Billy Gibbons’ Guitars and GearPublished : - Author : Dan Kopilovic
Short Summary of Billy’s Gear
Billy Gibbons owns a huge collection of guitars – his technician counted around 450, but there’s probably much more. So, instead of trying to list them all here, we’ll focus on a few that are most important, and most often used during live performances.
Definitely, the most important guitar in Billy’s arsenal, and his favorite one, is the “Pearly Gates” 1959 Gibson Les Paul. He acquired this guitar at the beginning of his career for $250, and from that point on, it became his most prized possession. He used that guitar on nearly all of ZZ Top albums, although not exclusively.
Nowadays, he retired the original Pearly Gates and instead uses a replica made for him by Gibson. This replica was also available for anyone to buy, although it was produced in very limited numbers of only 350 pieces.
Aside from the Pearly Gates, he also uses a variety of guitars made for him by John Bolin. These are usually Telecaster-shaped guitars, with custom paint jobs, and custom specs. Very often, these guitars have their bodies and necks hollowed out so the guitar would weigh less, making it easier for Billy to carry them when playing live.
BIlly’s main amp and the one he himself attributes with contributing to the ZZ Top sound is the 1968 Marshall Super Lead 100W. In more recent years, he keeps this amp safe in his studio and uses a more modern setup for his live gigs.
As far as guitar strings, Billy is known for using very light strings. He has his own signature set made by Dunlop called the Reverend Willy Extra Light set (.007, .009, .011, .020w, .030, .038.).
List of Guitars, Amps, Effects, and Accessories used by Billy Gibbons
Billy Gibbons’ Electric Guitars
1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard “Pearly Gates”
This was Billy’s first ever Les Paul – a 1959 model, the so-called “The Holy Grail” of Les Pauls. But, among the fans of ZZ Top and Billie, this specific guitar is known by its nickname – the Pearly Gates.
The Origin Story
As far as how Billie got the guitar, as the story goes, a rancher who lived in Downey, Texas, who himself once played in a country band, sold it to him for 250$.
But, before that took place, apparently, Billy loaned 250$ to an aspiring actress so she could buy a car and drive from Houston to Hollywood for an audition.
After she drove there and successfully got the part she was auditioning for, her friends, among them Billie, were joking around that car must have some kind of divine connection, and they named it “Pearly Gates”.
After she finally sold the car and sent the money back to Billy, he drove out to meet with the rancher with whom he was in talks about the guitar. From then on the “Pearly Gates” nickname transferred over to Les Paul, and Billie basically ended up using it on every album he recorded with the ZZ-top.
This guitar is still in its original condition, and Billy refuses to sell it, even though he had a single offer for 5 million dollars to sell the guitar.
2009 Gibson Les Paul Billy Gibbons “Pearly Gates” Replica
This guitar is essentially a replica of the above-mentioned ’59 Les Paul, produced by Gibson in 2009.
The model was manufactured in a limited quantity of only 350 guitars. 50 of those were aged to look exactly like the original Pearly Gates, another 50 were aged and then personally signed and played by Gibbons himself, and the rest were the “standard” models.
Billy owns at least a few of these replicas, among them a very special one. This special guitar, he seems to use the most, and it features some major changes when compared to the standard models.
The first is the custom “Gibbons” inlay on the headstock instead of “Gibson”. The second, and a more major one, is the fact that the guitar’s body is hollowed out at Billy’s request, so it would be lighter and easier to use during long concerts.
The second replica that he used very often is one of the first prototypes, which is kept completely stock.
1962 Gibson Melody Maker
This was Billy’s first electric guitar. He got it as a gift for Christmas just a little after he turned 13.
The guitar is just standard a Gibson Melody Maker with a single pickup, single cutaway, and two-tone sunburst. Right after he got the guitar, Billy took it to a local shop where he had a guy called Fred draw some pinstripes on it.
On a Christmas day when I turned 13, got a Gibson Melody Maker, and on that same day we took it over to the Axel Custom Shop where Fearless Fred put these fine pinstripes down.Billy Gibbons
Worth noting that BIllly nowadays uses a replica of this guitar, with a pinstripe design, nicknamed “Mojo Maker”. The replica is fitted with what Billy calls a Seymour Duncan stacked humbucker, and has a “Mojo Maker” plate instead of the original “Melody Maker” at the end of the fretboard.
Gibson Les Paul 1957 Goldtop Pinstripe
Billy owns many gold-top Les Pauls, but the one that stands out is a custom-made pinstriped Les Paul. The design, including all the aging and pin-striping, was thought of by Billy himself and done by the Gibson Custom Shop and Rick Harris (a well-known hot-rod pinstriper).
The guitar is based heavily on the 1957 Les Paul model, with some modifications. The body was built from mahogany, but it is hollowed out from the inside, so it weighs a lot less than a standard model.
The guitar is also equipped with Billy’s own signature pickup set from Seymour Duncan, the Pearly Gates, and it has quite a unique control setup. There’s no pickup selector switch. Instead, there’s one master tone knob, and two volume controls – each of course controlling a single pickup.
