The most fabled guitars that have changed hands

By Sergio Ariza

The Gibson Super 400: Scotty Moore (Scotty Moore / Elvis Presley / Reggie Young)

Scotty Moore
s first Gibson Super 400, a model from 1956, arrived in January !957. With it, he would record the soundtracks from Elvis Presley best movies, like Jailhouse Rock and King Creole. This series of the Gibson would be what he used for the rest of his career, getting a new model in 1963 by trading his old one with Chips Moman. The odd thing about the case is that Scotty’s ‘56 Super 400 would reappear in the legendary Elvis recordings from Elvis In Memphis in ‘69, and in songs like Suspicious Minds, used by Reggie Young, who borrowed it from Moman.

Meanwhile, the ‘63 Super 400 would be the centrepiece of his solo record The Guitar That Changed the World, released in 1964, however the reason it will go down in history was because Scotty took it for an Elvis TV special in 1968, at their reunion 4 years later, making good use of it on Heartbreak Hotel and That’s All Right, until Elvis changed his acoustic for it and began to play Baby What You Want Me to Do, turning it into one of the most fabled guitars of all time. Still, after years without playing it, Scotty decided to sell it. A collector offered him $10,000 and he accepted. Some time later Chet Atkins asked him why he had sold it for so little, and Moore answered, “I needed a tractor”.


The Gibson SG Standard Red from 1964: George Harrison (George Harrison / Pete Ham)

This guitar was one of Harrisons main tools during his years with the Beatles, he bought it in 1965, and played it on records like Revolver, Magical Mystery Tour, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the White Album. You can see him playing it in videos of the Fab Four for Paperback Writer, Rain, and Hey Bulldog, and there are also photos of John Lennon playing it on the White Album sessions. In 1969 he chose to give the guitar to Pete Ham, singer, guitarist, and main composer for Badfinger, the first band signed by the Beatles recently created label Apple. Ham switched to the SG as his main guitar, and the band became one of the first Power Pop groups. Their records No Dice and Straight Up are two beauties with the Beatles sound and great songs such as No Matter What, Day After Day, and Baby Blue. Harrison produced Straight Up and made his slide available for Day After Day. After the tragic death of Ham, the guitar remained with his brother until 2002, when it was lent to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Two years later it would fetch over half a million dollars at an auction.


Lucy’, the ‘57 Les Paul Red: George Harrison (John Sebastian/ Rick Derringer/ Eric Clapton/ George Harrison)

Harrison was always generous with his guitars, (he also gave away one of his most legendary guitars from his Beatle days, the Telecaster Rosewood he used in the gig on the roof of Abbey Road, to Delaney Bramlett) so it was only fair that he would get one from someone else sometime. Lucy’s story was one of the most bizarre. Its origin was a ‘57 Goldtop, and its first owner was John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful. When he broke his amp on tour he decided to switch to a new one from the band’s accompanying guitarist, none other than Rick Derringer of the McCoys. It was 1965. The following year the gold finish was gone and the guitar was quite worn down, so he took it to the Gibson factory for repairs. He asked them to paint it red like the popular SG of the day, but wasn’t entirely satisfied with it, so he sold it to a music shop in New York. A few days later, Eric Clapton dropped into the shop and bought it. In August ‘68 he decided to give it to his friend George Harrison who called it Lucy in honour of the red-headed TV star Lucille Ball. A month later, on September 6 he invited Clapton to play on While My Guitar Gently Weeps, telling him, “Don’t bring a guitar, I have a good Les Paul you can use”. That’s not the only great song it appears in, Harrison can also be seen using ‘Lucy’ in the Revolution video and is also the guitar he uses in his solos on The End from Abbey Road. Nor was it the last time Clapton played it, in  ‘73 in a concert organised by Pete Townsend at the Rainbow Theatre on January 13, it was one of the guitars he played. Shortly after it was stolen, although Harrison got it back in the end and kept it with him until his death in 2001.


Keith Richards’ ‘59 Gibson Les Paul Standard (Keith Richards/ Mick Taylor)

Although often being seen as the guitar Clapton and Mike Bloomfield returned to popularity in the mid-60s, the first star to widely use this model was none other than Keith Richards, who made it one of his main instruments between ‘64-’67. Suffice to recall the riff on Satisfaction was played with this guitar. There’s also Little Red Rooster, Time Is On My Side, The Last Time, Get Off of My Cloud and Let’s Spend the Night Together, plus multiple live shows, such as the tour of the USA in 1964. Oddly enough, when he decided to get rid of it in 1967, the guy who bought it was a young Mick Taylor, who at the time was with John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers, sitting in for Peter Green. Two years later Richards was able to get his hands on it again when Taylor replaced Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones. The Les Paul was stolen at the start of the 70s and would end up being sold in the 21st century for approximately 1 million dollars.


