Bob Marley's Guitars and GearPublished : - Author : Dan Kopilovic
Summary of Bob Marley’s Guitar
Bob Marley owned just a few guitars; some say five, some say seven – but we managed to track down fourteen that were at least used by him at some point.
Bob Marley’s favorite and most used guitar was a brown-colored Les Paul Special, which was modified somewhat extensively. The guitar featured custom block inlays and headstock binding, done by Dan Armstrong, and it had a custom-made aluminum scratchplate and toggle switch cover made by Roger Mayer.
Apart from this guitar, Marley was also seen using two Fender Stratocasters, a white one and a sunburst one. Both of these were used very briefly, in the period before Bob acquire his Les Paul Special.
Another electric guitar worth mentioning is a Washburn Hawk Custom, which really became known only after Marley’s death. This particular guitar Marley gave to his guitar tech, Gary Karlson, and it has been the subject of many articles online since it’s basically the only guitar that does not belong to Marley’s family.
As far as acoustic guitar, Marley’s favorite acoustic guitar was a 1970s Guild A-90, a guitar that was recently released as a Signature Bob Marley model by Guild. Apart from this guitar, Marley also liked using the Ovation guitar, like his light blue Adamas 1687-7 which was his probably most stage-used acoustic guitar.
When it comes to Bob Marley’s amps, unfortunately, it seems that Marley didn’t really have a strict preference for these. He was often seen using a Fender Twin-Reverb, but it’s unknown whether this was something that he particularly liked, or whether it was just something that was around.
List of Guitars, Amps, Effects, and Accessories used by Bob Marley
Bob Marley's Electric Guitars
1970s Fender Stratocaster (Sunburst)See images & more 1973
This was the guitar Bob played prior to purchasing his brown Les Paul, and it was seen on Bob Marley and the Wailer’s performance of “Stir It Up” live at The Old Grey Whistle on May 1, 1973.
Based on the “Bullet” truss rod, this Stratocaster was likely brand new at that point. Fender changed the truss rod design on Stratocasters in late 1971, and on the guitars made from the point on, the truss rod nut can be sticking out, sort of resembling a bullet (therefore the name). This type of truss rod is obviously present on Marley’s guitar.
1970s Gibson Les Paul SpecialSee images & more 1973
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.
Marley bought the guitar in May 1973, at the Top Gear music store on Denmark Street, in London. The guitar was previously owned by Dan Armstrong, a well-known guitar luthier and the creator of the famous Ampeg Dan Armstrong Lucite acrylic guitar.
1962 Fender Stratocaster (White)See images & more 1973
Marley was seen playing a white Fender Stratocaster in a few photos from 1973, all of which seem to be originating from Paul’s Mall gig from July 1973 – which was Marley’s first performance in the United States.
Photos of Marley with the guitar can be seen on the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s website.
Based on the small headstock and the “spaghetti” Fender logo, this was an early 60s Stratocaster. Stratocasters made during this period, from around 1954 to 1964 are considered to be the best guitars that Fenders ever produced. A lot of well-known guitar players favor these models, among them Jimi Hendrix, whose 1964 Fender Stratocaster was the only guitar he had with him when he traveled over to the UK in 1966.
1970s Gibson SG StandardSee images & more 1973
Bob Marley was seen playing an early 1970s Gibson SG Standard on a few photos taken by Gary Merrin in 1973 – see singer, Bob Marley (1945 – 1981) in concert. (Photo by Gary Merrin/Keystone/Getty Images).
The guitar was a 1971-73 model, based on the control knobs, and the Schaller “Harmonica Bridge”, which Gibson started using in 1971.
Apart from this, nothing is known about this guitar. It could’ve been something Marley purchased and used on tour that year, or it could be that it belonged to somebody else, and he just happened to borrow it on that occasion.
Gibson Les Paul StandardSee images & more 1978
There are a few photos in existence showing Bob Marley playing a Gibson Les Paul Standard guitar in a cherry burst finish. All of the photos show Marley sitting down, likely in a private residence or a hotel room somewhere.
So, since these are the only known photos of Bob with the guitar, there’s a high chance that this guitar did not belong to him, and that it was just something he picked up while sitting in someone’s room.
1979 Yamaha SG-1000See images & more 1979
Bob played this guitar during The Wailers’ last tour in 1979. Allegedly, the guitar was a gift from Yamaha, who are of course Japanese-based.
Apparently, Bob gave the guitar at some point to Aston “Family Man” Barrett, a bassist who toured with Marley, and the founding member of The Wailers.
Washburn Hawk CustomSee images & more 1979
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 the guitar technician Gary Karlson who received this guitar as a present from Marley in November of 1979. Just two years after that Bob died, and this guitar became an invaluable piece of history.
