When David Bowie fancied a forage into a more commercially munificent artistic realm, he said, ‘get me, Nile Rodgers’. The man is a hitmaker, plain and simple. In fact, if you dusted down modern pop music, his fingerprints would be all over it (but you shouldn’t hold that against him). Teaming up with Bowie resulted in ‘Let’s Dance’, a track that achieved the rare feat of ridiculous levels of global mainstream success but managing to be too damn euphoric to alienate even the most contrarian of existing fans.
It was a herculean task that Nile Rodgers has managed time and time again, seemingly at ease. And he has done a hell of a lot of it on one very particular 1960 custom model Fender Stratocaster. The ‘Hitmaker’ is perhaps the most significant single guitar in the history of pop, and you may well have had no idea that you’d heard it before.
Certain guitarists see the bond between themselves and their axe of choice as some spiritual marriage. If that is the case, when Rodgers traded in his old heavy jazz Gibson following the advice of bassist Bernard Edwards as their band Chic shifted genres, and he picked up the custom Fender, the pop heavens must have hummed a harmonious G chord. Rodgers left the Miami Beach pawnshop with a guitar that would change music, and it only cost him a few hundred dollars for his troubles.
The guitar’s particulars allowed him to develop a playing style called ‘chucking’ (which is essentially a mandolin technique transposed onto the guitar that involves muting certain chords). The guitar has a thin body, a thin C shaped neck, a chrome-plated pickguard which brings the whole tone down (in a purely musical sense); the neck pick up is weak, which brightens it all up. It’s really, really, light which allows him to play it like a toy, and maybe that’s the most important factor in its inherently fun sound. As Big Bill Broonzy said about the blues, “you’ve got to have it to play it,” well, maybe the same can be said when you want to make a fun record: when Nile’s playing his hitmaker, he always seems to be having fun.
With this guitar, Rodgers has managed to create a sound that could be called Rodgers-esque if it wasn’t for the fact that it has featured on hits for so many other people that its singular identity proves hard to trace. This is how its ubiquitous presence in pop has remained mysterious. As it says on Rodgers’ official website, “Many might not recognize the name, but make no mistake—the sounds of Nile Rodgers and the Hitmaker are virtually inescapable. As a guitarist, producer, composer and arranger, his sales have topped more than 100 million albums over a career now in its sixth decade, and hardly a day goes by when you don’t hear music to which he has contributed in some invaluable way, very often with the Hitmaker in hand.”
The list of tracks that have been blessed by the Hitmaker is simply stupendous. Rodgers and his trusty white disco axe have mystically concocted hits for David Bowie, Debbie Harry, Michael Jackson and more. In fact, it is believed that the Hitmaker has played out a musical value of around $2 billion USD. Not bad for a beat-up old secondhand guitar! Perhaps there really is something to this Excalibur hoodoo of man and beast entwined in a six-string marriage woven by some mystic figures of musical fate.
Below you can check out just some of the biggest tracks that the Hitmaker has featured on.
The Hitmakers greatest hits:
- ‘We Are Family’ by Sister Sledge
- ‘Like a Virgin’ by Madonna
- ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk
- ‘Le Freak’ by Chic
- ‘Let’s Dance’ by David Bowie
- ‘I’m Coming Out’ by Diana Ross
- ‘Notorious’ by Duran Duran
A collection of the albums:
- Chic and C’est Chic by Chic
- We Are Family by Sister Sledge
- Diana by Diana Ross
- KooKoo by Debbie Harry
- Original Sin by INXS
- Let’s Dance by David Bowie
- The Reflex, The Wild Boys and Notorious by Duran Duran
- Like a Virgin by Madonna
- The Honeydrippers: Volume One by Robert Plant
- Flash by Jeff Beck
- Here’s to Future Days by Thompson Twins
- She’s the Boss by Mick Jagger
- L is for Lover by Al Jarreau
- Back in the High Life by Steve Winwood
- Cosmic Thing by B-52’s
- Family Style by The Vaughan Brothers
- Money by Michael Jackson