Keith Richards’ Guitars and Gear

Keith Richards was born on December 18th  1943 in Dartford, Kent, England as the only child of Bertrand Richards and Doris Richards. He got his first guitar from his mother when he was around 15 years old, and learned how to play while trying to jam along the records from Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Elvis Presley.

Keith first met Mick Jagger at the Wentworth Primary School, but they didn’t become good friends until they met on a train couple of years later, and realized they have a lot in common. By that time Keith had learned how to play the guitar and he was invited to join Jagger’s band  “the Blue Boys”. In 1962 they met Brian Jones at Ealing Jazz Club, where Jones was playing slide guitar with his band “Blues Incorporated” – which also had future Rolling Stones members Ian Stewart and Charlie Watts.

That same year Keith decided to drop off college, and devote his time to music. He moved in with Jones and Jagger, and the trio eventually became bandmates. In the beginning, the band played covers of popular song for most of the time, but they soon started writing their own stuff.

As for Keith’s personal life, he’s often been described as someone with very eccentric personality. He faced jail time on few occasions, and even a life sentence at one point of his life after he was busted with large amount of drugs in his possession, but luckily he eventually managed to get himself together, and get back into writing music and playing with the band. He’s also an avid reader with particularly strong interest in history.

Keith Richards’ Electric Guitars:

1960s Harmony Meteor H70

Keith played this guitar in the very early days of the Rolling Stones. He acquired it in January 1963, after debating whether he’d go with a Harmony or a Hawk model. The choice fell on the Harmony, mainly because it was equipped with with two pickups [Keith Richards; Life (Kindle Locations 1803-1804)].

Keith’s Harmony guitar featured spruce top with maple back and sides, bolt-on maple neck, and two DeArmond “Golden Tone” pickups. It was finished in 2-tone sunburst, and was likely made in 1960 or 1961.

Jagger and Richards in the early 60s. Source: Screencap YouTube

Jagger and Richards in the early 60s. Source: Screencap YouTube

As said, Keith used the guitar with the Rolling Stones from January 1963. From then on, among others, the guitar was used during the Rolling Stone’s first TV appearance on ATV’s Thank You Lucky Stars, most likely on Rolling Stone’s first single called “Come On” released on June 7, 1963, and at De Lane Lea Studios in London where the band recorded their second single “I Wanna Be Your Man” [Rolling Stones in the studio 1963].

Keith used this guitar as late as August 1964 [Stones at Longleat House August 2, 1964], which means that it was used alongside his next guitar, a 1962 Epiphone Casino.

1962 Epiphone Casino

1962-epiphone-casino Keith likely purchased this guitar just prior to the band’s first US tour that started on June 1st, 1964. It first appeared on Hollywood Palace with Dean Martin on June 3rd, 1964. The model was built at the old Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, long before Epiphone became mainly a budget Gibson line. It featured a thin-line hollow laminated maple body, trapeze-type tailpiece, and two Gibson P-90 pickups.

The Rolling Stones with Dean Martin on Hollywood Palace June 3rd, 1964.

The Rolling Stones with Dean Martin on Hollywood Palace June 3rd, 1964.

The guitar was Keith main axe during the band’s first US tour, and it was used on the sessions at the Chess Studios in Chicago [Rolling Stones at the Chess Studios] where the band recorded a good part of their second album “12 X 5”. Keith continued using it up until late 1965 as a back-up guitar for his Gibson Les Paul Standard – the two being most likely the only electric guitars he used during the studio sessions up until that point.

It was last used in studio in early September 1965 [Keith Richards, RCA Studios, September 6-7, 1965], when the band recorded I’m Free, The Singer Not the Song, and Gotta Get Away, all of which ended up on Stones’ fifth American studio album titled “December’s Children (And Everybody’s)”.

The guitar seems to have disappeared around the same time as when Keith was electrocuted on stage at Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium on December 3rd, 1965 [Keith Richards: ‘My Most Spectacular Moment Was In Sacramento’]. It is highly possible that he used this guitar to play the gig, which would explain it’s disappearance from all the following shows. This is however just a guess, so take it with a grain of salt.

1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard

Les Paul 59 Standard Bigsby This guitar, often referred to as the “Keith-Burst”, was first seen sometime on August 13, 1964 [The Rolling Stones Performing at the Palace Ballroom in Douglas Isle]. It was substantially seen in September 1964 during the Live at ABC Cinema gig (photo below), and at the band’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on October 25th, 1964.

Keith wielding the 1959 Les Paul prior to the second US tour. The Rolling Stones Live at ABC Cinema, Hull (September 1964) – Full footage available on YouTube.

The Keith Burst Origins

Keith purchased the guitar at Selmer’s Music Store in London. It was previously owned by John Bowen. Before Bowen sold the guitar to Salmer’s, he had a Bigsby vibrato fitted on it – which is how the guitar was when Keith bought it.

