Summary of Keith’s Equipment
In the early part of his career, Keith was using a couple of hollow body electric guitars – a 1960s Harmony Meteor H70 and a 1962 Epiphone Casino. In 1964, he made a move towards Gibson and acquired a 1959 Les Paul. Today a legendary guitar, nicknamed “Keith-Burst”, this Les Paul was one responsible for the explosion of popularity of this guitar model in the late 60s and early 70s. Many of the popular guitarists of that period like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page followed in Keith’s suit and bought themselves a Les Paul. Today, a 1959 Les Paul is considered the holy grail of electric guitars exactly because of this.
Another well-known Les Paul that Keith used was a black Custom which he painted and decorated himself. He used this guitar most famously during the recording of Sympathy for the Devil.
In the later part of his career, Keith moved from Gibson Les Pauls to Fender Telecasters. He used a number of different guitars, but the most notable was one nicknamed “Micawber”. This guitar was a gift from Eric Clapton, and Keith used it from around 1970 onwards. At one point he modified the guitar by adding a Gibson PAF pickup in the neck position. This way, Keith could have both of best worlds in one guitar.
Regarding effects, Keith is not of those players who like to dabble with them much. But he did use some effect pedals in his career, most notable the Gibson Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone. This pedal he used to achieve that unique sound on (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.
As far as amps, Keith started out on a Vox AC30, and over the years moved over to Fender Dual Showman, than to Hiwat Customs, Ampegs, and Mesa/Boogies. From around the early 90s onwards, he mostly used vintage Fender Tweed Twin amps.
Keith Richards Sound Guide
If you want to sound like Keith Richards, there are a few main points to focus on. First and foremost is the tuning – you should practice playing in open G. This is what Keith uses most of the time. He also doesn’t use the top E string at all, doesn’t even put it on his guitar, but this isn’t something that you should necessarily do.
The second is the Telecaster. The best option would be to buy a modified Telecaster with a Gibson humbucker in the neck position. Unfortunately, these are nearly impossible to come by, so count on getting a stock Telecaster and modifying it yourself. If you’re on a budget, a Squire Classic Vibe Telecaster is a great choice. Even if you don’t wanna put a humbucker in it it will sound great. If you wanna modify it, something like a Seymour Duncan SH-1 ’59 would be a great choice.
For a more premium long-term guitar, you can go for a Fender ’52 Telecaster reissue and you’re set for life.
Regarding amps, this is probably where you shouldn’t spare any money. Keith nowadays plays Fender Tweed Twins, which is a crazy expensive amp starting at around $3,000. You should aim for at least something like a Fender ’65 Princeton, and if budget allows, go for something better.
Lastly, grab yourself a set of Ernie Ball guitar strings. Keith uses a rather unique combination of strings on his open G guitars – .011, .015, .018 (unwound), .030, 042. Closest to these in the Ernie Ball catalogue are the Ernie Ball Beefy Slinky which are .011 .015 .022p .030 .042 .054. But, according to Ernie Ball’s website, Keith also uses their more standard set, the Regular Slinky, which is 10-46. These will probably be a better option for most.
All in all, go for a Telecaster, a good tube amp, and you’ll still probably realize a lot of it is in the fingers. This is almost always the case, and equipping yourself with the right tools only gets you to a certain point. From then on, it’s a lot of practice and figuring out the details in someone’s style of playing.