What are the top 10 most famous guitars in the world? We’re looking at more than brands and models, we’re looking at defining, unique instruments that were played by the great guitarists and have a story to tell.
Number 10: Double neck Gibson – Jimmy Page
In terms of music Led Zepplin’s Jimmy Page has got to have produced some of the most distinctive and progressive music of the 20th century. His frequently used les Paul would go down in history simply for being in the hands of a great musician. However, in terms of guitars the double neck Gibson SG that Page used for Stairway To Heaven is uniquely iconic – a unique instrument played by a fantastic guitarist for a brilliant song.
Number 9: Black Strat – David Gilmour
David Gilmour’s Black Strat often appears on these lists of top 10 instruments. It was featured in a large number of memorable Pink Floyd songs such as: Money, Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Comfortably Numb.
The guitar was originally purchased in 1970 at Manny’s guitar store and word has it that David Gilmour immediately fell in love with it, but mere weeks later the guitar was stolen on tour along with the rest of Pink Floyd’s equipment. Forced to cancel the tour David made a trip to the same guitar store and bought another. Since then it has been one Gilmour’s most used guitars. It featured first in the Bath festival of June 1970.
Number 8: Lucille – BB King
In Arkansas 1949, BB King was performing in a hall when two men fighting over a woman knocked over a barrel of kerosene that was being used to warm the building. In the ensuing fire that ripped through the hall everyone had to be evacuated. When BB King got outside he realised that he had left his guitar inside and ran back inside to save it. Though he saved the guitar and himself was unharmed two people died in the fire and so he decided to name the guitar Lucille after the woman that the two men had been fighting over – this would serve as a reminder never to do anything so stupid as going into a burning building again or to fight over a woman.
Number 7: Lucy – George Harrison
“Lucy” is a red Gibson Les Paul and was a gift from Eric Clapton – which is cool enough. The love that Harrison had for this guitar is clear enough from the events that follow. “Lucy” was stolen from Harrison’s home in 1973 and sold, eventually ending up in the hands of a musician in Mexico. In the end Harrison traded a Les Paul sunburst and a Fender Precision Bass for the return of his precious Lucy – and kept the guitar until his death in 2001.
Number 6: 0001 Stratocaster – David Gilmour
The 0001 Stratocaster, currently owned by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour is in my opinion one of the coolest guitars ever created. The reason of course is that it is (1) Old: Manufactured in 1954. (2) Owned by David Gilmour and reputedly Seymour Duncan and Leo Fender prior to this. (3) A #0001 serial number. Rumour has it that it might have been made especially for an employee or that it was designed as a museum piece. Perhaps that’s a production run of only one model, which explains the 0001 serial. It makes me wonder about other #0001 serials out there (such as Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Number One”). But so far as I know this is the oldest – and it’s got a great ownership and gig history.
Number 5: JagStang – Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana invented this cross between the Fender Jaguar and Mustang. He pitched the guitar to Fender who built two left handed prototypes for him but as it wasn’t used in many performances the suggestion is that Kurt was not happy with the result. Nonetheless as instruments go, the Jagstang remains a unique addition to guitars. Following Kurt’s death his Jagstang was given to Peter Buck of REM and makes an appearance in the music video for “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?”.
Number 4: Frankenstrat – Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen wanted the feel of a Fender Strat with sound of a Gibson and so quite simply he put two Humbuckers his Strat. He didn’t want people to be able to replicate the sound so he even went as far as to disguise one of the Humbuckers as a single coil to throw people off! The look was even more distinctive through the amateur paint job on the body which utilised red bicycle paint and masking tape.
Number 3: Blackie – Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton moved from Gibson guitars to Fender Stratocasters in 1970. In this time he bought six 1950’s Stratocasters $200-300 dollars each from a music store. He gave three to George Harrison, Pete Townshend and Steve Windwood. With the remaining three guitars he took the best parts of the instruments and assembled “Blackie”, so named of course for it’s black finish. (Clapton had previously owned a guitar called “Brownie”.)
The Guitar was sold at auction for $959,000, which at the time set the record for the sale of a guitar.
Number 2: Sunburst Stratocaster – Bob Dylan
The guitar made its first appearance at the Newport, Rhode Island concert where Bob Dylan is famously said to have “gone electric” in that he used a sunburst Fender Stratocaster rather than his typical acoustic performance. It did not go down well with all fans who were maybe expecting the usual acoustic performance, but is considered a turning point in encouraging the transition to electric for a many of fans. Some time (perhaps immediately) after this the guitar went missing, left on a plane where it went unclaimed for about half a century and ended up with the private plane’s pilot. When it was eventually put up for sale in December 2013 it sold for a recordbreaking $965,000. (Breaking the previous record held by Eric Clapton’s Blackie at $959,000.)
Number 1: Upside down / backwards Stratocaster – Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix played many Stratocasters upside down or backwards. Being left handed and presumably not wanting to restrict his choice of instrument he famously reversed the strings on right handed Strats, moved the strap button to the other horn and played them left handed. This also reversed the length of the strings, with the low E being the longest and the high E being shortest – which affects the tone of the strings producing a unique sound for a Strat. Being left handed myself and having played a backwards Strat, I can reliably inform you that it is one of the most uncomfortable instruments in the world and greatly inhibits the instrument’s playability. Nonetheless this is one of the most iconic and famous modifications of a Fender Stratocaster.
Jimi Hendrix made a habit of burning his guitars after playing them, however the Olympic white Strat he used at the Woodstock festival in 1968 somehow made it out unscarred. It is rumoured to have fetched up to $2,000,000 in sale to Microsoft’s Paul Allen.