With a music career that has now hit 50 years (The Rolling Stones performed their first gig on July 12, 1962), Keith (Keef) Richards has played just about every guitar under the sun. He puts his collection at “about 500”, which, amazingly, means he’s acquired a guitar every five weeks, on average, since 1962. Many of these have been Gibson guitars, some with legendary status. Here are just a few of the Gibson guitars Richards has riffed on.
1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard Sunburst
Even some ardent Gibson Les Paul fans forget this, but Keith Richards was the first big-name guitarist to tote a Sunburst Les Paul. His most fabled was an original 1959 Les Paul Standard. The guitar was bought new in 1961 from Farmers Music Store in Luton (U.K.) by John Bowen, who played with aspiring English popsters Mike Dean & The Kinsmen. Bowen had a Bigsby vibrato fitted at Selmer’s music store in London before trading it for another guitar in 1962. Soon after, a young Keith Richards, playing guitar in a little-known band called The Rolling Stones, walked in to Selmer’s and bought it.
Richards used the ’Burst extensively in the Stones’ early days. It was seen regularly from 1964 to 1966 when Keith began to favor Les Paul Customs. Appearances on TV show Ready Steady Go and classic songs like “The Last Time” and “Satisfaction” were all played on this ’59 ’Burst.
Keef sold the guitar to Mick Taylor in 1967 – the future Stone had replaced fellow Les Paul maestros Peter Green (and before him, Eric Clapton) in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
There are photos of Mick Jagger with the ’59 Burst at some 1970 recording sessions – by which time Taylor was in The Stones – but it then disappeared. Rumor has it that the guitar was stolen in 1971, either from London’s Marquee Club after a gig, or from Nellcote in southern France during the recording of Exile on Main St. Whatever the truth, it did end up in the hands of Cosmo Verrico of the Heavy Metal Kids who were signed to Atlantic Records (alongside The Stones).
Verrico owned the ’59 until 1974, when he then sold it to Bernie Marsden (later of Whitesnake). Marsden kept the guitar for a little over a week before, perhaps rashly; he sold it to a U.K. collector. The fabled ’59 was sold again to another collector in 2006, “somewhere in Europe” according to auctioneers.
Keef loved acoustics in the late ’60s. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Street Fighting Man” were both written on his favored Gibson Hummingbird (vintage unconfirmed). Says Keef: “I tuned to open D, six string. Open D or open E, which is the same thing – same intervals – but it would be slackened down some for D. Then there was a capo on it, to get that really tight sound. And there was another guitar over the top of that, but tuned to Nashville tuning. Both acoustics were put through a Phillips cassette recorder. Just jam the mic right in the guitar and play it back through an extension speaker.” In his Life autobiography, Richards reveals, “There are no electric instruments on ‘Street Fighting Man’ at all… All acoustic guitars. ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ the same.”
Gibson Les Paul Customs
By 1966, Richards was using three-pickup Les Paul Customs (the so-called “Black Beauty”). He had four, at least. He first used one in ’66, but that was stolen on tour in 1967. He purchased a new one in London, and this one was later painted by himself and then-partner Anita Pallenberg. It is now apparently owned by a U.K. guitar collector.
So why did that one go? Various stories say Keef gave it away or forgetfully left it in a Canadian guitar shop. He bought two new Les Paul Customs for the Stones’ 1969 tour, and used one for open-G tuning on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Street Fighting Man” (live), the other in standard tuning. Both these Black Beauties were reportedly stolen from Nellcote in July 1971. Bad luck or simple carelessness? By ’73, Keef was still using a ’54 Custom for “Midnight Rambler” on The Stones’ ’72-73 tours. The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus film shows Keith rocking one of his early LP Customs.
Of course, there was also Keith’s Flying V (played at The Stones’ Hyde Park performance in 1969), his numerous Epiphones, and the Gibson L-5S guitars built specially for Richards and Ronnie Wood in the ’80s. Oh, and his Gibson Maestro fuzz pedal that birthed “Satisfaction.”
Check out this letter Keith wrote to a fan who was asking about “the fuzzy sound.”
All information provided by the Gibson website.