Billy Gibbons’ Guitars and Gear

William Frederick, or Billy Gibbons, was born on December 16, 1949, in Houston, Texas. He is best known as the guitarist of the Texas blues-rock band ZZ Top and also as the lead singer and composer for many of the band’s songs.

Billy Gibbons owns a huge collection of guitars – his technician counted around 450, but there’s probably much more than that. He’s perhaps best known for playing the “Pearly Gates” 1959 Gibson Les Paul through a 100w Marshall amp. He also used a couple of different gold-top Les Pauls, including the one which he pinstriped and aged himself, and a couple of different custom-built Jim Bolin guitars, as well as a couple of early Fenders.

Billy Gibbons’ Electric Guitars:

1962 Gibson Melody Maker

Billy Gibbons Guitar Gear Amps Effects EquipmentThis was Billy’s first electric guitar. He got as a gift for Christmas, just little after he turned 13. It is a Gibson Melody Maker with a single pickup, single cutaway, two-toned sunburst.

He also has a replica with pinstripe design, nicknamed “Mojo Maker”, which he plays live.


1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard “Pearly Gates”

Billy Gibbons Guitar Gear Amps Effects EquipmentThis was Billy’s first Les Paul, the so-called “The Holy Grail” of Les Pauls. A rancher who lived in Downey, Texas, who was once playing in a county band, sold it to Billy for 250$.

This guitar is know by it’s nickname “Pearly Gates”. The story goes that 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 actually got the part she was auditioning for, guys were joking around that car must have some kind of divine connection, and they named it “Pearly Gates”. She finally sold the car, and sent the money back to Billy, who then drove out to meet with the rancher. From then on “Pearly Gates” appeared on every album Billy recorded with the ZZ-top.

This guitar is still in it’s original condition, and Billy refuses to sell it, even though he had a single offer for 5 million dollars to sell the guitar. As of more recent days he tends to use the custom shop replica for live gigs, and keep the original Pearly Gates safe. The replica holds a Duncan humbucker in the neck position, and Thomas Nelson’s Cream T special wound pickup in the bridge. It is also completely hollowed by John Bolin, and now reads Gibbons, instead of Gibson on the headstock.

Gibson Les Paul Gold-top

Billy Gibbons Les Paul zz topBilly probably owns a great number of gold-top Les Pauls, but the one that stands out is a custom made pinstriped Les Paul. All the aging and pin-striping was done by Billy himself.

In 2012 Gibson decided to produce a line of guitars based on this one.

1961 Gibson SG

Billy Gibbons Guitar Gear Amps Effects EquipmentUsed on ZZ Top’s 2012 album “La Futura”.

Gretsch Jupiter Thunderbird

Billy Gibbons Guitar Gear Amps Effects EquipmentThis guitar was given to him by Bo Diddley, and he started using it in 2003 for the “Mescalero” album. After that, Gretsch started producing signature model named Gretsch Billy-Bo Jupiter Thunderbird, inspired by this guitar.

Billy usually carries three different Billy-Bo guitars on tours; white one, red one, and a black one.

Bolin Billy-Bo Pro

Billy Bo ProNew Billy Bo guitar built by John Bolin from Bolin guitars. This one features a slightly smaller body, and comes with only one TV Jones pickup.

1958 Gibson Flying V

1958 Gibson Flying VThis guitar is featured on the cover of the “Fandango!” album, and Billy supposedly used it on “Thunderbird”.

1955 Fender Stratocaster

La Grange Stratocaster Billy GibbonsBilly played a hard-tailed 55 Stratocaster on the recording of “La Grange”.

1952 Fender Broadcaster

Billy Gibbons Guitar Gear Amps Effects EquipmentCream telecaster-style body with black pickguard. Played on “Jesus Just Left Chicago” from the Tres Hombres album.

1963 Fender Esquire

fender-esquire-50sBilly played a white Esquire with the Moving Sidewalks, but influenced by Hendrix decided to switch to a Stratocaster.

I had an Esquire before the Strat, but when I saw Hendrix, it was all too much to bear. I said, ‘I’ve got to try this.’ [Billy Gibbons talks about the Moving Sidewalks reunion]

John Bolin Supermodel Esquire(s)

Billy Gibbons Supermodel EsquireThis is a custom built guitar by John Bolin, and it features a maple neck, shaped to match the neck on the Pearly Gates, gold frets, a single Custom Shop dual-coil pickup in the bridge and chambered Swamp Ash body.

Billy was seen using a couple of different Supermodels. They all look similar, with cream colored body and exposed bridge pickup cavity. The most notable differences between the models is the angle of the bridge pickup, and the orientation of the headstock (some model have left-handed neck).

John Bolin Broadcaster

BIlly Gibbons John Bolin BroadcasterAnother custom guitar built by J. Bolin. This one features a Cream T pickup (Billy F Gibbons Banger Series), top-loaded bridge, chambered body and neck, and a Jimmy Reed-style pickguard.

1983 Gibson Explorer

Billy Gibbons Furry ExplorerThis guitar is a modified Gibson Explorer, featuring a fur covered body and gold-plated hardware and frets.

This is also his “A rig” guitar, with Bolin Bo Diddley being a part of the B rig. He likes to use these guitars live for the song “Legs”.

Bolin/Gretsch Bo Diddley

Billy Gibbons GuitarsAs said, this is Billy’s B rig furry guitar. It was also built by John Bolin, and it features classic Gretsch Bo Diddley design, with chambered body covered in New Zealand sheep skin, and a single TV Jones pickup in the bridge position.

Billy Gibbons’ Guitar Amps:

1968 Marshall Super Lead 100W

This is perhaps his most used amp. As Billy said himself, it played a big roll 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.”

Recently he is using two JMP-1 Preamps with Voodoo mod, one for Billy’s dirty sound, and other 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 ReverbMarshall 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 over time):

– 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:

– He uses custom clear orange extra heavy Dunlop Gel Picks.

Billy Gibbons’ Guitar Accessories:

Slide: Dunlop Rev Willy’s Mojo Glass Slide (Billy Gibbons artist series)

StrapsEl Dorado Leather

Further reading:
Billy F Gibbons: Rock + Roll Gearhead (co-written by Billy)


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3 years ago

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.

Anthony Schmugge
Anthony Schmugge
2 years ago

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/

Louis Speer
Louis Speer
2 months ago

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: “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.

Ned Harkey
Ned Harkey
10 months ago

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?”.

9 months ago

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.

Åge Martinussen
Åge Martinussen
7 months ago

Billy Gibbons sure knows how to play guitar and to get that “dirty” sound out of it:-)

1 month ago

i like billy