Keith Richards through his most important guitars

By Sergio Ariza

Mick Jagger may be the face (and tongue) of the Rolling Stones but the soul of the band is Keith Richards, the old pirate who constructed the sound of the group from memorable guitar parts and riffs. Well, from Guitars Exchange we would like to review the guitars that have built, stone by stone, the Stones' career, from the Meteor that sounded in their first single, to his beloved Micawber, the 53 Telecaster with which he is most associated.    

Harmony Meteor H70 de los 60

This guitar appeared in Keith Richards' life the same month Charlie Watts became the official drummer of the Rolling Stones, January 1963, after Keith opted for the Harmony instead of a Hawk. It was with this guitar on his shoulder that Keith Richards first appeared on British television, alongside the Stones, on the programme Thank You Lucky Stars, and also on the recording of the band's first two singles, the cover version of Come On by their idol
Chuck Berry, which was released in June 1963, and I Wanna Be Your Man given to them by Lennon and McCartney, which would see the light of day in November 1963 and had been recorded a month earlier. It would also be the guitar that would dominate the Rolling Stones' eponymous debut and Keith would continue to use it until August 1964, coinciding a few months later with Keith's next main electric guitar, his 1962 Epiphone Casino.


Harmony H-1270 de 1963

If the Meteor was the guitar with which the ‘Stone sound’ was built, this Harmony H-1270 was the one that gave the first songs of the band. Richards says that after seeing how the Beatles wrote I Wanna Be Your Man in a quarter of an hour, their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, decided to lock Richards and Jagger in a kitchen until they composed their first song together. The result was As Tears Go By, possibly with Keith setting the chords on his Harmony and Jagger bringing out the melody, a beautiful ballad that Oldham would give to Marianne Faithfull to make a success of. That move shifted the leadership of the band from
Brian Jones to the brand new composing couple, who would not stop working together. Many of those early compositions, such as the aforementioned Good Times, Bad Times or Tell Me, would be made with this H-1270 which would also appear on their recording, as well as on hits such as Not Fade Away.


Epiphone Casino de 1962

Richards' lead guitar during his first major tour in the USA, with which the Stones became famous in that country. It was also the guitar that Keith used in the recording of their second album, 12x5, which the band would record at their private Mecca, the Chess studios in Chicago where several of their idols had recorded, such as Chuck Berry,
Bo Diddley - or Muddy Waters who they found painting the facade the first day they arrived. This makes the Epiphone the protagonist in two of the best singles of this early period, their recreations of It's All Over Now and Time Is On My Side. The guitar would remain in use until the recording in September 1965 of December's Children (And Everybody's), although by that time Keith would have another of his most mythical guitars in his hands.


Gibson Les Paul Standard de 1959

Before Eric Clapton made the Les Paul Burst the most famous guitar of all time, Keith Richards had already used a Standard 59 to record the most famous riff of the 20th century - on (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction. Richards got his hands on it in the summer of 1964, with one of the first times he used it being in his first appearance on Ed Sullivan's show in October 1964. The Les Paul was his lead guitar during that second US tour, appearing for the first time in the studio for the album The Rolling Stones, Now! Although the moment when it would definitively go down in history would be between May 11 and 12, 1965 when Richards used it to record the band's most famous and important song, (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, along with a Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone pedal and a Fender Showman.


Richards would continue to use the Burst in 1965 and early 1966, but at some point he lost interest in the guitar and switched to a 1960s Freshman Guild, ending up with a black Les Paul Custom. But the Burst's history with the Stones was not over. First it was seen again in the hands of Eric Clapton in one of Cream's first appearances, on 31 July 1966, but it would make its reappearance in July 1968 when it ended up in the hands of a young
Mick Taylor, who in a year would end up taking the Burst back to the Stones, when he became Brian Jones' replacement.


Gibson Les Paul Custom de 1957/58

The first time this guitar was seen was when the Stones appeared on Ed Sullivan's show on September 11, 1966, performing Paint It Black. It was Keith's lead guitar during the late 1966 British tour and became the main guitar in the studio throughout 1967, at the height of the band's psychedelic phase, but the best was yet to come. It's not clear if Keith lost the original Black Beauty and bought a similar one or if it was the same 1966 Black Beauty that would appear in 1968, with a drawing of the moon and the sun, to mark the Stone sound. The Custom would become the lead guitar on two of the band's most important albums, Beggar's Banquet and Let It Bleed, being responsible for what I think is the best moment as lead guitarist of the best rhythm guitarist of all time, the Sympathy For The Devil solo.


Gibson Hummingird

The guitar on which Richards built two of his most iconic riffs, Street Fightin' Man and Jumpin' Jack Flash. On the latter, the guitarist uses his acoustic Gibson Hummingbird with an open D tuning and an E capo, plus a second acoustic guitar that does the opening chord and is in a 'Nashville tuning' in which the last four strings are replaced by narrower strings tuned an octave higher than normal. In addition, all the guitars are recorded on a cassette recorder, which gives them that peculiar sound, close to the electric one, that inaugurates the imperial phase of the Stones.


Maton Supreme Electric 777

One of the guitars that Richards made the most of in least time. An acquaintance left it in his house telling him to take care of it but Keith decided to take it to the studio where they were recording Let It Bleed, however he only had time to use it in two songs before it broke in his hands, but the two songs in which he used it are, nothing more and nothing less than Gimme Shelter and Midnight Rambler. Richards himself says that when he gave the final note of the first one the neck was shattered as if the storm that the song talks about had decided to take its first victim.


Dan Armstrong Ampeg Plexiglass de 1969

Another iconic guitar, the clear Plexiglas guitar he used on the late '69 tour (where you can see Jimi Hendrix fret with it in the dressing room) and last appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. The guitar was used in the studio mainly on Sticky Fingers, where Richards put it to good use during the recording of such memorable pieces such as Bitch, a moment when Andy Johns, the sound engineer, realised the importance of the guitarist in the band: "We were doing Bitch, Keith had been delayed. Jagger and Mick Taylor were playing the song without him and it didn't sound very good. He came out of the booth and was sitting on the floor, barefoot, eating a bowl of cereal. Suddenly he said, "Andy! Pass me that guitar. I passed him his transparent Dan Armstrong Plexiglass and he got on with it, speeding up the tempo of the song and giving it the right vibe. Suddenly, it went from being a disaster to having an authentic flavor. And I thought, wow, that's what he does”. For its part, the guitar was stolen in 1971 and was never heard from again. Richards liked it so much, though, that he bought two more that he would use briefly during his 1972 American tour.


Fender Telecaster del 53 (Micawber) / Fender Telecaster del 54 (Malcolm)

But if there's one guitar linked to Keith Richards' image, it's his '53 Telecaster, which he named Micawber, like one of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield characters. The funny thing is that it didn't come into his hands until the 70s, one of the stories is that Eric Clapton gave it to him for his 27th birthday in 1970. The fact is that Richards didn't take advantage of it until he made several modifications and began to use it in my favourite album of the band, the essential Exile On Main Street, where Micawber opens the album in style with the riff of Rocks Off, the essence of rock & roll encapsulated in three minutes. Since then she's become Stone's favourite live guitar. Richards usually uses it for classics like Brown Sugar, Honky Tonk Women and Before They Make Me Run (whose studio version is most likely also with her), and she even has a twin guitar, a '54 Telecaster, nicknamed Malcolm, which is modelled to sound like her sister.