The guitar was bought new in 1961 from Farmers Music Store in Luton (U.K.) by John Bowen, who played with aspiring English popsters Mike Dean & The Kinsmen. Bowen had a Bigsby vibrato fitted at Selmer’s music store in London before trading it for another guitar in 1962. Soon after, a young Keith Richards, playing guitar in a little-known band called The Rolling Stones, walked in to Selmer’s and bought it. [Keith Richards’ Favorite Gibsons]

This story isn’t entirely definitive though. As far as we could find, it originated from John’s brother, Dick Bowen, who told this story to Guitarist magazine (original issue number needed). Based on to the story, Keith either bought the guitar in 1962, or it spent two years sitting at Selmer’s without nobody paying any interest to it, therefore allowing Keith to buy it in 1964 (which based on the chronological history of his guitars seems to make most sense).

First possibility is almost entirely ridiculous to consider, since it wouldn’t make sense why the guitar didn’t appear with Keith until late 1964. The second one is somewhat more plausible, but the dates seem too far off. If you happen to have any info that would help us steer in the right direction, send us a message.

The Usage

By October 1964 when the guitar was first spotted, the band had released their second album and were touring across US for the second time. Keith used the Les Paul as his main guitar during this tour, although when he arrived back to England he was still occasionally seen with the Epiphone, most likely serving a purpose of a back-up guitar at this point [Rolling Stones – Thank Your Lucky Stars, January 13th, 1965]. It is somewhat safe to conclude that at that time, those were the only two electric guitars in his possession.

As far the studio usage, the guitar was likely used at least partially on The Rolling Stones, Now!/The Rolling Stones No. 2, although those albums were recorded over couple of different studio sessions so it’s nearly impossible to tell precisely [The Rolling Stones, Now! album info]. On the next album –
Out Of Our Heads, recorded mostly at the RCA Studios in Los Angeles, the Les Paul was likely used to record most of the songs.

This of course included the band’s hit song “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)”, which was recorded on May 11-12, 1965 [The Rolling Stones Chronicle 1965]. Based on the photos available [Keith Richards at RCA Studios, May 12-13, by Bob Bonis], Keith had the Les Paul with him on those exact dates, although the Epiphone was still around and was used both in the studio and for gigs played around that period. We unfortunately couldn’t find a direct quote from Keith about which guitar he used specifically, so if you happen to come across anything be sure to forward it to us. Until then, most things seem to point towards the Les Paul being the one.

The ‘I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)’ Story

Unrelated to this guitar, but still interesting is the story of how  “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)” came to be. According to Keith, it all started with a dream and a Philips cassette player. The song was recorded just couple of days after the following took place, and Kieth used his Les Paul played through a Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone and a Fender Showman. [Keith Richards, Life]

I wrote “Satisfaction” in my sleep. I had no idea I’d written it, it’s only thank God for the little Philips cassette player. The miracle being that I looked at the cassette player that morning and I knew I’d put a brand-new tape in the previous night, and I saw it was at the end. Then I pushed rewind and there was “Satisfaction.” It was just a rough idea. There was just the bare bones of the song, and it didn’t have that noise, of course, because I was on acoustic. And forty minutes of me snoring. But the bare bones is all you need. I had that cassette for a while and I wish I’d kept it. [Keith Richards; James Fox, Life (Kindle Locations 2579-2583)]

The Demise of the Keith Burst

Keith continued using the guitar throughout 1965 and likely in the early 1966. At that point he moved onto using a 1960s Guild Aristocrat that he played throughout June–July 1966 North American tour, and later switched to a black Gibson Les Custom. The ’59 Les Paul Standard seemed to have been somewhat of a short lasting affair – just over a year of use and it was already out of the picture.

On July 31st, 1966 Eric Clapton appeared with what looked like Keith’s Les Paul while performing with Cream at the 6th National Jazz & Blues Festival, the Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival in Berkshire, England. This is however not definitive, as Clapton himself never confirmed using Keith’s guitar specifically.

It appears though that by this time Keith no longer shows interest in using the guitar, and he most likely didn’t even bother bringing it on the North American tour in late 1966 (if you happen to come across something denying this assumption, please send it to us). The Les Paul is now probably taken care of by Ian Stewart, the band’s manager and a founding member, who is mentioned as an intermediary in the process of selling the guitar.

A new home with Mick Taylor

Keith let go of the Les Paul sometime in July 1968 and it ended up with Mick Taylor, who at the time played in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. The dates are based on the quote from Mick, who said that he bought the guitar when the Stones were making Beggars Banquet album at Olympic Studios, London. The sessions were wrapped up by July 25th, 1968 [The Rolling Stones Chronicle 1968], and the guitar was last seen on July 1st at Olympic Studios in the hands of Mick Jagger (note that the guitar no longer has a pickguard). The subject however requires more research, as the dates are not definitive.

The interesting thing about that one, that guitar, is that I bought that guitar from Keith Richards two years before. I’ve got an idea why he wanted to sell it, but I remember going down to the studio. It’s interesting, because I don’t remember actually meeting him then, but I met Ian Stewart, their roadie who also plays piano. I met him, and I told him I was looking for a Les Paul, because the other one had been stolen. And he said, “Well, we’ve got one for sale. Come down to the studio and have a look at it.” I think it was when the Stones were making Beggars Banquet. [Mick Taylor on the Rolling Stones, John Mayall, and Playing Guitar – Jas Obrecht Music Archive]

Please note that in the same interview Taylor mentions removing the Bigsby tremolo from the guitar after he acquired it. However, we couldn’t find any photographic evidence to confirm this. He certainly couldn’t have done it before late 1969 when the guitar was last seen (photo is linked two paragraphs below), and no photo of Mick from that period shows him playing a Les Paul with exposed screw holes left from removing the Bigsby.

