Jeff Buckley’s 1983 Fender Telecaster Toploader
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This is without a doubt Jeff’s best-known guitar, but a little less known fact is that the guitar didn’t actually belong to him but to Janine Nichols, Arts at St. Ann’s Program Director, from whom he borrowed it in 1991. This happened just a couple of days after all of Jeff valuables were stolen from his apartment in Los Angeles, and following a Tim Buckley Tribute concert at which Jeff was invited to perform and was given the opportunity to meet Janine.
The guitar originally featured a white pickguard, but Janine changed it to a mirror one – allegedly inspired by Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) who played a similar guitar back in the day. The second modification included replacing the original bridge pickup with what seems to be a Seymour Duncan Hot Lead Stack. The change was done by Jeff sometime in late 1994, or early 1995, meaning after the Grace studio sessions. This is based on the photographic evidence – for example, the photo displayed below was taken on August 6, 1994, and shows the Telecaster with a stock bridge pickup. Most of the filmed performances from 1995 though (see Live in Chicago), show the alleged Seymour Duncan Hot LeadEmbed from Getty Images
Jeff used this guitar as his main from the point he received up until his untimely death. It can be seen and heard on Jeff’s only studio album released in his lifetime ‘Grace’, as well as on most of the live gigs, including Live at Sin-é and Live In Chicago 1995.
The ‘Hallelujah’ Guitar
There’s some talk about whether Jeff actually used the Telecaster specifically on ‘Hallelujah”’, or if that was some other guitar. The source of these doubts seems to be a post over at GearSlutz forums which quotes Bryant W. Jackson (assistant engineer for the Soundtrack studio session), in which Jackson claims that he was present during the sessions and that Jeff used “Gibson Semi-Hollowbody” on Hali (Hallelujah). He also points out in a different post that this was during the overdub sessions at Soundtrack, and that he was not present at the earlier sessions which produced most of the album (VintageGuitar forums – Jeff Buckley’s Grace).
Upon some digging, it is evident that Jeff did indeed record a bunch of different versions of Hallelujah, more than thirty during the first sessions at the Bearsville studio (MojoPin – When I Met Jeff Buckley), and at least one more at a later session done at Sony’s studios during which ‘So Real’ was recorded (Jeff Buckley – MTV Outtakes 1-15-95). However, this still leaves us clueless about the overdub sessions, and how much was done there to change to initial recordings. It possible that Jeff dumped all the tapes he did previously of ‘Hallelujah’, and started from scratch using a semi-hollow Gibson (likely an ES-175 as Jackson pointed out). But, if one were to guess, without knowing anything about this story about the alleged semi-hollow, Hallelujah really does sound like a single-coil Telecaster topped off with some reverb, and it’s just hard to imagine Jeff playing anything else but that.
Jeff’s Telecaster Today
Jeff’s Telecaster was returned to Janine after Buckley’s memorial service on August 1, 1997. In 2011 it was put for auction, and reached the price of around $50,000. The buyer’s identity was unknown, but there’s a short video of it from 2012 posted by Dan’s Chelsea Guitars: Jeff Buckley´s Fender Telecaster 1983
More recently, the guitar was owned by Matthieu Lucas from Matt’s Guitar Shop, an Argentinian guitar collector. In 2020 however, Matthew sold the guitar to Matt Bellamy of MUSE. [A new chapter is coming for Jeff Buckley’s Telecaster!]
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