Keith Richards

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 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 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 many 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 the best worlds in one guitar.

About 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, then to Hiwat Customs, Ampegs, and Mesa/Boogies. From around the early 90s onwards, he used vintage Fender Tweed Twin amps.

List of Guitars, Amps, Effects, and Accessories used by Keith Richards

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Electric Guitars

Hofner Senator

Keith bought this guitar sometime in the 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, Bob Beckwith, and Allen Etherington.

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 fretboard. 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

Based on what appears to be the only photo of Keith with the guitar, this was most likely a Hofner Senator model in blonde. Also, it seems that this was an electric model since a neck pickup seems to be present on the guitar (Hofner Senator was produced in both the acoustic and electric variant).

Keith Richards on the far left, playing a Hofner archtop.
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Harmony Meteor H70

Keith played this guitar in the very early days of the Rolling Stones. He acquired it on January 25, 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.

Buy new guitar, Harmony or Hawk? Harmony has good price but do you get guarantee. “Hawk” has and also has case supplied. Both models PS84.0.0
Got 2 thumbpicks–bought Harmony with two P.U.’s sunburst finish in 2-tone case PS74.

Keith Richards; Life

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
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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 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.

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1959 Gibson Les Paul "Keith Burst"

This guitar, often referred to as the “Keith-Burst”, was first seen 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).

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

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1960s Gibson Firebird VII (Reverse)

Keith appeared with this guitar on November 11, 1965, when the band played on a US TV show called Hullabaloo. Aside from this, it seems that he rarely ever used the guitar, and was seen only occasionally with it.

Rolling Stones, 1965, Hullabaloo
November 11, 1965, Hullabaloo

It is also important to note that on the Hullabaloo show Brian also played a Gibson Firebird, so there’s a chance that the second Firebird that Keith used was actually Brian’s backup guitar. This is however just a guess, and there’s an equal chance that both Brian and Keith had the same guitars.

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Guild M-65 Freshman

This guitar appeared sometime in late 1965. One of the first major gigs ever played with the Guild was The Ed Sullivan Show on February 13, 1966, and it was also seen on May 27th, 1966, when the Stones performed on British TV’s Ready, Steady, Go.

THE ROLLING STONES Live 1966 Ed Sullivan Show

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 at 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.

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1957 Gibson Les Paul Custom

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 the 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 and where Keith originally acquired it, please be sure to say it in the comments.

Rolling Stones, the Ed Sullivan Show, 1966

The guitar was used extensively during the late 1966 British tour, which of course included the gig played at the Royal Albert Hall. It continued to be Keith’s main axe in early 1967 and can be seen on the January 25th Top of the Pops gig and on various dates during the Rolling Stones’s 1967 European tour. This includes the last gig of the tour played on April 17th, 1967 in Athens, Greece.

January 25th,1967, Top of the Pops. Keith’s Les Paul seems to be missing the neck pickup at this stage, for an unknown reason.
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Maton SE777

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

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1958 Gibson Flying V

Keith was seen playing this guitar during the Hyde Park gig in 1969. Apart from this, it does seem like he didn’t use the guitar at all.

The guitar seen at the back of the camper in which the band prepared before the Hyde Park concert.

Based on the looks, Keith’s Flying V had to have been 1958, or a 1959 model. Gibson started the production of the model in 1958, and stopped only a year later, after selling only 98 pieces in total. Another batch of Flying Vs was produced in the early 1960s, but these didn’t have gold-plated hardware like Keith’s guitar did, so those are out of the equation.

There’s also some talk online that Keith’s guitar was a prototype of some sort. This could be the case, as there are known Flying V prototypes that look exactly like Keith’s – apparently one of them owned by Eddie Van Halen. Allegedly, there were twelve of these in existence, and today only three are accounted for.

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1960s Gibson ES-330

Keith played this ES-330 for a few songs during the concert in Hyde Park on July 5, 1969 – just two days after the tragic death of Brian Jones.

Keith with the ES-330 at the Hyde Park, 1969.

Keith’s ES-330 featured a sunburst finish on a fully hollow body of laminated maple, two P-90 metal pickups, and a trapeze-type tailpiece.

Interesting to point out that the ES-330 is basically a cousin to the Epiphone Casino – a guitar that Keith used at the early stages of his career. Both models were built at the same factory at Kalamazoo, Michigan. It is therefore likely that he purchased the ES-330 as a direct replacement for the Epiphone.

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1969 Ampeg Dan Armstrong See-Through

Keith received this guitar from Ampeg likely sometime in late 1969 and was first seen using it on the Ed Sullivan Show filmed in November that year.

Ed Sullivan Show, 1969

Keith was actually one of the first people to ever get their hands on this guitar, and he was perhaps largely responsible for its popularity later on.