Following Brian Jones’ departure from the band, Mick Taylor joined the Rolling Stones in May 1969 on recommendation from John Mayall. The guitar once again returned to the Rolling Stones, but now of course is played by Taylor. He first appears with it on his debut concert with the Stones played at Hyde Park on July 5th, 1969.

Mick Taylor with The Stones in the Hyde Park July 5 1969. Screencap YouTube

Mick Taylor with The Stones in the Hyde Park July 5 1969. Screencap YouTube

Taylor continued using the guitar with the Rolling Stones throughout 1969 which included the American tour at the end of the year, although for him his Gibson SG still seems to be the main guitar of choice. Keith also occasionally picks up his old Les Paul during this period, and was seen playing it at Madison Square Gardens in late November 1969. To our knowledge, this is the last time the guitar was seen on stage.

Year 1970 finds Keith oscillating between his Les Paul Custom and a Dan Armstrong custom-made guitar, and Mick mainly sticks to using his Gibson SG. As said, the 1959 Les Paul Standard slowly begins to disappear from stage use, and by the August–October 1970 European tour it is nowhere to be seen.

The Keith Burst gone and Current Whereabouts

According to Dave Hunter’s book [The Gibson Les Paul: The Illustrated Story of the Guitar That Changed Rock by Dave Hunter, p. 48], there’s three plausible theories that would explain the guitar disappearing from 1970 onward. It was either stolen from the mansion Nellcote in southern France where the band was working on Exile on Main Street, stolen from the Marquee Club, or given (or sold) to Heavy Metal Kids guitarist Cosmo Verrico to replace a guitar of his that was stolen.

We looked through all photos that we could find taken at Villa Nellcote and haven’t spotted the guitar once. Note that the story of some of the band’s guitars being stolen from Nellcove is true, and it happened on October 1st, 1971 [The Rolling Stones at Villa Nellcôte]. By then, the band had already spent a few months at the villa working on Exile on Main St., and it is likely that at least some of the photos were taken prior to the theft, therefore allowing the Les Paul still to be photographed.

2010 documentary "Stones in Exile" about the recording of the 1972 album Exile on Main St.

2010 documentary “Stones in Exile” about the recording of the 1972 album Exile on Main St.

It being stolen from the Marquee Club also doesn’t seem to be the likely explanation. The gig took place on March 26th, 1971, and both Keith and Mick Taylor didn’t play the said guitar at the show. The Les Paul was either stolen before the show, or wasn’t stolen at all. At least not there.

The third theory seems to be the one that would make most sense. According to Dave Brewis (RockStarsGuitars.com), Cosmo Verrico had told him that he got the guitar from a guy at Atlantic Records:

He told me he’d got the guitar when he was in a band called the Heavy Metal Kids and was signed to Atlantic Records. He told his guys at Atlantic that he needed a Les Paul and was presented with this guitar by someone called Phil Carson, who ran Rolling Stones Records out of Atlantic. It was a ‘the band has no use for this guitar now, you can have it’ sort of thing. [Guitarist’s Legends of Tone: Gibson, p. 38]

According to the info and dates on Heavy Metal Kids website [Who are the HEAVY METAL KIDS and how did they get here?], this was likely sometime in late 1974. Around this time the band was signed to Atlantic Records, and Cosmo had returned to the band playing the guitar after a short hiatus. We also don’t know if Phil Carson was close with the members of the Stones, as he’s most often mentioned in relations to other bands of the era [Wikipedia – Phil Carson].

The story doesn’t sit right with everything of course. Based on the said theory, the guitar had spent four years from 1970 to 1974 being played and touched by nobody, and apparently taken care of by the guys at Atlantic Records. Would they simply give away the guitar previously owned by Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, and possibly played by Eric Clapton? Who knows. It doesn’t make any sense to us, but apparently that’s what happened.

Be that as it may, couple of more people had their hands on the guitar before it ended up with Mike Jopp (guitarist – Affinity), who apparently owned it from 1974 [Guitarist’s Legends of Tone: Gibson, p. 38]. You’ll notice that that’s the same year when Cosmo allegedly received the guitar from Phil Carson, so it is likely that someone got their dates mixed up, or there’s more to this story than meets the eye. In late 2000s it was finally sold to a private collector from Switzerland, who now owns the guitar.

The guitar is certainly one of the most significant and most iconic Les Pauls in the history of rock and roll. Keith was one of the first people to ever pick up a 1959 Standard, which at time was an almost insignificant model discontinued by Gibson in 1960. It was then replaced with a double cutaway model, which has subsequently become the Gibson SG. Following Keith’s popularization of the model, guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Paul Kossoff, and Jimmy Page, all picked up a 1959 Les Paul Standard as their main guitar.

