It may be that Mr. B.B. King gets world fame and deservedly so, recognised as the greatest bluesman of all time; and it may be that if you're going to buy just one blues record in your life, it’s a wise choice to get something by B.B. King. But if the blues comes calling at your door for a second time, if you feel the slightest interest in this style or simply are discovering blues for the first time, and you’ve been trapped forever knowing that the road that began with B.B. King goes straight through another king: Albert King.
For many he is the greatest bluesman of all time; for practically everyone else , he is only #2. We are not going to get into this debate because what we came here to tell you is how to get something similar to his tone but (spoiler alert), give up in advance, it is completely impossible.
The main reason why he’s absolutely inimitable is because he was left-handed, something quite common for sure, but what is less common is that he didn’t change the strings around, which is to say he played a right-handed guitar but took it like a lefty leaving the first top string and the sixth below. This translates mainly into his glorious bendings, many with two strings, did not usually go from the bottom to top but rather the opposite, creating a unique sound which makes him someone special. In fact, Albert King has made it easier than any other blues guitarist for us to quickly recognise when another guitarist is trying to copy his way of playing. To give a classic example, it is more than evident when Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of his most outstanding students, ‘plays for’ Albert King. But even so, it doesn’t sound exactly the same as him now that SRV plays his style in standard tuning while King used an open tuning making it even harder exercise to copy his technique. Other bluesmen sound like blues, Albert King sounds like himself.
To end up being absolutely extraordinary, he linked his image and sound to the expired and quickly discontinued Gibson Flying V Korina. His first model, Lucy, from 1959 was his main instrument until, according to legend, he lost it in a card game. He would replace this model with another Gibson Flying V but this time from the late 60s. It was with this guitar he recorded some of the material that would make him immortal like Born Under a Bad Sign and the rest of his classics with Stax Records.
We can see him in photos with some Fender Stratocaster but he always had the V as his main tool. In fact in the 80s we can see him with other arrow models made by luthiers, among which stands out his dark brown Lucy built by his friend Dan Erlewine, with his name written on the fretboard.
Incredibly, by what we’ve been able to find out on the internet, these 3 guitars are in the possession of one person; we’re talking about a guy with a ponytail who has made a fortune beating people up and killing the bad guy in the last scene of hundreds of action films for over more than 4 decades: Steven Seagal, actor, and also musician and guitar collector.
Continuing our review, do you think you can imitate our beloved Albert King? Well, now we must mention another of his most striking features. You’ve been thinking for years that the valves were the queens of tone and have spent thousands of euros on amps that weigh as much as a Sumo wrestler. Good, well you can throw them in the rubbish bin since the mythic tone of Albert King most often came from transistor amps such as the Roland Jazz Chorus 120 or an Acoustic 270 head mainly, although he has been seen with other brands, like Peavey.
If you still feel like copying his sound, I have one last good piece of news: he didn’t use pedals. At least not on his most legendary recordings, though in the late 70s he liked to add a MXR Phaser. But the rest is pure genius, playing 6 strings fitted in that way. He shares his talent with B.B. King, and a mastery of the guitar and a voice that made them special. As we were saying, the fame of the first King is multiplied a thousand more than the second, but blues fans know that the difference in fame between them doesn’t translate as much in the quality of their music, nor their solos.
Albert King is as much a king as B.B., but our throne isn’t made of iron, so they both fit.