Today, the late guitarist Les Paul would have turned 96. He, along with his impressive guitars (which appear three times in this list), were legendary. But he was not the only one. Many iconic guitarists have owned hundreds of different instruments over the years, but the one thing all these men have in common is a deep love for that one special ax. Whether it’s a well-aged acoustic or a banged-up electric, certain guitars have the uncanny ability to become just as famous as their owners.
From the international theft of George Harrison’s “Lucy” to the raging inferno that gave birth to B.B. King’s “Lucille,” these are the stories behind the most celebrated six-strings in the music industry.
B.B. King’s “Lucille”
One night in the 1950s, B.B. King was playing a dance hall in Twist, Arkansas. In those days it wasn’t uncommon to light a barrel of kerosene to keep the building warm. Unfortunately, that night a fight broke out between some rowdy locals and the barrel of kerosene was knocked over, causing a massive fire.
Once safely outside, B.B. realized that he had left his cherished guitar in the dance hall. He quickly ran into the blaze and grabbed his Gibson before the roof collapsed. Later, it was revealed that the men were fighting over a woman named Lucille. From that moment on B.B. christened all of his guitars “Lucille” to remind him never to fight over a woman.
Supposedly named after a character in Charles Dickens’ book David Copperfield, Micawber has been Keith’s main guitar since Exile on Main Street. Of course, when asked about the meaning behind the uncommon name, Keith coyly says: “There’s no reason for my guitar being called Micawber, apart from the fact that it’s such an unlikely name. When I scream for Micawber everyone knows what I’m talking about.”
The 1952 butterscotch Fender Telecaster is kept in the Human Riff’s trademark open G tuning, so it’s always ready to tear through such classics as “Before They Make Me Run,” “Brown Sugar” and “Honky Tonk Women.”
George Harrison’s “Lucy”
Dubbed “Lucy” in honor of red-headed comedian Lucille Ball, this cherry-hued ’57 Les Paul was given to George Harrison by Eric Clapton in 1968. As a favor to George, Clapton played the instrument during the recording of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
In the ‘70s, the legendary guitar was stolen from Harrison’s home and ended up in the hands of a Mexican musician who purchased Lucy from a music shop in California before returning to his native country. However, Harrison was able to get his beloved guitar back by trading a ’58 Les Paul and a bass to the musician in exchange for Lucy, which he owned until his death in 2001.
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Lenny”
In 1980, Stevie Ray Vaughan came across this 1965 Fender Stratocaster in a pawn shop in Austin, Texas, and instantly fell in love with the vintage instrument. Unfortunately, back then he didn’t have the $350 asking price. However, Stevie’s wife, Lenora “Lenny” Vaughan, rounded up $50 from seven of their closest friends and bought the guitar for the Double Trouble front man’s 26th birthday. Overwhelmed with emotion, Vaughan stayed up late that night writing a song. The next morning, Lenora woke up to Stevie playing the newly penned instrumental, “Lenny” for her.
Willie Nelson’s “Trigger”
In 1969, Willie Nelson sent one of his banged-up guitars to a repair shop in Nashville. The owner told him he couldn’t fix it but he had a Martin for sale that he thought Willie might like. Nelson bought the N-20 for $750 over the phone, sight unseen. After its delivery, he immediately fell in love with the guitar, naming it “Trigger” after Roy Rodgers’ trusty horse.
Willie played the Martin so much over the years that he wore a large hole in the top. However, the country star came to appreciate the unique sound so much that he refused to have it repaired.
Neil Young’s “Old Black”
Neil Young has owned this 1953 Gibson Les Paul since obtaining it from musician Jim Messina back in 1969.
Old Black, which got its name due to the fact that it began life as a goldtop but was later the recipient of an amateur black paint job, has been a headache for Young’s guitar tech, Larry Cragg. The old Gibson frequently goes out of tune and Young refuses to re-fret the fingerboard — but when the stars align, Old Black can still produce one of the most distinct sounds in the music industry. “It’s a demonic instrument. Old Black doesn’t sound like any other guitar,” Cragg once said.
Billy Gibbons’ “Miss Pearly Gates”
The ZZ Top guitarist is known for his big beard and an even bigger guitar collection. However, the ax that has always held a place in his heart is his coveted 1959 Les Paul.
As the story goes, ZZ Top gave their old 1930s Packard to a friend, Renee Thomas, to drive to L.A. for a movie audition. After landing the role, Renee and the band jokingly called the Packard “Pearly Gates” because they figured it must have had divine powers. Renee ended up selling the car and wiring the money to Gibbons on the very day he received a called about a ’59 Sunburst Les Paul that was found under the bed of a man who had recently passed away. The guitarist ended up loving the Gibson so much that he purchased it that day and dubbed it “Miss Pearly Gates.”
Eddie Van Halen’s “Frankenstrat”
Musicians have long debated whether a Fender or Gibson deserves to be called the best guitar in the world. Van Halen front man Eddie Van Halen simply combined the two to create his legendary Frankenstrat guitar.
In the 1970s, Van Halen was able to buy the ash body for $50 because there was a large knot in the wood. He then found a maple neck for the guitar for $80, bringing the grand total of his prized ax to a whopping $130. Eddie then utilized everything at his disposal, including bicycle paint, masking tape and wax to give the Frankenstrat its unique look. The crafty guitarist even cut up an old vinyl record to serve as a pickguard.
Jimi Hendrix’s “Woodstock” Strat
In his short lifetime, Jimi Hendrix was able to single-handedly change the sound of rock through his innovative guitar style and inexplicable raw talent. An intense performer, Hendrix was known to “sacrifice” his guitars by lighting them on fire. Fortunately, the 1968, the Stratocaster he played during his legendary rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock was spared this fiery fate.
After Jimi’s death in 1970, the guitar was put into storage until it was sold at auction to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen for $1.3 million.
Eric Clapton’s “Blackie”
In 1970, while visiting a music shop in Nashville, Clapton came across a rack of old Fenders. He ended up purchasing six of them at $100 apiece. Once he returned to England, he gifted three of the guitars to fellow rockers George Harrison, Pete Townshend, and Steve Winwood, and kept the rest for himself. Clapton decided to experiment by seeing if he could assemble a “Super Strat” out of the best parts from each vintage guitar. The end result was the legendary “Blackie” Stratocaster, named after the guitar’s black finish.