The fact that all those guys played basically the same version of the Les Paul, further popularized the model and eventually made it one of the most sought-after guitars. Originally costing less than $300 including a case (around $2,500 in today’s value), the Les Paul Standards made in 1959 now usually go from $200,000 and up.

Nowadays, Gibson makes a ‘Vintage Original Spec’ series 1959 Les Paul. These guitars are made by the hands of the experienced luthiers at Gibson’s Custom Shop, and usually go for upwards of $6,000. This is considered as a ‘budget’ option for people who are not willing to spend astronomical figures on a vintage late 50s Les Paul.

1960s Guild Aristocrat

Guild Bluesbird This guitar appeared sometime in late 1965, possibly as a replacement for the Epiphone Casino that Keith played previously. One of the first gigs ever played with this guitar was The Ed Sullivan Show on February 13, 1966. The guitar was also seen on May 27th 1966 when the Stones performed on British TV’s Ready, Steady, Go.

From that point on, the guitar served as Keith’s main axe during the June–July 1966 North American tour. It was seen on numerous occasions, including Cleveland Arena on June 25th, 1966, and at Virginia Beach on July 4, 1966. This seems to be the last to feature the said guitar.

 

 

1960s Gibson Firebird

Gibson Firebird Custom Aged Keith appeared with this guitar on November 11, 1965 when the band played on a US TV show called Hullabaloo. As that was the only time that Keith would appear with the said instruments (to our knowledge), it is somewhat safe to conclude that guitar wasn’t his.

It is also important to note that on the Hullabaloo show Brian also played a Gibson Firebird, although his guitar featured three pickups, compared to two on Keith’s guitar. Keith did use Brian’s guitar occasionally in the studio [RCA Studios,Hollywood, 1965], and it is possible that the second Firebird also belonged to Brian.

 

1957/58 Gibson Les Paul Custom

Keith Richards Gibson Les Paul Custom with Drawings Keith first appeared with this guitar on The Ed Sullivan Show aired on September 11th, 1966. He probably bought the guitar some time prior, but due to lack of any photos or videos from early to mid 1966, we haven’t been able to pinpoint the date exactly. If you happen to know the story behind the guitar, and when an where Keith originally acquired it, please be sure to contact us.

The guitar was used extensively during the late 1966 British tour, which of course included the gig played at the Royal Albert Hall in London where the the Les Paul Custom was also seen. The guitar continues to be Keith’s main axe in early 1967, and can be seen on January 25th Top of the Pops gig and on various dates during the Rolling Stones 1967 European tour [Google Image Search]. This includes the last gig of the tour played on April 17th 1967 in Athens, Greece.

In Michael Leonard’s feature “Satisfaction Guaranteed: Keith Richards’ Favorite Gibsons” on Gibson’ website, it is mentioned that Keith’s first Les Paul Custom was stolen during a tour in 1967, and that he bought a new one in London. However, the only tour that Stones did in 1967 was March–April European tour, at the end of which the band played in Athens, Greece on April 17th. Based on the photos from that gig [The Rolling Stones Live, Panathinaikos Stadium], Keith had the Les Paul with him until the very end of the tour. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the theft didn’t occur, just that all the clues point otherwise. If you have any information that would help debunk this, please be sure to send it us.

The rest of 1967 was rather uneventful in regard to gigs and shows, which leaves somewhat of a gap in amount of photos and videos of Keith with the guitar.  Same couldn’t be said about Keith’s private affairs though.

In February 1967, police busted Keith’s party at Redlands in West Wittering, West Sussex, and confiscated drugs. This prompted Keith to temporally flee the country and start driving south towards Morocco, accompanied by Brian Jones and Anita Pallenberg. Following the appearance on court on June 29, 1967 in London, Keith Richards is found guilty and is sentenced to twelve months in prison and a fine.

That day I was found guilty and sentenced to twelve months in prison. Robert Fraser was given six months and Mick three months. Mick was in Brixton. Fraser and I went to the Scrubs that night.[…] I didn’t enjoy Wormwood Scrubs, even for twenty-four hours. The judge managed to turn me into some folk hero overnight. I’ve been playing up to it ever since. [Keith Richards; Life (Kindle Locations 3326-3327)]

Next day, Keith and Mick are granted bail and released from prison, while Robert Fraser pled guilty on charges of possession of heroin and was sentenced to six months hard labor. [Keith Richards; Life (Kindle Locations 3357-3358)]

From then on, Keith’s Les Paul Custom was seen on couple of photos taken at the Olympic Studios in London, where the band was working on their album from February to October 1967. [The Rolling Stones in the recording studio by John Reader] [Their Satanic Majesties Request album details] In late 1967 Keith traveled to Morocco with his girlfriend, which is probably roughly the time period when the next chapter in the story of this guitar took place.

During the 1968 short film Sympathy for the Devil (originally titled One Plus One) Keith is seen playing the guitar, but it now features a unique hand-drawn design on the front of the body. This was allegedly done by Keith and his girlfriend Anita sometime in late 1967 or early 1968, although we haven’t really been able to find an official source on this. The design seem to feature the Moon and the Sun seen from the Earth perspective, with an erupting volcano in the background. The exact reason as to why Keith (or Anita) chose this exact motive is unknown to us. If you happen to stumble upon an interview where either of them happens to mentioned this guitar, and doing any drawing on it, please be sure to forward it to us.