Eric Clapton’s Gibson SG ‘The Fool’ (Clapton/ Todd Rundgren/ XTC)

Eric Clapton is one of the most significant guitarists in history, over different stages of evolution, like when he put a Les Paul into a Marshall with the Bluesbreakers, or when he switched to a Stratocaster in the late 60s and start of the 70s. One of the most important ones is the one he called the ‘woman’s tone’ (which Clapton describes as “a smooth sound...more like a human voice than a guitar”). During this stage his main guitar is a ‘64 Gibson SG known as ‘The Fool’ for the artists who painted it in a psychedelic style, making it one of the most recognisable guitars of all time. The main record it appears on is during his time in
Cream, Disraeli Gears, with the solo on Sunshine Of Your Life, as the best example. But when he got to the next stage ‘The Fool’ disappeared. As far as we know it wound up with singer Jackie Lomax, perhaps after Clapton had given it to Harrison, and after it was acquired by Todd Rundgren while he was working as engineer on Stage Fright by The Band. Lundgren made it his main guitar for the recording of his masterpiece Something/Anything. In the mid-80s while he worked as producer of Skylarking by XTC, it was discovered by the band’s guitarist Dave Gregory, who couldn’t believe Clapton’s guitar would be there. He asked Rundgren if he could borrow it for the solo in That’s Really Super, Supergirl, with which ‘The Fool’ can boast of being one of the few guitars to be heard in 3 masterpieces in 3 different decades, by 3 different guitarists. In the year 2000, after making a copy of it,  Rundgren put it up for sale due to tax problems, fetching $150,000 for it (10% of which went to Clapton’s Crossroads Foundation) It was soon back on the market and sold for a cool half-million dollars.  


'Greeny', Peter Green’s Les Paul Standard from 1959 (Peter Green / Gary Moore / Kirk Hammett)

As you can see from this article, the 1959 Les Pauls are the most prized guitars of all time. Well, among those few guitars, the real ‘Holy Grail’ is ‘Greeny’, the special Les Paul Standard that Peter Green used during his days with the Bluesbreakers and Fleetwood Mac, the band he created in 1967. Green is one of the most remarkable and nimblest of guitar players in history, squeezing out notes that gave “the cold sweats” to his own hero B.B. King. Many of those notes, like the ones in
Oh Well, Black Magic Woman and The Green Manalishi, were played with ‘Greeny’, his mythic guitar with a sound all its own. There are 2 rumours circulating over this exceptional sound, one says it was Green himself who decided to reverse the pickups, looking for that Clapton sound in the Bluesbreakers (Green was his replacement in the band) Although it’s more likely that it was some sort of error in mounting the pickups, fixing one in reverse made that sound in half position, somewhat out of step that was so characteristic of Fleetwood Mac’ beginnings.  

However Green sank into psychological problems made worse by psychedelic drugs. With the magic also went the guitar, shortly before leaving Fleetwood Mac he began to give away his possessions. The most precious landed in the hands of a young Irish guitarist, barely 18 years old. We’re talking about Gary Moore
who had told Green he couldn’t afford the price, but Green replied that he would give him ‘Greeny’ for what he could get for his own guitar, an SG. Moore accepted the deal and he paid $300 for it. He recorded a good part of his discography with it, including the great triumph Parisienne Walkways. But in 2006, because of money troubles, he chose to sell it for $2 million. Eight years later it would find its way into another ace guitarist’s hands, when Kirk Hammett, on advice from Jimmy Page, managed to get  the ‘Holy Grail’ of guitars, ‘Greeny’ was heard again on record, specifically, Metallica’s last album, besides returning to the stage.


The Fender ‘Dragon’ Telecaster from 1958, Jimmy Page (Jeff Beck/ Jimmy Page)

If we consider the groups who have had the best guitarists, none can compare with the Yardbirds, the Brit band had Clapton,
Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page in their lineup, 3 names that always appear in the top 10 on any list worth a damn. The funny thing is that the replacement chosen for Clapton was Page, but he, who was the most important session guitarist in England, declined and recommended his friend, Beck. Jeff did not forget this gesture, and when in 1966 Page joined the group for good, he gave him a ‘58 Telecaster he had picked up the year before. It is uncertain whether Beck used it, but it certainly became Page’s go-to guitar for quite some time. The two were together barely two months when Beck decided to go solo, although they left some pearly pieces like Happenings Ten Years Time Ago. In 1967 Page glued 8 circular mirrors to it, as had done Syd Barrett, and then decided to take them off and repaint it with a touch of yellow, and a red/black dragon which would give the guitar its name. It was the guitar he played on his only record with the Yardbirds, Little Games, and during the first years of Led Zeppelin, making its last appearance on the remarkable solo in the most famous song of his life, Stairway To Heaven.  


