Tash Sultana: Australia’s guitar superstar

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Tash Sultana: Australia’s guitar superstar

Words by Will Brewster

The looping wunderkind discusses the making of their Fender Signature Stratocaster.

Five years ago, you might have been fortunate enough to stumble upon a lone busker performing for small change amid the hustle and bustle of Melbourne’s Bourke Street shopping precinct. 

Wielding an electric guitar and expertly navigating their way around a loop station to create a smorgasbord of head-snapping grooves and psychedelic guitar solos, it was clear from the get-go that this particular busker wasn’t just your average street performer. Yet still, no one could have predicted the astronomical rise to stardom that laid ahead of Tash Sultana. 

After the viral success of their 2016 Notions EP track ‘Jungle’ led into a never-ending touring cycle that’s eventuated in sold out shows and headlining festival sets all over the globe, there’s no doubting that Tash is now well and truly at the top of their game. 

At the age of 25, Sultana has achieved more than many could ever dream of, and now they’ve got yet another notch to add to their belt, joining an elite company of shredders to unveil their very own signature model with Fender – one of only three Australian artists to ever do so. 

“Honestly, it’s a bit of a no-brainer when one of the biggest guitar companies in the world comes to you and says, ‘Do you want to design your own line?’,” Tash gushes. “It’s like, ‘absolutely man, what the fuck!?’

“The local music store that I’ve been going to since I was seven just told me that they had ordered the guitar when I went in there the other day. I remember I used to be a little kid walking in there just wishing that any guitar was mine, and saving up all my Christmas and birthday money for years just to buy one – now, they’ve got like five of them on the wall, which is just fucking sick.”

With a design that bridges the gap between classic Fender and forward-thinking ingenuity, the Tash Sultana Signature Stratocaster is a testament to the Melbourne multi-instrumentalist’s tremendous musical prowess. Instead of just regurgitating another production model and slapping a signature on the headstock to call it a day, it’s a guitar that’s made to encourage emerging generations of guitarists to follow in Sultana’s tracks, packing all the features necessary to imprint one’s sonic identity on the world stage.

“I wanted a custom-looking guitar for the Signature series,” says Tash, describing the lengths they went to alongside Fender in order to perfect the guitar’s design. “But the thing is, is that it really is a custom guitar. It’s a Signature Stratocaster that exactly suits my specs, and it was really important for me to create an affordable Fender Strat that sounds and looks good.”

Completed over the course of several years due to their endless touring commitments – and set back even further due to the impacts of COVID-19 – the Tash Sultana Signature Stratocaster is truly a unique guitar. With its rich Transparent Cherry finish, matching painted headstock, gold hardware and pearloid pickguard, the guitar packs an immediate visual flair, while an alder body and maple neck adds a classic touch of Fender tone. However, as Tash reveals, their signature guitar could have turned out to be a wholly different looking instrument altogether.

“I actually prototyped a different model first that wasn’t quite right, and I had to make the time to get it right. It was very brown and had a rosewood neck, which is why we had to change direction, because you’re not allowed to do that anymore,” says Tash, referring to rosewood’s status as an endangered tonewood.

“It looked classic, but it looked like an old man’s guitar – like some sixty or seventy-year-old jazz cat was going to pick up this guitar, which is cool, but I’m not a seventy-year-old man, and I just wanted to revamp it a little bit. So we came up with this Cherry Red colour, matched the body to the headstock, popped the gold hardware on there, changed the scratch plate from tortoiseshell to pearloid and put a maple fretboard on, and then I saw it in person and was like, ‘That’s the one. That’s it’.”

One of the defining characteristics of the Tash Sultana Signature Stratocaster also comes via its electronics, pairing two Alnico 4 Yosemite single-coil pickups with a coil-splittable DoubleTap humbucker in the bridge position to allow the player to tap into a wide spectrum of tones. As Sultana reveals, this configuration wasn’t just an off-handed decision in the R&D process, but a deliberate modification to seamlessly integrate the guitar into their live looping set.