Sympathy for the Devil documentary shows Keith using the Les Paul Custom extensively (credit: Jean-Luc Godard)

Sympathy for the Devil documentary shows Keith using the Les Paul Custom extensively (credit: Jean-Luc Godard)

Keith continued using the Les Paul extensively throughout 1968 and 1969 as his main axe, occasionally switching to a custom-made Dan Armstorng guitar that he’d acquired by then. I was likely his main guitar of choice on both Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed albums, although more research is needed until we can conclude this safely.

The guitar was last seen during the August–October 1970 European tour [The Rolling Stones in Rai-Halle, Amsterdam, October 9th, 1970], but during that same same tour Keith started using a different Les Paul Custom. This new guitar featured the exact same specs (black color, three pickups) but obviously didn’t feature the custom paint job that Kieth had on his old Les Paul [The Rolling Stone Live 1970 tour].

Keith’s ’57 Les Paul Custom somehow ended up in the hands of a private collector who now owns the guitar, but the story about how it slipped from Keith’s hands is not exactly clear. Some people say that the guitar was stolen in 1971 from Villa Nellcôte nearby Nice, when burglars walked out with nine of Richards’s guitars. Other version of the story is that Keith simply left the guitar in a repair shop in Canada, but forgot to pick it up for couple of years. The third version that he gave the guitar to a friend. To our knowledge, none of these are confirmed by Keith, so that makes it one more guitar with shady history behind it. No surprise here at all.

Maton Supreme Electric 777

This is the guitar that Keith used for the recording of “Gimme Shelter” and “Midnight Rambler” from the 1969 album “Let it Bleed”. According to an interview Keith gave to Guitar World magazine in 2002, the guitar belonged to a guy who stayed at his London apartment for a while.

He crashed out for a couple of days and suddenly left in a hurry, leaving that guitar behind. You know, “Take care of this for me.” I certainly did! It served me well through the album. [From the Archive: The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards Looks Back on 40 Years of Making Music]

However, by the end of the recording sessions the guitar literally fell apart in Keith’s hands.

It had all been revarnished and painted out, but it sounded great. It made a great record. And on the very last note of “Gimme Shelter” the whole neck fell off. You can hear it on the original take.[From the Archive: The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards Looks Back on 40 Years of Making Music]

As far as the specs, the guitar featured a hollow body design with two “f” holes. Based on the photos (Keith Richards with the Maton), it was equipped with two single-coil pickups, and a Bigsby B6 tremolo.  The part about it being “revarnished” is possible but seems unlikely. The finish on the photo looks practically factory new, and the wood grain is clearly visible below it.

The original guitar is still owned by Keith, and was recently presented on display as part of the “Exhibitionism,” an interactive multimedia exhibition of the Rolling Stones’ career. [Exhibit: Guitars, clothes and grunge part of Rolling Stones display]. Nowadays he also owns a replica made by Maton, and delivered to him in 2014. [Revealed: Famous Stones riff an ‘Australian sound’]

[Everything bellow this is a part of the old version of the list and will eventually be completely rewritten. ]

1965/66 Gibson ES-330

Gibson Es330 1966 Keith played this guitar around the time of the “Beggars Banquet” album, but it is not clear whether this is the same guitar that Brian Jones played around that same time. Only thing that separates them is that while Brian played the guitar it had a black pickguard, while Keith’s ES330 didn’t have one. Knowing how easy it is to just simply remove the pickguard on a Gibson, this might as well be the very same guitar.

Another thing that points out that this is most likely the case is that Keith played this ES-330 in Hyde Park just two days after the tragic death of Brian Jones, which might have been a small gesture in his honor.Keith’s ES-330 featured sunburst finish on a fully hollow body of laminate maple, two P-90 pickups, and a trapeze-type tailpiece.

1960s Gibson Flying V

Keith Richards Flying V Keith played this guitar at Hyde Park in 1969, and for couple of more gigs that same year. It was supposedly stolen a couple of years later.

Keith’s Flying V was most likely an early 60s model, featuring korina wood body, gold-plated bridge and tuners, and chrome pickup covers.

1969 Ampeg Dan Armstrong

Dan Armstrong Clear Used during the 1969 tour, and seen on the Ed Sullivan Show filmed in November that year. Keith was one of the first people to get their hands on this guitar, and he was perhaps largely responsible for it’s popularity. He played it up until 1971 when it was stolen, and unfortunately never retrieved.

The body of Dan Armstrong guitar was built of plexiglass which gave the guitar long sustain, and a very unique tone overall. The pickups were designed so they could easily be swapped for any six pickups designed by Bill Lawrence – but unfortunately we haven’t been able to find out which one exactly was Keith using on his first DA.

In 1971 Keith bought another two of these guitars which he used for during the two-month American tour in 1972.

Here's an interesting photo; Keith Richards showing Jimi Hendrix the Dan Armstrong in 1969.

Here’s an interesting photo; Jimi Hendrix checking out Keith’s Dan Armstrong guitar.

