Bob Marley’s Guitars and Gear

Nesta Robert Marley, or Bob Marley, (6 February 1945 – 11 May 1981) was a Jamaican singer-songwriter who achieved international fame through a series of crossover reggae albums. Starting out in 1963 with the group the Wailers, he forged a distinctive songwriting and vocal style that would later resonate with audiences worldwide. After the Wailers disbanded in 1974, Marley pursued a solo career which culminated in the release of the album Exodus in 1977 which established his worldwide reputation. He was a committed Rastafarian who infused his music with a profound sense of spirituality.

Bob Marley owned just a couple of guitars; some say five, some say seven – we managed to track down eleven. He’s mostly known for playing his brown colored Les Paul Special, but some other interesting guitars like the Washburn Wing Series and Yamaha SG1000 were also used by the famous artist.

Bob Marley’s Electric Guitars:

1970s Gibson Les Paul Special

bob marley gibson les paul junior This is reported to be Bob’s favorite electric guitar, used extensively throughout his career. There’s even a rumor that Marley was buried with this exact guitar by his side, but the truth is that the guitar is safe and sound at the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica.

Unfortunately very little is known about the guitar’s history. Bob probably acquired it around 1972/73 in London. At that time the guitar already had few mods done to it; the ABR-1 Tune-o-matic Bridge was installed, and a white binding was added to the headstock.

The guitar remained in this state until 1979 when it was sent to Roger Mayer. Bob requested something unique done to it which will not influence the sound itself. Roger decided to install a custom made brushed hardened aluminium pickguard and replace the switch plate with the one that was shaped like a football. He also replaced the tuners with Schallers, and re-wired the guitar completely. The original P-90 pickups were not touched.

1070s Fender Stratocaster

Bob Marley Fender Stratocaster This was the guitar Bob played prior to purchasing the Les Paul. It had a rosewood fingerboard, and the body was finished in three-tone sunburst (see “Stir It Up“).

The guitar was reportedly stolen from the tour bus at some point, but very little is known about this. If you happen to know anything please contact us using the form at the bottom of this list.

Washburn Wing Series Custom

Bob Marley Washburn Custom Bob was never seen playing this guitar, but nonetheless it became one of his best known instruments. The reason for that is the story told by guitar technician Gary Karlson who received this guitar as a present from Bob in November of 1979. Just two years after that Bob died, and this guitar became an invaluable piece of history.

In 2006, Gary founded charitable organization “Different Journeys, One Destination”, and decided to put Bob’s guitar as a charity prize.

Yamaha SG1000

Yamaha Sg1000 Bob played this guitar during The Wailers’ last tour in 1979, after which he gave it to Aston Barrett, the band’s bassist.

In 2000 Aston gave the guitar to Angus Reid for “safekeeping”. When Barrett tried to retrieve the instrument seven years later, Reid refused to give it back. Barret also learned that Reid had planned to sell the guitar at a Christie’s auction. He filled a lawsuit, after which the guitar was withdrawn from the auction, and given back to him.

Gibson Les Paul Standard

Gibson Les Paul Sunburst There’s one particular photo of Bob cruising around, of him playing a burst Les Paul Standard. Although we can’t really prove it, this might as well be Peter Tosh’s Les Paul.

Bob Marley’s Acoustic Guitars:

Ovation Adamas

Ovation Adamas Bob Marley The guitar best known from the acoustic recording of “Redemption Song” (see video here: “Redemption Song Acoustic“).

Epiphone FT 165 12-string

Bob Marley Epiphone FT 165 Acoustic 12 string This Epiphone had it’s appearnce at the New York acoustic gig in 1980. Here’s a link to the video: Redemption Song (Acoustic) Live in New York.

The guitar had some kind of a sound-hole pickup installed; exact model unknown.

1972 Guild 12-string

Bob Marley Guild Acoustic This guitar can be heard on the studio recordings of “Is This Love” and “Time Will Tell” from the 1978.

The guitar belonged to Junior Marvin.

1970s Guild Madeira A-9

Guild Madeira A-9 Bob Marley Acoustic Guitar The guitar Bob kept at home and practiced/wrote on. Only photos of this instrument can be seen in David Burnett’s book “Soul Rebel“.

Bob decorated the guitar with a small picture of Haile Selassie and a picture of Africa bellow it, containing words “AFRICA MUST BE FREE BY 1983”.

Hohner Acoustic (??)

Bob Marley Hohner Acoustic Poster Bob can be seen playing an unknown acoustic guitar on a few posters (example).

Although the logo seems to be scratched off, and it’s hard to identify this guitar – it was most likely a Hohner from the early 70s, on which Bob composed some of his stuff on.

Ovation Balladeer

Ovation Balladeer Bob Marley Bob was seen on couple of photos playing around on a Ovation Balladeer. It is quite possible that this guitar belonged to someone else.

Bob Marley’s Guitar Amps and Pedals:

The fact that Bob was first and foremost the singer and songwriter for the band, and that he never really had a guitar tech, goes to show that he didn’t necessarily pay attention to what sort of equipment he was using when it comes to amps and pedals.

It is important to note though that he used a couple of different amps, perhaps the most notably the Fender Silverface Twin which can be seen on many different photos. He also played on a couple of different Marshall and Ampeg amps.

As for pedals, Bob never had any of them with him on stage. That kind of work was handled by Junior Marvin.
Most of the effects that were used on the records were built by Roger Mayer who was associated with the band from the early 70s.

Contributors: Steve, xenophonkirby