Buddy Guy’s Guitars and Gear

Bio: George “Buddy” Guy was born on July 30th, 1936 in Lettsworth, Louisiana. He began learning the guitar on a hand-made two-string diddley bow, but later switched to a Harmony acoustic guitar which his father bought him. In the early ’50s he began performing in clubs around Baton Rouge, and on September 25, 1957 he decided to pack his things and go to Chicago hoping to make a better living.

In Chicago, Buddy was introduced to one of his idols, Muddy Waters, who immediately recognized Buddy’s talent.  In 1958, Buddy entered and won a guitar contest with Magic Sam and Otis Rush, which landed Guy a record contract with Chess Records. This turned out to be far from a perfect place for Buddy, since his playing was described as “noise” by  Leonard Chess – the founder of the company. Although he was with Chess Records for around 10 years, he released only one album during that period (Left My Blues in San Francisco – 1967), and mostly worked as a session guitarist for Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and others. Although bound by Chess deal, in 1965 and 1966 Buddy recorded sessions with Junior Wells under the pseudonym “Friendly Chap”.

In the late ’60 Guy left Chess, and signed with Vanguard Records, after which he released a number of albums which made him popular. He gathered a following among the rock ‘n’ roll fans, and even among several popular guitarists, such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Buddy’s popularity diminished a bit in the late ’80s, his some of the more recent albums earned Buddy Grammy Awards, and revitalized his career.
As far as the rewards go, Buddy was introduced into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, received five Grammy awards total, 23 W.C. Handy Awards , Billboard Magazine’s prestigious Century Award, the title Greatest Living Electric Blues Guitarist, and the Congressional Medal of Arts awarded by the President.

Buddy Guy’s Electric Guitars:

1950s Gibson Les Paul Goldtop

Les Paul Goldtop Vintage This was Buddy’s first electric guitar. He bought it in Louisianne, and used on his very first single “Sit and Cry (the Blues)” released in 1957. Shortly after this session, his Les Paul was stolen, and unfortunately never recovered.

1957/58 Fender Stratocaster

Buddy Guy 1959 Fender Stratocaster This was Buddy’s main guitar during his early years with the Chess Records. It is not clear if this guitar is ’57 or ’58; Buddy himself refers to it as ’57, while among the fans it’s widely known as ’58. The guitar does have a three tone sunburst finish, which is more common among the late ’58 and ’59 Strats, but this doesn’t necessarily eliminate the possibility of it being a ’57.
He bought the guitar after his first guitar was stolen from his apartment in Chicago. He went out and borrowed money from a lady who owned a bar called Theresa’s Blues Lounge, and bought himself this Strat.Buddy used this guitar basically from the start, up to the point when it was stolen sometime in the mid ’70s (seen as late as 1974 at The Montreux Jazz Festival). Luckily for Buddy, he did manage to get it back in 1995. He was approached by a guy who bought the guitar at a local music shop, and brought it to Buddy for an autograph – not knowing that the guitar was actually Buddy’s Strat. After Buddy saw the guitar, and spotted what it was, he asked him how much he wanted for it. After a couple of friendly shots of Remy XO, the guy agreed to trade the ’57 for Buddy’s red polka Strat, and $500 on top of that. (full story, and the name of the person who traded in Buddy’s Strat is posted on a couple of forums, but for privacy reasons we decided to leave it out)

1961/62 Gibson Les Paul/SG Custom

Gibson SG Les Paul Custom It is not clear when Buddy exactly played this guitar. This SG/Les Paul was featured on the cover of “I Was Walking Through the Woods” released in 1974, but that album itself was recorded from 1960 to 1964. Only thing that this tells us the that Buddy logicly used the SG before the release of the album, which is very vague, and open to guesses.

Buddy supposedly kept the guitar at his house, until one day he realized that the headstock was cracked. He then gave the guitar to his nephew who eventually fixed the guitar.

1970s Guild Starfire

1960s Guild Starfire 4 After his beloved Strat was stolen in the 70s, Buddy got his first endorsement from Guild Guitars. He probably had just the SG at the time, no money to buy any other guitar – so he ended up signing the deal.

For the first couple of years, Buddy was using a red Starfire IV exclusively, but later on he got more models from Guild. He played them in the late 70s, and throughout the 80s, but gradually transitioned back to a Stratocaster – still picking up the Starfire occasionally. Nowadays he doesn’t play them at all, although he still owns the original red Starfire IV from the ’60s.