1953 Fender Telecaster “Micawber”

Keith RIchards 1953 Fender Telecaster Probably one of Keith’s most famous guitars. He got it around 1970, supposedly as a gift for his 27th birthday from Eric Clapton (this piece of information is somewhat unreliable).

In 1972 Keith decided to install a Gibson PAF pickup instead of the single-coil in the neck, but did so that it was installed backwards – with pole pieces facing away from the neck. He also replaced tuners, fitted a Fender Champion lap steel pickup in the bridge position, and installed a brass bridge with individual saddles. This allowed him to remove the very top saddle, since he does not use low E string at all, and plays in open-G tuning without a capo for most of the time. For that same reason he pulled out the E-string magnet from the bridge pickup, and filled the hole with wax.

One thing that’s slightly confusing is that while playing live Keith keeps the pickup selector in the bridge position, meaning that he doesn’t use the Gibson PAF in the neck at all. While we couldn’t confirm this, our guess is that the switch is rewired so that the both pickups are ON in this position – otherwise it makes a little sense to install a PAF pickup and not use it at all.

As far as the nickname “Micawber” goes, it originated from one of Charles Dickens’s novels – “David Copperfield”. Keith said that there’s no particular reason why he named the guitar Micawber, apart from the fact that it’s such an unique name unlikely to be confused for something else.

Micawber is one of Keith’s favorite guitars, and he often plays it live on songs such as “Brown Sugar”, “Before They Make Me Run”, and “Honky Tonk Women”.

Keith owns a different 1954 Telecaster nicknamed “Malcolm” which is set-up exactly like the Micawber. Only visual difference between these two guitars is the body finish – Malcolm has natural finish with visible wood grain, while Micawber is finished in butterscotch blonde.

1967 Fender Telecaster “Sonny”

Keith Richards Sonny Telecaster Sunburst Keith’s third Telecaster used for five-string open-G playing. This one was made in 1967, and nicknamed after it’s sunburst finish (sunny). It’s set-up in the exact same way way as Micawber and Malcolm, so if you’re interested in the details read more about it above.

1957 Gibson Les Paul Jr. “Dice”

Les Paul Junior BJA signature Although Keith used a couple of different Les Paul Junior models from the early 1970s, one that stands out from the bunch is a 1957 Les Paul Junior finished in TV Yellow. The guitar is nicknamed “Dice” because of a dice sticker which was there when Keith got the guitar.

He allegedly took the guitar as payment for a gig he did for a band in America. Apparently the band were quite naughty and announced, much against his wishes, that Keef was appearing. So as he liked the guitar, he just kept it.

The guitar is pretty much stock except for the control knobs which were replaced with ones from a Telecaster. Keith started using it around 1979 almost exclusively for the song “Midnight Rambler”, and he still plays it today on some other songs such as “Out of Control” from Stones’ 1997 album.

Newman-Jones Guitars

Newman-Jones Keith Richards Keith had a couple of these custom-made guitar in the early 1970s. They were made by Ted Newman-Jones, who met Keith in 1971. As was previously mentioned in this article, Keith lost a great number of his guitars after a robbery of the mansion that the band was staying in while recording “Exile on Main St.” album. Having almost no equipment, Keith hired Ted to fix the guitars that he still had, and to take care of his equipment on the following tour in 1972. Soon enough Ted became familiar with Keith’s style of playing where he would only use five strings on a guitar leaving the low E string off, so he decided to build a guitar for Keith that was specially designed for that purpose.

The guitar pictured on the left is probably the first one that Ted made for Keith, and it featured relatively short neck with 21 frets and five evenly spaced strings. Gibson PAF was used for the bridge pickup, and what looks like a P-90 soapbar in the neck.

To our knowledge there were at least two more of these custom-made 5-string guitars – one of which was used in 1979 made of padauk wood, equipped with two EMG humbuckers. The third guitar was supposedly a Telecaster copy.

We’ve recently been contacted by one of our visitors who owns one of the five-strings Newman Jones guitars. His guitar is a neckthrough with two EMG pickups, featuring natural finish and a frog sticker – origin of which is unknown (thanks Robert for sending these).

Travis Bean Guitars

Travis Bean Guitar Keith used a TB1000 model during gigs in 1975 on the song “You Gotta Move” – but for a very brief period of time, and a custom made 5-string Travis Bean towards the late 70s. Very little is known about these guitars.

He also played a black TB500 during the Rolling Stones 1978 Saturday Night Live performance, and in the video for ‘She’s So Cold’.

1974 Zemaitis “Macabre”

Zemaitis Macabre Keith Richards Made by British guitar luthier Tony Zemaitis. Keith received the guitar in 1974, and used it as his main 5-string guitar during the 1978 tour, and for couple of gigs prior.

The guitar suddenly disappeared around the same time Keith’s house in Los Angeles caught fire in 1978, and it is presumed that this guitar was one of couple that were lost in that fire. There’s also a theory that the guitar was stolen a couple of months prior in New York, but no official word from Keith on this subject.

“Macabre” featured natural brown finish with custom skull & crossbones design, single Gibson PAF pickup in the bridge position, and it was set-up as a 5-string guitar.

Nowadays Keith uses a replica which looks exactly the same as the original Macabre.