The first guitar Dan Armstrong ever made me was a gem. It was one of the first prototypes or first preproduction models. And you could plug those pickups in. I know I used it on sessions. But I don’t know if anything I did on it ended up on a record. And then that guitar disappeared. They gave me two or three other ones, production models, but they were shadows of that particular one. And I gave up on them.

Keith Richards Looks Back on 40 Rocking Years with the Rolling Stones

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1953 Fender Telecaster “Micawber”

Keith acquired this guitar around 1970, supposedly as a gift for his 27th birthday from Eric Clapton. This piece of information could be just a myth, as neither of them mentions it in their biography books, but since most sources online mention it, there is likely some truth to this.

In any case, it would be really nice to have a direct quote from either Keith or Eric regarding this, because it seems that this should be something that they would at least mention at some point. If you happen to come across any interviews which confirm this story, please share them in the comments.

If the story is true, and Keith received the guitar for his 27th birthday, that would place it exactly on December 18, 1970. From that point on, from April to August 1971, Keith lived in southern France, in a rented villa, where the band’s 1972 album Exile on Main St. was recorded. The Telecaster was indeed seen on the photos taken during this period, so it was most likely used on that record. At that stage, the Micawber was completely stock.

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1954 Fender Telecaster "Malcolm"

This guitar was first used around 1972, and at that point, it had a Rolling Stones tongue sticker on the upper part of the body. In the early years, the guitar seemed to have been used as a spare for Keith’s main Telecaster, the Micawber.

The two guitars are visually very similar. What sets them apart is the fact that Malcolm has wood grain visible on the body, while Micawber is finished in a solid color. Also, the humbucker pickup in the neck position is facing the opposite the way when you compare the two guitars.

Keith Richards 1954 Telecaster "Malcolm" seen backstage in Vancouver, 1972.
Keith Richards 1954 Telecaster “Malcolm” seen backstage in June 1971, Vancouver.
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Acoustic Guitars

Rosetti Classical Guitar

This was Keith’s first-ever guitar. Prior to this, he could only practice on his grandfather Gus’ classical guitar, so eventually, his mother Doris agreed to buy him his own.

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.

Doris didn’t have the credit to buy it on hire purchase, so she got someone else to do it, and he defaulted on the payment–a big kerfuffle. It was a huge amount of money for her and Bert. But Gus must have had something to do with it too.

Keith Richards; Life

The only photo that exists of the Rosetti seems to be one published in Keith’s book. Based on it, the guitar had some very unique features to it, as the back of the bridge seems to have some sort of a metal plate, which would be unusual for a classical guitar. The pickguard also seems to be very random in shape, and almost looks as though Keith just cut out and glued a piece of paper on the body.

If you happen to know a guitar that would match this description, as always, post it in the comments. The photo that you see on the side is a visual representation of the guitar shown in Keith’s book, replicated in Photoshop. Some parts of it could be a bit wrong, due to the low quality of the original photo, so take note of that if you’re using it for your own research.

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1963 Harmony H-1270

Used somewhat regularly in 1964, seen most notably on Ready Steady Go!, filmed at Kingsway Studios in London on 14 February 1964.

The guitar somehow survived all those years, even though Keith didn’t seem to have used it at all after 1964, and it was sold in 2004 for $33,460 over at Christie’s.

Image: Christie’s
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Framus 5/98 King Jumbo

Seen on the ABC’s Thank Your Lucky Stars TV pop music show filmed sometime in 1964. Aside from this, it doesn’t seem like Keith ever used this guitar, so the story behind it is unknown. It could be that it was just borrowed for the occasion of recording the show.

Keith playing a Framus 5/98 King Jumbo acoustic guitar.
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Amps

Vox AC30

Used in the early days, circa 1963, when Keith still used to play his Harmony Meteor H70 guitar (for photos please see Reslo & The Rolling Stones 1963 on Flickr). The same model of the amp was used throughout 1964 and 1965 by both Keith and Brian, only occasionally being swapped for a Fender Showman for live gigs.

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Fender Showman

First seen around 1964, more precisely during the Stones’ first American Tour. It seems that at that point both Brian and Keith used these amps.

The Rolling Stones Live on the TAMI Show, 1964

The amps were also used later on in 1965 (search for photos taken at Regal Cinema, Cambridge or Olympia Music Hall), although it seems that the Vox AC30s were used more often than the Fenders.

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Effects

Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone

Used most famously 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 the quality of sound.

Keith Richards, Life

Keith’s use of this pedal, and the huge success of the song, played a major role in making the fuzz guitar sound widely popular. This eventually led to the development of the now legendary pedals such as Tone Bender and the Fuzz Face, which all were of course ancestors of the modern distortion pedals that we all use today.

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Strings

Accessories