1955 Fender Stratocaster Hardtail
Billy played a hard-tailed 55 Stratocaster on the recording of “La Grange”. However, the overdubs and the overdriven parts were done on the Pearly Gates Les Paul.
The 1955 ‘La Grange’ Fender Strat… hardtail, no whammy. Straight stuff here! This particular thrasher, combined with Pearly Gates, harmonics included, put the crowning touch on La Grange. Worn and weather-beaten, this skunk-striped, maple-necked special is another one that grooves on and on! Good combo.Billy F Gibbons discusses his extensive collection of hot rod-inspired guitars
1961 Gibson SG/Les Paul “Lil Red”
This guitar originally belonged to one of the guitarists from the band The VanTels, who used it to record the band’s single “Memo to Maxi“. Billy was apparently associated with the band somehow, since he had that information, and wanted to purchase the guitar.
He eventually managed to do that, with the help of his friend Scott Thompson, who again somehow got the information that the guitar was with Thomas Slaughter, better known as Texas Tom.
Billy ended up using it on “Vincent Price Blues’from ZZ Tops’ 1996 album Rhythmeen.
The Replica Model
Sometime in the more recent years, Billy decided to auction off the original Lil Red. Following that, he had a replica of the guitar made for him by Gibson.
The replica was built upon the 2013 SG Les Paul Tribute, with some modifications. The first and the most obvious one was adding the pinstripe design, as seen on the original Lil Red.
The rest of the mods included removing the pickguard, the tremolo piece cover, and three of the control knobs – leaving only the master volume in.
John Bolin “Stoner” Broadcaster/Esquire
This guitar was custom-built for Billy by J. Bolin sometime in the early 2010s.
The guitar featured a Cream T pickup (Billy F Gibbons Banger Series), a top-loaded bridge, a chambered body and neck, and a Jimmy Reed-style pickguard.
John Bolin Billy-Bo Pro
Billy had quite a lot of these guitars over the years. They were all custom-built by John Bolin and sometimes featured different designs and specifications.
The most recent version of the Billy Bo Pro features a slightly smaller body than the older model and comes with only one TV Jones pickup.
Most of the guitars that Billy uses have the body hollowed out, so the guitar would weigh less. Some also have the neck hollowed out, for that same reason.
John Bolin Peeler
This is another guitar produced for Billy by John Bolin. It’s a “twin” guitar to Dusty’s Bolin bass guitar, so the two would often play them both on stage.
The Finish, Specs
Both the guitars have a very distinguishing finish, which is actually a vinyl sticker wrapped around the body.
The design was actually inspired by an old Fender bass guitar that was damaged in a flood and had its finish starting to peel off (therefore the “Peeler”). Billy had someone photograph that bass, transfer over the design to a computer, and then they simply printed out the vinyl and wrapped brand new guitars in it.
Billy’s guitar has a chambered body and a chambered neck, which makes it very light, and it’s fitted with a classic Tele-style bridge, and a Cream T Banger & Mash humbucker.
For a period of time, in the 2010s, this was one of Billy’s main touring guitars.
John Bolin/Gretsch Bo Diddley “Fur” Guitar
Billy uses this guitar exclusively for the song “Legs”. This guitar was made by John Bolin and was based on the Gretsch Bo Diddley model.
Billy has at least a couple of these guitars ready for touring. Also, he has another fur guitar that he usually uses when playing outside the US, since he has two separate rigs (rig A and rig B) for touring different continents.
Gibson Explorer “Fur” Guitar
This Billy’s “B rig” fur guitar, used for the same purpose as the above-mentioned Bo Diddley – to play “Legs” live.
According to Billy’s guitar tech, the guitar is just a standard Gibson Explorer model wrapped in white fur. However, it seems that it was actually modified somewhat since it has a Flying V style headstock, and only a single pickup and volume control.
This pickup is also somewhat of a mystery because it has red plastic bobbins, which is a bit unusual.
Billy Gibbons’ Guitar Amps
The 1968 Marshall Super Lead 100W is perhaps Billy’s most important amp to mention here. As Billy said himself, it played a big role in developing the ZZ-top sound.
I would say that it was the ’59 Gibson Les Paul, better known now as ‘Pearly Gates’, plugged into a hundred-watt Marshall. [It] designed a sound that still resonates today.Billy F Gibbons
Recently he is using two JMP-1 Preamps with Voodoo mod, one for Billy’s dirty sound, and another one for the clean sound for the purposes of recording. This main JMP is combined with Marshall Valvestate Pro 120 120.
He’s also known for using Marshall JCM 900 Dual Reverb, Marshall Bluesbreaker, JTM45, Major, and Lead 12. He also owns a number of Fender Dual Professionals, later named the Fender Super in 1947. Other Fenders he has used include a Fender Bassman and Fender Tweed Deluxe.
As for cabinets, Billy currently uses Demeter ISO boxes packed with Eminence Red Coat “The Governor” speakers. Prior to this, he was using Marshall 1960 AX and BX cabinets with Celestion Greenback speakers.
