it just feels like you begin again on a clean slate every day and you see these things that you never saw before and experience these things that you never experienced before. And that’s what a year of deep rest will do, you’ll zen out. I feel like I’m ready to begin again and might just really step it up. I think everything prior to this has just a big rehearsal, those last five, six years of my life is all one big fucking rehearsal. We’re on. We’re on for 2021.
HAPPY: Fuck yeah. Well, thanks so much, Tash.
TASH: Yeah, no worries.
The Tash Sultana Signature Stratocaster is on sale now.