We now face the challenge of trying to sum up in a few lines the style of one of the greatest giants of 20th century music: Keith Richards. While it is true that he has never been a typical ‘guitar hero’, he has always been the guitarist for one of the biggest, most long-lasting bands in history, besides playing a big part on their sound as well as a significant role in composing which means he has become a kind of rock god for 4 generations...and counting.
There are so many records and years to cover, so please understand that we’ll have to focus on his most legendary models (though we know that for die-hard Stones fans there will always be a guitar missing and for that we apologise in advance).
We could start by talking about the Harmony Meteor from his early years, or the very common Epiphone Casino used by the British invasion bands, but instead we’ll talk about the first guitar he used for years: the Gibson Les Paul Standard from 1959. A Les Paul he showed all of America on The Ed Sullivan Show, and would be with him from the year 1964 until the Beggars Banquet times, where it ended up in the hands of another future Stone, Mick Taylor. By then, Richards was leaning more towards a black Gibson Les Paul Custom with three pickups.
But let’s jump ahead to 1970, a time when, with the Beatles breaking up, the Stones ruled the rock world and were about to outdo themselves with Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. The Stones find their sound and Keith finds his most emblematic guitar: the Fender Telecaster ‘Micawber’, named after a character in the novel David Copperfield, and cherished by all Stones fans since he started using it for its design, with a Gibson PAF Humbucker fixed to the neck and a Fender Lap Steel pickup on the bridge, and an open tuning in G with the sixth string removed (a low E), which makes the guitar sound special and allows for everybody to associate it with the most characteristic Stones label.
As we were saying, it’s impossible to speak in detail of a guitar collection that some put at more than 3000 models, but we can’t forget to mention his ‘57 Gibson Les Paul Junior, another of his signature models, and we must also point out the semi-hollow Gibsons he played, especially in the studio, and where many of the band’s most legendary riffs were born. We’re talking about models such as the 330, the 335, the 345 and even the 350.
Regarding the amps, in the early years he started using the Fender Dual Showman, and then later, during their golden years (no-one can argue that this was between ‘68-’72) he used basically Ampeg amps on stage while he tried several different models in the studio. Years later, and supposedly under the influence of having seen Carlos Santana, near the end of the 70s and early 80s, he mainly used a Mesa Boogie Mark I , although he’s seen in photos with other Mesa Boogies. In recent years we have usually seen him with a Fender Tweed from the 50s, and always a couple.
We could dedicate this section every week to each year in Keith Richards’ career, and would still come up short, but we hope that these tips help you see deeper into the sonic world of one of the figures who has changed more lives through his music from the beginning of the 60s, and who almost 60 years later is still ripping riffs; riffs that not only were a commercial bonanza, but would also change and forge pop culture in the 20th century.