1980s Guild Nightingale

Guild Nightingale Bluesbird Buddy Guy Buddy played this guitar occasionally during his endorsement deal with Guild Guitars, mainly around the recording of the “Stone Crazy” album in 1981.

The guitar was a semi-hollow goldtop (visually similar to the Gibson Les Paul Custom Florentine) equipped with a set of EMG pickups.

1960s Fender Stratocaster

Fender Stratocaster Sunburst Rosewood Buddy was seen playing this Stratocaster in the late ’60s (see “Mary Had A Little Lamb” 1969 live). The guitar featured in the video is obviously early to mid 60 Strat with 3-tone sunburst finish, but that’s about all the information we get. Buddy played on it maybe just a few more times, and went back to his 1957/58 maple Stratocaster.

Gibson ES-335

Cherry Red ES-335 Played in the early ’80s, although not consistently but mostly for blues-heavy stuff.

1980s Fender Stratocaster Custom Shop

Buddy Guy Startoise Strat Lace Sensor This guitar was featured on the cover of the 1982 album “D.J. Play My Blues” – but on the “remastered” version which was released a couple of years later on CD. Judging from that, and couple of other photos from that period (search Buddy Guy Stockholm 1982), Buddy got this guitar sometime in the early ’80s, but there’s one thing that directly contradicts this data – the guitar had Gold Lace Sensor pickups! Don Lace Sr. who developed these pickups, started working on them in the early ’80s, but they did not became available until 1987 when they were shipped with the Strat Plus model. Buddy might have gotten an “early access” to the pickups, but as early as 1982 seems implausible. One thing that seems possible is that this was one of the early models of Eric Clapton Signature guitar, which Buddy used on the “Mustang Sally” album released in 1991.

This guitar was used as late as 1992/93, and if we look at this photo: Buddy Guy at Monterey Jazz Festival 1992), we can notice that the pickups have no visible branding on them whatsoever. This raises some doubts on whether they were Lace Sensors, or something different altogether – but again, the picture is not of very high quality to tell for sure.
What we do know is that the first line of Buddy Guy Signature Strats released in the mid 90s did feature Gold Lace Pickups, TBX mid-boost circuit, and looked almost identical visually to this guitar, which in the end means that Buddy probably did have some experience with the Lace Pickups prior.

Many things are possible at this point. Buddy might have changed pickups on the guitar several times, or for all we know it might even be that he had more than one guitar that looked exactly like this one.

1989 Fender Stratocaster Custom Shop

Buddy Guy Stratocaster Honey-blonde This is one of Buddy’s favorite guitars. It was made in 1989 by Fender Custom Shop, mostly based on the Eric Clapton signature model -featuring built-in preamp, Gold Lace Sensor pickups, and honey-blonde finish. The guitar was built specially for Buddy, but it isn’t completely correct to call it a “Buddy Guy Signature” since the official BG line of Stratocaster was not released until 1995.

In the early ’90s, Buddy was most often seen with the guitar mentioned before this one, which was basically identical to this except for the pickguard. The tortoise shell pickguard Strat disappeared towards the late ’90s, and was replaced by Polka dot Strats, and with this Strat with white pickguard. This raises some doubts on whether this is that same guitar but with different pickguard, or if they are two different guitars altogether. The early Eric Clapton signature which Buddy used on “Mustang Sally”, and which was a base for the Buddy Guy Signature model, could be either one of these two guitars, or they weren’t two different guitars at all.
But, due to lack of photos and videos with correct dating, or direct quotes from Buddy, we haven’t been able to debunk these theories.

Sometime in the early 2000s, the guitar had it’s pickups replaced by Fender Noiseless pickups, as did most of Buddy’s Strats.
Nowadays, Buddy plays this Strat as his main.

Fender Buddy Guy Signature Model

Buddy Guy Stratocaster Signature Polka Dot Buddy Guy Signature model was officially introduced in 1995, and it was mostly based on the guitar Buddy was playing around that period, which was a Custom Shop Eric Clapton model.

The guitar was initially released in Honey-blonde and 2-tone sunburst, but later on the Polka-dot finishes were also introduced. The original Buddy Guy Signature guitar featured ash body, medium V-shape maple neck, mid boost, TBX Tone Control, and three Gold Lace Sensor pickups.

