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The trio of uniquely-adorned Stratocaster models honors each of the three major organizations that paid such a terrible price in rushing to the aid of those trapped at the World Trade Center complex that fateful day—the New York City Police Department, New York City Fire Department and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Each guitar has a custom graphic finish depicting imagery related to each agency and to the events of that day.
Also, inlaid into the custom finish of each Stratocaster are various commendation pins and badges of each agency; several related specifically to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Among these are three specially commissioned badges—one for each guitar—noting the number of fallen officers, firefighters and paramedics that day—23 for the New York City Police Department, 37 for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and 343 for the New York City Fire Department.
After going on brief display at a Fender event in California in mid-September, Eric Clapton will play the guitars during fall dates on his 2011 world tour, after which they will be donated to Sept 11, 2001, first-responder organizations.
The guitars are the brainchild of Minnesota firefighter Tommy Clarke, who, a decade ago, was on the scene of the World Trade Center within 24 hours after disaster struck. In the years afterward, he collected pins, badges, medals and other commendation related to the three New York agencies and to Sept. 11. The decorations that adorn the three guitars are from his collection.
Although not a guitarist, Clarke conceived of the guitars in the mid-2000s after receiving an invitation to a New York “Notes For Hope” fund-raising banquet for the city’s Sept. 11 memorial and museum.
“Even though I don’t play guitar, I thought it would a good way for me to honor those who perished on Sept. 11 and those who are still suffering,” he said. “And I always loved sitting back and listening to my son play guitar. That’s when I thought of a guitar. I’ve always felt as if music and art combined together is a good way for a person to express his feelings.”
The real kicker in all of this is that Clarke just happens to be a longtime friend of Eric Clapton, and it was through the great guitarist’s office that Clarke was put in touch with the Fender Custom Shop, where Master Builder Todd Krause was entrusted with bringing the idea to life. Krause had built several instruments for Clapton over the years, and he and Clarke exchanged ideas—one of which led to the custom finish graphics by New York artist Lee Quinones.
“I’m on the West Coast, and I have a list of people who I refer to,” Krause said. “But Tommy and I were discussing artists, and we both felt it was really important that it be a New York artist. It had to be a New York artist.”
Quinones was enlisted, and in no time Clarke had a complete set of guitar designs.
“I had a strong vision of what I wanted,” Clarke said. “The biggest problem with the guitars was that there’s not a lot of real estate. Each guitar tells a story, and the hardest part was to paint the tragedy while still portraying ourselves as emerging triumphant.”
Out West at the Custom Shop then, Krause did indeed bring the plans to life, crafting the designs into a distinctive and moving trio of Stratocaster guitars.
“Todd and Lee did a phenomenal job,” Clarke said. “I could not be happier.”
Completing the commemorative effort is Clapton himself, who will take his friend’s guitars out on the road in fall 2011 and play them during dates on his world tour. Clarke almost doesn’t have words for how much that means to him.
“He’s such a charitable person,” Clarke said. “He just is.”
Each tribute Stratocaster guitar bears a set of actual commendations particular to each New York City agency inlaid into its upper surface. These pins, badges and medals are taken from the personal collection of firefighter Tommy Clarke, who was present at the World Trade Center site in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. The commendations on each instrument are listed below (from top to bottom on each guitar body).
New York Fire Department Stratocaster
• “Survivor” pin bearing two stars and numeral 343; the number of firefighters and paramedics killed at the World Trade Center complex on Sept. 11, 2001. Clarke notes that this is “the highest New York Fire Department commendation ever given.”
• “Rescuer” pin bearing one star and numeral 343; denotes a responder on the scene within 24 hours. Clarke notes that these commendations were distributed on the first anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.
• “Campaign” pin bearing numeral 343 (no star); denotes any New York City Fire Department responder on the job on Sept. 11, 2001, present or not at the World Trade Center.
• Specially commissioned New York City Fire Department badge commemorating the agency’s 343 officers, firefighters and paramedics lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
• 11 individual commendation bars signify acts of bravery not specifically related to Sept. 11, 2001.
New York Police Department Stratocaster
• “U.S. Flag” pin bearing 09-11-01. Clarke notes that these were issued to New York Police and Port Authority officers in the wake of the tragedy.
• “WTC” pin issued to New York police and Port Authority officers.
• NYPD Medal of Honor; a green bar with 12 stars denoting “Individual acts of extraordinary bravery in the line of duty at imminent and personal danger to the police officers’ life above and beyond the call of duty.”
• NYPD Police Combat Cross; a solid green bar denoting “Members who have successfully and intelligently performed an act of extraordinary heroism while engaged in personal combat with an armed adversary under circumstances of imminent personal hazard to life.”
• NYPD Medal for Valor; a solid blue bar denoting “Acts of outstanding personal bravery intelligently performed in the line of duty at imminent personal hazard to life under circumstances evincing a disregard of personal consequences.”
• NYPD Meritorious Award; multi-colored bar denoting “An act of extraordinary bravery.”
• Pistol expert pin.
• Specially commissioned New York City Police Department badge commemorating the agency’s 23 officers lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Stratocaster
• “U.S. Flag” pin bearing 09-11-01. Clarke notes that these were issued to New York police and Port Authority officers in the wake of the tragedy.
• “WTC” pin issued to New York police and Port Authority officers.
• NYPD Police Combat Cross; a solid green bar denoting “Members who have successfully and intelligently performed an act of extraordinary heroism while engaged in personal combat with an armed adversary under circumstances of imminent personal hazard to life.” Also issued to Port Authority officers.
• “Bronze Star” pin; green, white and blue bar bearing a bronze star denoting “Integrity for great personal danger in the performance of duty.”
• “Blue Star” pin; green, white and blue bar bearing a blue star denoting community service.
• “Meritorious Police Duty” pin; green, white and blue bar (no star).
• Pistol sharpshooter pin.
• Specially commissioned Port Authority of New York and New Jersey badge commemorating the agency’s 37 officers lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
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