“To make the rhythm loops, I’ll always use the neck pickup, because it’s a bit more of a smooth, full warm tone. As I layer things, I’ll move back down the bottom of the guitar and use the single-coil if I’m going to launch into a solo to cut all the way through, and I feel like it channels the wah that I use in my effects chain better.

“When you’re layering, you’re ultimately stacking audio on top of what you’re multi-tracking. With my looping, everything’s multi-tracked, so with the guitar, it’s the distinction of changing things sonically, so you don’t have frequency buildup in the same ranges because you’re stacking layers. If I’m doing something on the front pickup that’s rhythm, I’m not going to put the harmonic layer with the same pickup, because it’s going to clash in the mix.”

Of course, the Tash Sultana Signature Stratocaster isn’t just a guitar built to perform marathon live sets with: as it so happens, the guitar makes its maiden recorded appearance on Tash’s upcoming sophomore effort Terra Firma, which is due for release early next year. 

“I actually used it for the first time in a song for ‘Greed’,” says Tash. “There’s a couple of solos where it makes a feature, where I maxed it out with UAD plugins on the effects chain and just had a blast.”

Tash hints at another crucial factor in the how the Stratocaster’s sonic versatility comes into play throughout their live set, talking about how making the switch across to modelling systems from the likes of Kemper and Axe-FX helped to hone their sound even further.

“I made that change ages ago, and I highly recommend it for anybody who loves to merge analog sounds with the digital world,” says Tash. “I still love amps. I have a fuck-load of amps and I love just plugging them in and playing, but mate – if you’re going on tour, you don’t want to lug that shit around when you can just profile them in a tiny little box in my rack.” 

Despite having rotated through an arsenal of Strats both on the road and in the studio for years, it may come as a surprise for some to see Tash opt for a Stratocaster when it came time to create a signature model. During their breakout period, the looping phenom was usually be spotted playing an array of other Fender guitars, including an Olympic White Jazzmaster and a slick Richie Kotzen Signature Telecaster.

“That Kotzen Tele is one of the best fucking guitars that I’ve got,” Tash says. “That does not sound like any Telecaster that I’ve ever played. I love that tone, but there’s a time and a place for that in what I’ve been doing. I wouldn’t say I’ve moved over from other guitars, I’ve just added many Stratocasters into the catalogue along the way. 

“There was something that I was missing in what I was trying to do sonically that I found when I picked up the Strat. That thin, protruding tone – the ability to shape your tone however thick and warm or thin and screechy as you wanted was something that I couldn’t quite get on the Tele. I could get the full-body tone and the twang, but there was something else: something a bit more jazzy, something a bit more psychedelic rock, something a little bit more like Jimi Hendrix, you know?”

Hendrix isn’t the only factor that led Tash towards the iconic silhouette of the Stratocaster: Sultana also makes mention of another major influence in the form of blues wunderkind John Mayer, who has been a constant source of inspiration upon their playing while cooped up at home over the past year. 

“I’ve been doing a lot of that bluesy, jazzy in-the-box playing at the moment with the Strat,” says Tash, noting at how their playing has evolved as they’ve been getting acquainted with the new Stratocaster in lockdown.

“It’s so good to experiment with different technicality, you know? Applying different modes, methods, scales to where you travel on the fretboard. Back in the day, I would follow a couple of the different blues scales to make my way around solos, and now I’ve had the time to sit down and really learn because I felt like I was just regurgitating everything that I already knew rather than exploring the broader horizon with things.

“Once you realise that you actually know fuck all and that so many other people know so much more than you, all of that knowledge is just wealth that you can accumulate in your brain and apply to the shit that you do… man, the sky’s the limit. Everything that we already need is already there, you just need to go and get it.”

Check out the Fender Tash Sultana Signature Stratocaster in guitar stores today.