Guitarists true to one guitar

By Miguel Ángel Ariza

Most of our idols, having lived at a time when music was a gigantic multi-millionaire business, ended up very rich, and some of us can ponder that having all that cash, allowing them  access to the finest guitars ever made, each of their collections would grow too big to fit in their mansions, right?

Well many of them did just that, but curiously certain players have stuck with the same specific model of guitar, ignoring all the beauties around them, to which they had total access, and forge their image almost seen as incomplete, if not for the “his” model draped over the shoulder. We’re talking about guitarists like Slash or Paul Kossoff, and their Gibson Les Paul Standard; just like Angus Young, Tony Iommi, and Derek Trucks with their Gibson SG, we could also throw into the lot people such as B.B. King and Chuck Berry with their Gibson hollow bodies, either the 335 or the 345. Can you imagine either of the last two taking the stage with a Fender Stratocaster? It wouldn’t be the same artist, would it?, that’s why we pay tribute in this article to guitarists true to one guitar.

First of all we must point out that it isn’t the same to always play the same model as to play the same guitar. We know that there were many Lucilles; we also know that the Fender Stratocaster is what it is today thanks to a fellow called Jimi Hendrix, but let’s not forget the burnings, breakings, and throwing many of them into the air at gigs, so those two geniuses are good examples of artists true to a model but not a guitar specifically. Something much less promiscuous happens when players attach themselves to a few guitars, even choosing one over the others, like Stevie Ray Vaughan and his ‘59 Strat, Brian Setzer and his different Gretsch 6120s, the original being from ‘59, his favourite, and with which he played almost all his time while in the Stray Cats, or Danny Gatton and the 2 or 3 Fender Telecasters that he played for a very long time (the most iconic being the ‘53, and longest used).



Still, if we can further narrow the relationship between player and a single guitar, we have to mention people like Joe Strummer for instance, whose Fender Telecaster, although it wasn’t the only one, was with him since the mid-70s until he left us in the 21st century; or Bonnie Raitt with her unpainted Fender Stratocaster whose body dates back to ‘65, the only guitar she has played in every show since she got it in 1969. Another guitar that might also belong in this group is Bob Marleys Gibson Les Paul Special, his main guitar since the beginning of his career until his death and the reason why his signature sound is always linked to reggae music.

And finally, knowing that there are many love stories between players and models that we have missed, we must name some that seem the most tender relationships to us, be it for how long, emotional or idyllic the union was . The first is the guitar made by Hermann Hauser for Andrés Segovia who for many was the best guitarist on Earth and who played that guitar between 1937 until 1962. But let’s go to the electric world, where we don’t have to go back so many years to find love like that. Starting with the guitar that a young fellow mad about the 6-string and his father designed and built together in their garage, giving birth to what we know today as Red Special and which has always been linked to that teen: Brian May. While it’s true that he sometimes plays a replica, it’s the original guitar which defined the sound of Queen, and of an era.

A relationship similar to what May has with his Red Special is the one Mr. Bruce Springsteen  had with his hybrid between a Fender Esquire and Telecaster, until a few years ago his luthier advised him to retire it from touring; there isn’t an image of the Boss without a Telecaster, it has been his companion for more than 4 decades. It’s no wonder that with so many tours and over 3-hour concerts his luthier has convinced him to use another guitar. However, this retiring early thing is not easy to pull off, just ask Neil Young who is still shredding his legendary “Old Black” (a Gibson Les Paul Goldtop from ‘53, somewhat modified) in everyone of his concerts where he has to get his fans pumped up. An absolute delight to see this guitar still in action and in top form.

We’ll take the last step before we close by mentioning two of the absolute geniuses of the electric guitar, and both share having tailored his sound and style with one guitar. We’re talking about the most-adored Rory Gallagher and Peter Green. It is true that Peter Green went on with his career beyond Fleetwood Mac with other guitars, but it is clear that he is and will be remembered for what he did in those early years in the Brit band with ‘Greeny’ over his shoulder, which for some is the best sound ever to come off a Les Paul (to be more exact, a ‘59 Gibson Les Paul Standard, and as we have noted many times in Guitars Exchange, it later belonged to Gary Moore, and nowadays it can be seen in Metallica tours with Kirk Hammett).

Rory Gallagher meanwhile, was never apart from his Fender Stratocaster (the first to reach Ireland by the way) since meeting her in the 60s until the day of his death. His story and that of his ‘61 Strat with such characteristic relic are as linked together as fabled King Arthur and Excalibur. It’s not one without the other.

And to top off this piece of love between players and guitars, we have to do it with the man who said many years ago that “the day Trigger goes, so do I, this bond between this Martin N-20 baptised as Trigger in 1969 and Willie Nelson goes beyond human love. It is known that his audiences hold their breath, and treat it as if it were church liturgy when one of the crew place Trigger in the middle of the stage before the show starts. It’s this complete connection between the guitar and artist that makes these inanimate objects take on a life of their own in the minds of his fans, who commend all kinds of skills and abilities to them, which though it may seem a biblical tale, they may well possess, as many of the folk we have mentioned here have given themselves to one or very few guitars, given the abundance of models and guitars that exist, and how easy it would be for them to get them, is an authentic miracle.