The Top 5 famous guitars
From a utilitarian view, it’s a collection of wood, metal and electronics that when strummed and plucked produces a sound pleasant to the ear. But to guitarists the world over, the guitar is far more than that. It is the object of our collective affections. The sleek smoothness of the wood grain and that tight tensile touch of fingertip to metal string can send shivers down the spine. It has an incredible range; smooth, easy chording and delicate stream of notes when running through a riff or a solo to the blitzkrieg crunch of metal shop shredding or the heart-aching wah and wail of the blues. It has the additional effect of simply being a beautiful instrument to look at as well. The round fullness of the curves to the angular strike of the neck, the guitar is a masterful example of form following function and delivering the goods in a beautiful package as well.
In the world of rock and roll there have been as many powerful instruments as there have been players making them sing. But there are a few standouts. Instruments that are legendary. Ones we know by name as much as by sound. Here are what I consider to be the top five.
5) B.B. King’s Lucille Gibson ES-335.
Okay, I know that technically B. B. King is not a rock and roll musician but f you follow the thought that “the blues had a baby and named it rock and roll”, B.B. King and the rest of the blues pantheon are the forefathers. And the ES-335 is the instrument of choice. The king of the electric blues guitars, the ES-335 is a piece of semi-hollow genius with its humbucking pickups and Tun-o-Matic bridge. It’s unmistakable clear and concise tones that easily cross genres from jazz to rock settled at home in the blues and B.B. King made it a household name. If you want to hear the sweetness of ‘Lucille’ in performance, check out a live version of ‘The Thrill Is Gone’. It will sell you on this guitar if it’s blues tone that you’re looking for.
4) Jimmy Pages’ Gibson EDS-1275 Double Neck.
By the time Jimmy Page decided to use the famed double neck guitar for Stairway to Heaven, Gibson had discontinued the instrument. However being a rock star has its privilege and he custom ordered the instrument that ended up becoming synomous with the player. The guitar was essentially the fused bodies of two Gibson SG’s with the bottom neck being a six-string set up and the top neck being a 12 string. Page wanted the dual neck to avoid changing guitars in the middle of the song. The guitar was the perfect instrument for what has become rocks ultimate anthem (although it did make other appearances in Zeppelin songs such as Houses of the Holy, The Rain Song and The Song Remains The Same.
3) Eddie Van Halen’s ‘Frankenstrat’.
No other guitar captures the identity of it’s player (and creator) quite like the Frankenstrat. Eddie wanted to combine the powerful sound of a Gibson with the functionality of a Fender Strat. Being the enterprising sort that he was he purchased a Fender Stratocaster body (a second – not cosmetically perfect) for $50 and a maple neck for $80. He equipped the beast with a Gibson PAF pickup that he had removed from his ES-335 and installed it into the Strat body potting it in with paraffin wax and modified the controls ever so slightly to give the guitar a unique sound and playability. Working within a limited budget, he made the original pick guard out of an old vinyl album. The custom paint job was done by Eddie by painting the guitar black and then masking it off and applying paint on for the red and white stripes. To complete his creation he used large eye-hooks to lash his guitar strap onto the guitar. The Frankenstrat went through many additional modifications and changes through the years and has ever garnered a tribute model by Fender. Looking at it now, it’s hard to imagine that this creation would have actually set the tone for hard rock guitar for years to come. But just listen to the early recordings and it’s not difficult to hear the reasons.
2) Stevie Ray Vaughn’s ‘Lenny’ Stratocaster.
In the early days of his career, Stevie Ray Vaughn was like most struggling musicians. Living on a prayer and the bucks he could earn from gigging locally. As his 26th birthday approached, he and wife Lenora ‘Lenny’ Vaughn wandered into a pawnshop in his adopted hometown of Austin, Texas. Stevie found and fell in love with a Fender Strat that was hanging on the wall. Priced at $350, the guitar was out of his budget but that didn’t stop the desire to own it. Lenny wanted to buy the guitar for him so she set out to find the money. She approached 7 of their friends who all kicked in $50 a piece so she could buy the guitar for him. When she presented the guitar to him, he stayed up all night with it. When she awoke in the morning, Stevie was sitting on the edge of the bed where he played for her the song ‘Lenny’ that he had stayed up all night writing. Not long after, friend and Z.Z.Top’s guitarist Billy Gibbons presented Vaughn with a Charvel maple neck (with maple fingerboard) which he immediately installed on his new guitar and etched his name on it as a point of pride. Over the course of his career, Vaughn jumped back and forth between his ‘Number 1’ Strat and ‘Lenny’ both in the studio and on stage. But, at least from the stories that are still told about Stevie, he never played the song ‘Lenny’ on anything but the guitar that bore the name. The original ‘Lenny’ Stratocaster was purchased by Guitar Center in 2004 for $623,500 during a charity auction which raised money for the ‘Crossroads’ rehab facility in Antiqua.
1) Jimi Hendrix various Strat’s.
If rock and roll is an army, Jimi Hendrix was a general. His weapon of choice was the Fender Stratocaster and he wielded it like a true master. His love affair with the Strat goes back to 1966 when he purchased his first Strat from Manny’s Music in New York. It became his choice of guitars from that point as the lead in Jimmy James and the Blue Flames throughout the remainder of his career. Jimi, a left handed player, preferred to play right-handed guitars, flipping them over and having the volume and tone controls on top as well as giving him a rather unique approach to the whammy bar. He would reverse the nut and wind his low E string in the opposite direction around the farthest tuner to keep it from jumping out the nut slot. Hendrix played tuned down a half-step to ease his vocal duties. It is interesting though that two of his earliest hits, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Foxy Lady’ were actually played on a Fender Telecaster that he had borrowed from his band mate Noel Redding. But those iconic images of Hendrix on his knees hunched over the prone Strat, coaxing flames with a wave of his hand practically symbolize the true spirit of rock and roll.
Like all ‘lists’, this just boils down to an opinion. There are countless other guitars that could and should make the list. Slash’s Les Paul, a true monster of in your face tonality. David Gilmour’s black Strat that can make the music of fever dreams. Stevie Via’s Jem’s, artistry in both form and function and pure magic in the hand. Brian Setzer’s long standing love affair with the grand-daddy of Rockabilly rigs – the Gretsch, a true muscle car in the guitar world. Zak Wyldes Gibson Bullseye, a true beast of a guitar that growls and spits. Angus Young’s Signature Gibson SG – perhaps the only guitar that is as ornery as the man who helped make it famous. Or what about Tommy Emmanual’s beaten, battered and bruised Maton acoustic; a guitar as unique and warmly worn as the player himself. And lest we forget, the Fender Telecaster, rock and roll guitars forefather. So many players have played the Tele that the list reads like a veritable who’s who of six string slingers.
Suffice it to say, the guitar, the apple of our obsession, is more than a collection of materials. It’s the embodiment of our spirit. We take to it, cling to it, strum and pluck, making the music that is the soundtrack to our lives. They possess us as much as we possess them.
And every guitar speaks.
It’s just that some guitars are a little more outspoken than others.