Billy Gibbons’ Guitar Effects
Billy’s pedalboard varies highly over time – below is a list of the pedals that are known to be used by him at some point. In the future, we’ll try to separate these pedals into groups, organized by eras or albums/tours on which he used them.
– Austone Textone Fuzz Nutz
– SIB Varidrive
– Colorsound Wah-Swell
– Bizzarktone Ring Modulator
– Tubeworks Real Tube
– Z.Vex Super Hard-on
– Bixonic Expandora Overdrive
– Dearmond Tremolo Control
– Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone
– Dallas Rangemaster
– Pro Analog effects
– Foxx Tone Machines
– Blackstone Appliances
– Metasonix Agonizer
– Chandler Tube Driver
– Devi Ever Effects
– Analog Man effects
– Black Cat Overdrive
– Marshall Supa Fuzz
– Gooby Bag of Dicks
Billy’s rack unit:
– Furman PL-8 II Power Conditioner
– Samson UR5D Wireless Unit
– RJM Music RG-16 Rack Audio Loop Switcher
– MXR Bass Octave Deluxe
– Boss SE-70 Super Effects Processor
– DigiTech MEQ Mono 28 MIDI Programmable Equalizer
Billy Gibbons’ Guitar Strings
Billy uses super light .07 gauge Dunlop Rev. Willy’s Lottery strings for standard playing and .08 gauge for slide.
Billy Gibbons’ Guitar Picks and Accessories
Billy nowadays uses custom signature picks by V-PICKS, which are somewhat close to the Dunlop Reverend Willy X-Heavy that he used prior. They are extra thick picks made of of a special material that makes them transparent.
There’s also a legend of sorts that he used Mexican Peso coins as picks in the early days, but this is not confirmed information.
Billy has his own signature slide called the Dunlop Rev Willy’s Mojo Glass Slide.
For guitar straps, he most often uses the El Dorado Leather, but he went through a lot of different models over the years.
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He’s known to be one of the few to use the Marshall Valvestate Amps. They have a circuit/valve sound that is pretty unique.
Was just watching ZZ playing La Grange live, with Billy playing a Gretsch Jupiter, but I could swear it’s orange in color. Caught my attention cuz I like that guitar, but it’s not listed in his gear. Could get the live link if someone wants it. Just wanted to mention this since I don’t see it listed at all.
Otherwise, just do a YouTube search for “ZZ Top La Grange Live 1982”.
On a side note. Billy is one of the few guitarists I love to emulate. Have been a huge fan of his playing since I was a kid, now being 48 & playing guitar as a hobby, Billy & John Petrucci are my guys. Was one of Billy’s quotes regarding a conversation he had with Bo Didley if I recall correctly, use lighter strings on your guitars, why make your fingers work harder. Been using 8’s & 9’s ever since. Occasional 7’s.
Rock on Billy \m/
Interesting, that guitar looks like a Gretsch Jupiter, but it definitely isn’t. The body shape is similar, but it’s actually not quite the same. The volume/tone knobs along the bottom have a different configuration as well – on the Jupiter there’s 3 in a straight line. Also at the top, near the strap pin, there are 2 switches (I assume for rhythm/lead) whereas the Gretsch has only one. There’s a name on the headstock which is not Gretsch, but I’ve not found any images/footage good enough to actually make it out. I even checked out images of Bo Diddley with his Jupiters as I thought it may have been one of his which he passed onto Billy. So I reckon it’s a custom build. He also uses the guitar in this other performance from 1982: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8nN9DsawA4 “ZZ Top Live 1982 Party on the Patio/La Grange/Tush” It has better close-ups and is in daylight, so you can make out the colour better, which does indeed appear to be orange.
Also, it was B.B. King who put Billy onto light strings.
Sounds true but I find that the lighter strings always sound out of tune due to the extreme bending. Is that what you find?
Loius, thx for the input, & correction. Couldn’t recall if it was Bo or B.B.
Scott. Not at all. I have 8/38’s on my ESP ht, & have yet to have any issues. I also convinced a friend I do guitar work/repair for to try 7’s on his Vai Ibanez, & they work great. He loves them. Almost no effort to bend, great output, & surprisingly they work great with the locking trem.
So far, once they are setup, & stretched, they stay in tune great, no breakage, fingers crossed. I was really amazed how incredibly easy they are to bend versus the 9’s or 10’s we usually used. I absolutely recommend them.
Sorry wouldn’t let me correct that.
Not sure about those Dunlop gel picks. I always heard that Billy used a Mexican Peso for a pick saying, “Why spend a quarter on a pick when you can just use the quarter?”.
I read an article decades ago where on later albums Billy used a Scholz Rockman (and actually ran a Rockman signal with no effects into another Rockman for more distortion). Rough Boy on Afterburner has the signature Scholz tone all over it.
Billy Gibbons sure knows how to play guitar and to get that “dirty” sound out of it:-)
i like billy