1970s Fender Telecaster Custom

Fender Telecaster Custom Vintage Keith started using a black Custom Telecaster around 1975. At that point the guitar was completely stock, featuring a single-coil in the bridge, and a Fender Wide Range Humbucker in the neck – and a three-saddle chrome bridge.

Prior to American tour in 1981, Keith’s Tele received a few mods. The standard bridge and tuners were replaced with Schallers, and because of the angle at which Keith strums the guitar the pickup selector was moved down where one of the control knobs used to be to.

The guitar reappeared once again in 1993, and later on in 2005 – but now in a 5-string setup.

1959 Gibson ES-355 Mono

Keith Richards Gibson ES-355 Black This guitar has been in Keith possession since the late 60s, and he still plays it on stage nowadays. He was seen playing it live on “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, “Oh No Not You Again”, “She’s So Cold” and couple of others.

Keith’s 355 features ebony/black finish, two Gibson PAF pickups, no pickguard, and a Bigsby tremolo bridge. During a photo session for a Louis Vuitton-ad in 2007, Keith’s 355 appeared with a black tape over the neck pickup pole pieces, but it was never seen with it during a concert.

1964 Gibson ES-345 “Dwight”

Gibson ES345 Keith Richards Dwight Keith acquired this guitar sometime after the black ES-355, and it was initially nicknamed “The White One” by Keith’s guitar tech Pierre de Beauport. Gradually the nickname morphed into “Dwight One”, and that’s the name everybody’s been using since. According to Keith himself, the name comes from the sticker on the guitar which reads the name of the person at the Gibson factory who did the quality control check (Keith Richards “Life”, p. 481).

The guitar is finished in white, has two PAF pickups, and a Bigsby tremolo bridge. The only difference between Keith’s black and white Gibsons (apart from the aesthetics) is that the Dwight is stereo, while black 355 is mono.

1958 Fender Stratocaster “Mary Kaye”

Keith Richard Mary Kaye Stratocater Although Keith is not really a Strat player, he does have a few. One that’s most notable is a 1959 “Mary Kaye” model given to him by Ronnie Wood after the band’s 1982 tour. The guitar features blonde/white finish with maple neck and gold hardware, and it looks identical to the guitar that Mary Kaye was pictured with for the 1956 Fender promotional advertisement – therefore it’s nickname.

Keith plays this guitar in standard tune, mostly on-stage for songs such as “You Don’t Have to Mean It” and “Miss You”.

1950s Gibson ES-350

Gibson ES350 Keith said on couple of occasions that this is one of his favorite guitars, and one he takes special care of. He never uses it live, but he plays it in studio often.

Keith’s 350 is most likely early 50s model, and it featured blonde finish, trapeze-style bridge, and two P-90 pickups with individual volume knobs.

Music Man Silhouette

Music Man Silhouette Played in the late 80s up until mid 90s, mostly with X-Pensive Winos (his other band) and on Stones’ “Steel Wheels” tour.

Keith had a white one, a black one, and a sunburst model – all without tremolos, and with various pickup configurations.

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Keith Richard’s Acoustic Guitars:

Unknown Classical Guitar

Classical Guitar Unbranded The first guitar that Keith ever picked up belonged to his grandfather, Augustus Theodore Dupree, who toured Britain with a jazz big band “Gus Dupree and his Boys”. The first song that Kieth ever learned was a Spanish piece called “Malaguena”.

The story of this guitar and Keith’s relationship with his grandfather is illustrated in the autobiographical picture book Gus & Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar.

Rosetti

Keith Richards Rossetti Classical Guitar This was the first guitar that Keith owned himself. It was bought in 1959 by his mother, Doris.

Around 1959, when I was fifteen, Doris bought me my first guitar. I was already playing, when I could get one, but you can only tinker when you haven’t got one of your own. It was a Rosetti. And it was about ten quid. [Keith Richards; Life (Kindle Locations 863-864)]

If you happen to have any info about the specific model of the guitar, be sure to contact us. The photo on the left is a loose representation of how the guitar looked. For actual photos refer to Keith’s book “Life”.

Hofner Archtop

1950s Hofner Acoustic Keith bought this guitar sometime in early sixties, and it was his first steel-string guitar. He used the guitar circa 1961 with the band called “Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys”, consisting of Keith, Mick, Dick Taylor, and Bob Beckwith.

My guitar, this time an f-hole archtop Hofner steel string, was Blue Boy–the words written on its face–and because of that I was Boy Blue. That was my very first steel-string guitar. You’ll only find pictures of it in the club gigs, before the takeoff. I bought it secondhand in Ivor Mairants, off Oxford Street. You knew it had had one owner because of the patches and sweat marks on the fret board. He’s either playing up the top, the fiddly bits, or he’s a chord man. It’s like a map, a seismograph. And I left it either on the Victoria line or the Bakerloo line on the London Underground. But where better to bury it than the Bakerloo line? It left scars. [Keith Richards; Life (Kindle Locations 1266-1271)]

1963 Harmony H-1270

keith richards harmony 12 string acoustic This guitar was featured on most of the earliest acoustic stuff, on songs such as “As Tears Go By”,”Good Times, Bad Times”, “Not Fade Away”, and “Tell Me”. It was used by Keith up until around mid 1964.