The commercially sold polka-dot BG Signature guitars were made in Mexico. The MIM models were a lot cheaper, and featured somewhat different specs. The body was alder instead of ash, and the guitar didn’t have mid boost circuit, nor the Gold Lace Sensor pickups.
Buddy currently owns seven polka-dot Strats, four of them made by the Fender Custom Shop and equipped with the built-in preamp, and pickups ranging from Lace sensors,Texas Specials and Fender Noiseless. The remaining three are MIM Signature models.

If you’re interested in the background behind the polka-dot Strat – story goes that the young Buddy promised his mother that he would go to Chicago and make more money than they ever dreamed of, and come back home to Louisiana driving a polka-dot Cadillac. But sadly before Buddy could fulfill his promise his mother passed away in 1968. So – many years later Buddy approached Fender and asked them if they could make him a polka-dot Strat.

1972 Fender Telecaster Deluxe

Buddy Guy Telecaster Deluxe Most recently, Buddy has been playing a ’72 Telecaster Deluxe onstage, together with a similar blue/white polka-dot Custom Shop Telecaster.

Buddy’s ’72 Tele Deluxe features brown finish, maple neck, and it has a pair of Fender Wide Range humbuckers.

Jerry Jones Coral Sitar re-issue

Coral Sitar Used on “Skin Deep” – the title song of Buddy’s 2008 album.

Epiphone Sheraton II

Epiphone Sheraton II Buddy was seen with this guitar in 2012, during a short jam he played with Ana Popovic at the Mahindra Blues Festival. The guitar wasn’t necessarily his, as it could’ve been just something he had available at the time.

The guitar that Buddy played featured dark sunburst finish on a semi-hollow body modeled after a Gibson ES-335 model. It is equipped with two Alnico humbuckers, Grover tuners, and all of the hardware is gold-plated.

Buddy Guy’s Acoustic Guitars:

Harmony Monterey

Harmony Monterey This was a first ‘decent’ guitar that Buddy ever bought. He got it for $52 as a teenager, and decades later donated it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Martin JC Buddy Guy Signature

Martin-JC-Buddy-Guy-Signature-model Buddy’s own signature model from Martin Guitars. The guitar features cutaway jumbo body style with a spruce top, and Indian rosewood back and sides. The ebony neck on it features white binding and custom “polka-dot” inlays, a motive thats also present on the soundhole rosette and the bridge.
The JC Martin also features volume and tone controls for the Fishman Gold Plus transducer pickups.Buddy decided that the portion of the profits from this guitar goes to the charity.

Buddy Guy’s Guitar Amps:

– 1959 Fender Bassman
Basicly his main amp, which he used for most part of his early years up until the ’80s. Later on he used the Fender ’59 Bassman LTD Reissue, before switching to Chicago Blues Box.

– Marshall JCM800 
Used mainly in the ’80s with the Guild guitars, but Buddy still uses the amp on-stage ocasionally. He plays the head through one Tone Tubby 1×12″ Cube.

– Fender Cyber-Twin
Used on “Sweet Tea” album (2001) and the following tour.

– Gibson GA Goldtone

– Fender Vibroverb
Used as a back-up amp.

– Chicago Blues Box Buddy Guy Signature
Buddy’s most recent amp, made by Butler Custom Sound to replicate his old ’59 Bassman.  Only 50 of these amps were made.

Buddy Guy’s Guitar Effects:

Buddy’s rig is simple as it gets. He basically uses just a Wah pedal, and couple of rack units: Furman PL-8 Power Conditioner, Shure UR4D Wireless Receiver and Radial JD-7 Injector.

– Jim Dunlop BG95 Buddy Guy Signature Cry Baby Wah
Basicly the only pedal that Budde uses on-stage nowadays, but also very rarely – mostly just for playing licks from Hendrix.

In the past Buddy’s rig was a little bit more complex, and he had a couple of other pedals with him on-stage – including:
– Ibanez Tube Screamer TS-9
– Dunlop JD-4S Rotovibe
– Vox Wah (used prior to the release of his own signature Wah)
– Dunlop Fuzz Face

Buddy Guy’s Guitar Strings:

Buddy was using very thin strings in the early days (8’s for his first strings), but nowadays he’s been using Ernie Ball 2220 Power Slinky (11 – 48)

Buddy Guy’s Guitar Picks:

– Dunlop Tortex Triangle 1mm

Contributors: ove_ohlen