20 Iconic Guitars: Hendrix, Prince, Les Paul and Jimmy Page, BB King - Rolling Stone
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20 Iconic Guitars

From ‘Lucille’ to ‘Trigger,’ great guitars and the musicians who love them

les paul jimmy page prince

Richard E. Aaron/Redferns; Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

When Jimi Hendrix set his Stratocaster on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival, he explained it as an act of love. “You sacrifice the things you love,” he said. “I love my guitar.” The world’s great guitarists undoubtedly love their guitars – Stevie Ray Vaughan went so far as to call his most beloved six-string his “First Wife.” Here are 20 iconic guitars forever linked to the musicians who loved them.

eric clapton

Eric Clapton’s ‘Blackie’

Eric Clapton's beloved "Blackie," a customized Fifties Fender Stratocaster, is actually assembled from parts of three Strats the guitarist bought at a Nashville shop in the Seventies. After Clapton retired the guitar in the mid-Eighties, it brought a then-record $959,500 in 2004 at an auction supporting Crossroads, the guitarist's rehab center. 

neil young

Neil Young’s ‘Old Black’

Most of Neil Young's electric guitar tracks have been recorded on "Old Black," the guitarist's Fifties-vintage Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, which he traded for way back in 1969. The guitar has undergone numerous modifications and has endured plenty of wear and tear over the years. 

bruce springsteen

Bruce Springsteen’s Fender Esquire

Sometimes identified as a Telecaster, the natural wood guitar slung over the shoulder of Bruce Springsteen on the iconic 1975 album cover Born to Run is actually a Fifties-era Fender Esquire with considerable modifications.  

willie nelson

Willie Nelson’s ‘Trigger’

For more than 40 years Willie Nelson has been playing a Martin N-20 nylon-string acoustic guitar he named "Trigger," after Roy Rogers’ horse. A classical guitar designed with no pick-guard, the famous relic has developed a distinctive gaping hole in the body. "When Trigger goes, I’ll quit," Nelson once said.


Prince’s ‘Cloud’

Made famous in the movie Purple Rain, Prince’s voluptuously curvy custom-built "Cloud" guitar was designed by a local Minneapolis luthier and reproduced by Schecter guitars.

jimmy page

Jimmy Page’s double-neck Gibson EDS-1275

The unforgettable guitar that made the multi-part "Stairway to Heaven" a certifiable epic, the Led Zeppelin guitarist's double neck Gibson – 12 strings on top, six on the bottom – has spawned plenty of imitators. 

george harrison

George Harrison’s Rickenbacker 12-string

The Beatles' resident guitar guru was well-known for playing a Gretsch, too, but perhaps his most iconic guitar was his chiming 1963 Rickenbacker 12-string. The company owner gave the guitar to the group on their first U.S. tour, and Harrison fell in love with it immediately.    

paul mccartney

Paul McCartney’s Hofner ‘Violin’ Bass

The Beatles' bassist first encountered the violin-shaped bass guitar that would define his stage image during his group's apprentice days in Hamburg, Germany. McCartney has said he liked the bass for its symmetry, which made the look of playing left-handed seem "less daft."

bb king

B.B. King’s ‘Lucille’

After rescuing his $30 Gibson from a burning Arkansas dance hall in 1949, bluesman B.B. King learned that the fire was started by two men fighting over a woman named Lucille. He has used the name for each of his guitars since, including various Gibsons and Telecasters. In 1980 Gibson began manufacturing the B.B. King signature "Lucille" model, a variation on the company’s combination hollow- and solid-body ES-355. 

les paul

Gibson Les Paul

Sound innovator Les Paul teamed with Gibson, which has made electric guitars since 1936, to create the classic namesake that has been a rock & roll staple for decades. The fat-toned, solid-body guitar was based on Paul's invention known as the "log," so named because its strings and electronics ran through a central piece of wood. 

stevie ray vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Fender Stratocaster

The late guitar great called his favorite instrument Number One. Also known as Vaughan’s "First Wife," the guitar – a 1963 Fender Strat fitted with a 1962 neck – was famously battered from years of onstage abuse. 

eddie van halen

Eddie Van Halen’s ‘Frankenstrat’

Van Halen's guitarist created his signature axe by combining Gibson sound with a Fender appearance. The guitar is well-known for its Pollock-like paintwork – red, with crisscrossing black and white stripes.  

jerry garcia

Jerry Garcia’s ‘Tiger’

The late Grateful Dead bandleader played his guitar of choice, "Tiger," over ten years beginning in 1979. Built by Sonoma County luthier Doug Irwin, the heavy guitar (over 13 lbs.) comprises a "hippie sandwich" of several layers of wood laminated together. Tiger's successor, another Irwin guitar called Rosebud, was in need of repair in July 1995, so Garcia played Tiger during the concert that would be his last.  

lonnie mack

Lonnie Mack’s Flying V

A pioneer in rock guitar soloing, Mack is said to have given the tremolo bar its nickname – the "whammy" bar – after the title of one of his instrumental hits, "Wham!" In 1958 Mack bought one of the first Gibson Flying Vs off the production line, and it became his signature guitar. Of native American descent, Mack has said he liked the guitar's arrowlike shape.

pete townshend

Pete Townshend’s #5 Gibson Les Paul

For years the Who's guitarist kept an array of modified Les Pauls on stage, numbering them 1-9 so they could each be tuned accordingly. The wine red #5, seen in the film The Kids Are Alright, is probably the most famous of the bunch.

jimi hendrix

Jimi Hendrix’s Monterey Stratocaster

The colorfully decorated Strat that the guitar god played during his breakout performance at the Monterey Pop Festival is famous for its short lifespan: Hendrix lit it on fire at that celebrated show. Replicas of its flower-power design are still popular – John Mayer plays one.  

randy rhoads

Jackson Randy Rhoads

Commissioned by the late metal guitarist (who nicknamed it "Concorde"), the angular electric guitar that gave the Jackson company its reputation has been a preferred axe of many players, including Metallica's Kirk Hammett. 

keith richards

Keith Richards’ ‘Micawber’

The Rolling Stone's best-known guitar is probably "Micawber," an early Fifties butterscotch Fender Telecaster tuned to open G, with the sixth string removed. The guitar is named for a character in Dickens’ David Copperfield.

bo diddley

Bo Diddley’s Cigar Box

The late Bo Diddley fashioned homemade guitars from cigar boxes, an old folk tradition that gave his signature instrument its distinctive rectangular shape. Before Gretsch began producing Diddley's guitars, he built two dozen or more of this own, famously giving one to Dick Clark after a career-making appearance on American Bandstand.

kurt cobain

Kurt Cobain’s ‘Jag-Stang’

According to the late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, he designed his own guitar by taking Polaroids of a Fender Jaguar and a Fender Mustang and cutting them to fit together. Fender began producing the guitar after Cobain's death, and Courtney Love gave her husband's powder blue prototype to R.E.M.'s Peter Buck. 

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