The guitar was sold in 2004 for $33,460 over at Christie’s.

1965 Gibson Heritage

1965 Gibson Heritage Seen on couple of photos from the late 60s. It is possible that this was Keith main 6-string acoustic in 1965, but it seems to disappear as soon as he started playing his first Gibson Hummingbird.

Gibson Hummingbird(s)

Gibson Hummingbird Keith was first seen using a Gibson Hummingbird live on British TV’s Ready Steady Go on May 27, 1966.

Most notably, Keith used a Gibson Hummingbird for the initial recordings of the melody for the song “Street Fighting Man”, and later to record “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. For this particular song he used a Hummingbird tuned to open D with a capo on it, and most likely another guitar over the top of that. The second Hummingbird used a different way of stringing called the Nashville stringing.

Nashville stringing, as one of our readers explained, is when you replace the low strings, E-A-D-G with lighter strings tuned an octave up (the B and high E stay the same). Essentially like having a 12-string guitar, but removing all the low octave strings, keeping the high octave ones. Six strings, all high octave. When played in tandem with a regularly string 6-string you basically get the 12-string effect.

1964 Martin 00-21

Martin 00-21 Recently Keith has been using Martin acoustics more often that the Gibsons. One that get’s the most stage-time is a 1964 00-21 Martin which he often uses on “Angie”.

Guild 10-String Custom

Keith Richards 10 String Guild Acoustic This guitar was custom built for Keith, and it features 10-string design to accommodate Keith style of playing (open G tuning with only five strings on a normal 6-string guitar).

The guitar has natural finish, solid spruce top with rosewood back and sides and tiger stripe pickguard. It was one of Keith’s main acoustic guitars during the Bigger Bang tour, and he mostly used it for “Wild Horses”.

Keith Richards’ Guitar Amps:

– Vox AC-30
Seen circa 1963, when Keith still used to play his Harmony Meteor H70 guitar [Reslo & The Rolling Stones 1963].

– Fender Dual Showman
Used from around 1964 to 1966 as Kieth’s main amp.

– Hiwatt Custom 100
Used during the “Let it Bleed” recording sessions.

– Triumph Silicon 100
Used most notably on tremolo parts of the song “Gimme Shelter”, although the amp was also used previously on Beggars Banquet sessions. This was a solid state amp featuring built-in tremolo and fuzz effects.

– Ampeg Amps
From 1969 Keith was using Ampegs almost exclusively on-stage, although he kept using wide variety of other amps in studio. He mostly used 120 watt V-4 head and VT-22 combo, and a 60 watt V-2/VT-40.

– Mesa/Boogie Mark 1 A804
Mesa/Boogie amps first appeared during the famous gig at the El Mocambo in 1977, and Kieth got a first glimpse of it some time earlier when Carlos Santana joined the band for a jam using his small Snakeskin combo. Although some sources indicate that Stones used more than 40 different Mesa/Boogie amps over the years, one that is perhaps most notable was a hardwood combo handcrafted personally by Randall Smith. This one was Keith’s favorite and he used it on Stones’ albums Love You Live, Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You, as well as on his solo albums.

– Fender Tweed Twin
Since the early 90s Keith has been using Fender Twin combos as his main amps. His favorite one has a serial number #00003, and it is believed to be the oldest still-working Fender Twin amp.
In a studio setting he usually runs another amp on a separate mic at the same time, – ranging from a Fender Vibro King, Bassman, and Bandmaster, and some other models.

– Oahu Guitar Amp
First used sometime in 1995 (according to Oahu website). The amp is based on a small combo amp made by Valco company from 1945 to 1958, and Keith seems to be using it quite a lot on stage in the more recent days.

Keith Richards’ Guitar Effects:

Keith is known to be one of those players that don’t rely much on effects. He did use the Gibson Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone in the 60s (an example of this can be heard on “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”).

(Commenting on “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”): It was down to one little foot pedal, the Gibson fuzz tone, a little box they put out at that time. I’ve only ever used foot pedals twice–the other time was for Some Girls in the late ’70s, when I used an XR box with a nice hillbilly Sun Records slap-echo on it. But effects are not my thing. I just go for quality of sound.[Keith Richards, Life]

Recently, he’s been using the Ibanez TS-9 TubeScreamer to add some additional drive to his amps, and a vintage Fulltone Tube Tape Echo.

Keith Richards’ Guitar Strings:

– Ernie Ball Keith Richards Custom Set
He uses these on 5-string guitars. Gauges are .011, .015, .018 (unwound), .030, 042

In the studio Keith likes to experiment, and he uses wide variety of different strings depending on a guitar and a tune he’s playing. While playing live he mostly uses Ernie Ball Power Slinky .011 gauge.

Keith Richards’ Guitar Picks:

Keith seems to be using some type of a custom made picks, and they do seem pretty heavy – probably close to 1mm.

Contributors: Mick Searles, Jiri Strouhal. jamesleen, Frank, budrocket1, sandythreeohthree, John Burgess, lukpac, JS, zharski, Steve Bell