1949. Arkansas. A night club. A guy’s playing the blues. A small kerosene heater is keeping the crowd warm. Two blokes are drunk and stricken with jealousy, and before long they start to brawl. The heater falls to the floor and a fire breaks out and the place starts to burn as if it had been lit. Things turn very ugly. It seems there are people who have no way out. The guitarist manages to...but his guitar is still inside; he doesn’t think twice about going in to rescue it. The night’s result: 2 dead in the fire over a fight for a girl called Lucille. A guitarist called B.B. King decides to give his guitar her name.
Yes my friends, that is the story of the legendary ‘Lucille’; but don’t go away thinking that this ‘Lucille’ was his partner all his life. No, far from it. B.B. King changed his guitars several times but never changed the name. He calls them all ‘Lucille’ as he himself claims “ to always remember to never do something as stupid as that night ever again”.
So ‘Lucille’ isn’t exactly a faithful love story between an object and an artist . The artist changed objects without a second thought. In fact, that original ‘Lucille’ was a Gibson L-30. It was much later when good old Riley B. King got into the world of semi-acoustics or semi-hollow bodies, first the Gibson ES-335 which, by the way, we can hear cry, scream, howl and make us like it, perhaps, on his best record Live At the Regal from 1965. And it wouldn’t be until the late 60s when finally he opts for a Gibson ES-355, a guitar that would be with him for nearly a decade until he settles on a signature model that would stay with him till the end of his blessed glorious days: the Gibson B.B. King Lucille.
It’s basically the same as the 355 when you measure it, the pickups, and the rest but with two distinct differences. The first is that it doesn’t have the ‘F-holes’ from the Gibson ES models. King told the Gibson luthiers he didn’t want them to avoid the feedback that any guitarist who ever used one onstage will attest to, and are quite usual with this guitar. The second is that the neck is maple, not mahogany.
Now we have another surprise on B.B. King’s sound: he used a transistor amplifier. Not always, but apparently whenever he could. He loved his Lab Series L5 and only used other models (like the Fender Twin Reverb with tubes) if he couldn’t get the Labs.
As far as the pedals he used, let’s be clear: he didn’t use any. He allowed himself this luxury by setting his amps very high (in the later years very saturated) and carrying the high notes by giving more and more volume from his guitar.
So, without a crazy investment, we could all have the same or very similar to B.B. King’s gearin our hands tomorrow...but, would we be able to sound something like him? I suppose a chuckle would be the best answer to that question. From our intense and, admittedly, fun search throughout the years for our perfect equipment, our amps, pedals, and adored guitars, there are certain guys who remind you time and time again that your search for the Holy Grail isn’t in your gear but only exists in their hands. A clear example has a name and surname: B.B. King.