The story of what happened to this guitar since then is a weird one, and we are preparing a piece to tell the story behind it, which will be linked from here as soon as we’ve done the research.
Bob Marley's Acoustic Guitars
Unknown Nylon-StringSee images & more 1960
This was Bob Marley’s first guitar. There’s no official information on when exactly he got it, but going from the fact that he released his first single in 1962, and the popular lore regarding this single is that he was barely able to play guitar at that point, he likely got his first guitar not long before that – so around 1960.
The guitar is a nylon-string model, but the model and the make are unknown. This is due to the fact that the guitar suffered a lot of damage in a fire, so the headstock logo and the inner body label are both gone (if you happen to know the story regarding this fire, please leave a comment below).
It is apparent though that this was a cheap, student, model because the top of the body is obviously laminated wood.
1975 Ovation 1612-4 Custom BalladeerSee images & more 1975
This Ovation 1612-4 acoustic guitar Bob Marley received from Chris Blackwell around 1975. Chris is the founder of Island Records, and one of the people who helped Marley achieve early commercial success by advancing the money to The Wailers for their first album. Later on, Chris also worked as a producer on Marley’s Catch A Fire and Uprising albums.
He trusted my instincts, which were that he should go after being a rock star, rather than a star on black American radio. His music was rough and raw and exciting, but all black American music at the time, other than James Brown, was very slick and smooth. Bob trusted me on that, he was as keen as I was.
Marley had the guitar for a few years, but sometime in 1979, he got into a fight with his then-girlfriend Cindy Breakspeare. Cindy is a Canadian-Jamaican jazz singer and Miss World in 1976. and a mother to Damian Marley, the youngest son of Bob Marley.
During the fight, which apparently got physical, Cindy took the guitar and smashed Bob with it. The result was that the headstock was broken, which likely happened after the guitar fell to the floor.
1970s Guild Madeira A-20See images & more 1977
This 1970s GUild Madeira A-20 acoustic guitar Bob Marley kept at home in Kingston, Jamaica, and used for practicing and coming up with melodies and songs. One of the few known photos of Marley with the guitar can be seen in David Burnett’s book “Soul Rebel“ (pictured below).
Marley decorated the guitar with a small picture of Haile Selassie – the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, and a picture of Africa below it with the words “AFRICA MUST BE FREE BY 1983”.
Haile Selassie was a symbol of hope for many Rastafarians, who saw him as a leader who fought for the rights of black people and stood up against oppression. Bob Marley admired Haile Selassie for his commitment to social justice, and he believed that the Emperor’s vision of a world free from oppression and inequality was aligned with his own beliefs.
Eko Ranger 12See images & more 1978
Bob Marley was photographed playing an Eko Ranger 12-string acoustic guitar at a hotel in London, on February 2, 1978. These photos are available on Getty, but for copyright reasons, we can’t show them here.
Given that this was Marley’s hotel room, it would mean that this guitar was obviously something he played in his pass time, or perhaps to come up with new ideas for songs. But, it could also be that this was someone else’s guitar, and Marley used it only for the photo shoot.
Ovation Adamas 1687-7See images & more 1980
Bob Marley was seen playing an Ovation guitar on a live version of “Redemption Song” filmed sometime around 1980. The guitar was an Adamas model with a reverse beige burst finish, likely made sometime in the 70s.
The guitar was also pictured in several other photos of Bob Marley performing live, which indicates that the guitar was actually his, and was used regularly. Unfortunately, it’s unknown what happened to it and where it ended up after Marley’s death.
Epiphone FT-365See images & more 1980
Bob Marley played this Epiphone FT-365 12-string acoustic guitar in a video filmed somewhere in New York in 1980. The guitar had some kind of a sound-hole pickup installed, possibly a DeArmond of some sort, indicating that it was used for live performances.
Levin W36See images & more 1981
This guitar can be seen in a few well-known photos of Bob Marley, one of which is often used for poster prints. The exact date of this photo is unknown, so if you have any information, please leave a comment.
The exact model of the guitar is unknown because there’s no visible branding on the headstock. However, based on the headstock shape, it’s likely a Levin brand guitar. Levin guitars from the 1970s usually had oval metal plate logos on the headstock, and if you look at the photo below, it looks like there’s a lighter-colored oval-shaped area just where the logo should be.
Bob Marley's Amps
Fender Twin Reverb SilverfaceSee images & more 1973
Bob Marley was seen performing in front of a Fender Silverface Twin Reverb amp during a live performance in 1973. However, looking at the photo, it appears that the cable from Marley’s guitar (gray-colored one) is going somewhere to the back, while there’s a different cable going into the amp.
We also see Junior Marvin next to Marley, so it’s possible that this amp was actually used by Junior, and that Bob’s guitar cable went to the mixing board. It’s hard to tell for sure from the photo.
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