The Gibson Les Paul Standard ‘Number 1’, Jimmy Page (Joe Walsh/ Jimmy Page)

However, we all know that Jimmy Page is not remembered for playing a Telecaster, and that has a lot to do with our next guest, Joe Walsh. In April on 1969 Led Zeppelin toured the U.S. with the James Gang, Walsh’s band, soon enough they were talking about their gear and the American offered the Englishmen to try his guitar, a ‘59 Les Paul Standard, Page fell in love with it, which Walsh had the neck shaved, and decided to buy it for what some say $500 and Walsh himself $1,200. Page had found the guitar of his dreams and put it to good use on Led Zeppelin II. His name would always be linked to this model, He called it ‘Number One’ and declared it his wife and lover. They still speculate over the year of fabrication, now that the series number was deleted by one of Walsh’s modifications, but the jury thinks it was from the vintage year 1959. What is clear is that the world owes Walsh a round of drinks for passing it on to Page. Not content with this, a couple of years later he would do the same when he got Pete Townshend
a Gretsch Chet Atkins from 1957, with which he created his masterpiece Who’s Next.   


The Gibson 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard, Joe Perry (Joe Perry/ Slash/ Joe Perry)

Being a part of the ‘Toxic Twins’ it isn’t surprising that Joe Perry
doesn’t remember how he got a Les Paul Standard from ‘59 into his hands. In a life full of excesses and exchanges, he remembers having traded a couple of guitars with Johnny Thunders, in fact Perry managed to get  one of the most sought after guitars by everyone and made it work on a pair of classic Aerosmith records like Draw the Line and Live! Bootleg. But at the time the band was already falling apart in mountains of cocaine and in-band fighting. When Perry left, or was thrown out, he couldn’t carry on his lifestyle (1979) so he decided to sell one of his most prized possessions, his Les Paul for $4,500 bucks. In 1984, after rejoining Aerosmith, the guitarist Eric Johnson found out he was looking for it and offered to sell it to him for a few thousand dollars, but Perry was recently married, had a child, and his financial situation wasn't the best, so he passed. Once Aerosmith was back in the driver’s seat Perry kept looking but Johnson no longer had it, and had lost track. One day his mate Brad Whitford showed up at rehearsal and said, “I know where your guitar is”, a moment later he whipped out a magazine with Slash posing with it on the cover. Curiously, Slash and his band Guns N Roses were big fans of Perry and Aerosmith. Perry called him asking how much he wanted for it. Slash was reluctant but Perry insisted until he saw it might put their friendship in jeopardy, and he told him, “Look, if you sell it some day, put me at the top of the list, that’s all I want. And that’s where it stood until September 10, 2000, on Perry’s 50th birthday, when he took the stage to play with Cheap Trick. In the middle of the gig someone appeared on stage with his les Paul and a message: Slash says Happy Birthday”. Since that day, the Les Paul that appears in the video of November Rain in Slash’s hands, has been on all his tours.


The 1971 Gibson Les Paul Custom, Steve Jones (Sylvain Sylvain/ Steve Jones)

At the head of the punk rebellion were the Sex Pistols, and as a reference to that rebellion was a guitar, a 1971 Gibson Les Paul Custom in the hands of Steve Jones, a white model with a ‘pin-up’ sticker that roar in songs like Anarchy in the U.K. or God Save the Queen. This guitar came from one of the bands most influential in the emergence of punk, the New York Dolls. Malcolm McLaren, the Pistols manager was forever a fan of the New Yorkers and offered his services as manager when they suffered their worst of times, when Johnny Thunders left. He began to talk to Sylvain Sylvain about the possibility of forming a new band in London.  Sylvain gave his Les Paul in return for a ticket he never saw, but he did get to see how Jones defined the punk sound with it, in spite of preferring his account where he stole it from one of his idols, Mick Ronson.


The Bumblebee, Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen/ Dimebag Darrell)

Just before Dimebag Darrell was murdered, he met his idol
Eddie Van Halen and asked him for a copy of his favourite guitar, the Bumblebee, the famous guitar shown on the album cover of Van Halen’s second album. Eruptions creator couldn’t deliver it on time, because a deranged killer shot Darrell down in the middle of a gig. After this tragic event Van Halen called his girlfriend to ask what he could possibly do to help. She never forgot Darrell’s wish and reminded Eddie of it. And when Van Halen came to the funeral, he didn’t bring a copy, but the original, his words to the family were the following: “Dime was an original, he deserves the original”. That’s how Dimebag Darrell was buried with Bumblebee. Perhaps he didn’t get to play it in life, but he has the eternity ahead to try it out.