Keith Richards’ 1953 Fender Telecaster “Micawber”
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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 it in the comments.
Exile on Main St.
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.
According to Andy Babiuk’s book, Rolling Stones Gear, during these sessions that Keith removed the top E string from the Tele, and played it in open G tuning (GDGBD) – something he eventually became known for.
Sometime in 1972, Keith decided to install a Gibson PAF pickup instead of the single-coil in the neck. This was done by Ted Newman Jones, who did it so that the humbucker was installed backward – with pole pieces facing away from the neck.
He also replaced the bridge pickup and fitted the guitar instead with a Fender Champion lap steel pickup. Additionally, the original bridge was replaced with a custom brass bridge with individual saddles. This allowed Keith to remove the very top saddle since he did not use low E string at all and played in open-G tuning most of the time.
All this was done sometime after the start of the 1972 American Tour, as there seem to exist photos of the guitar from the start of the tour with the Telecaster still in stock condition.
As far as the nickname “Micawber” goes, which Keith thought of sometime in the 80s, it originated from one of Charles Dickens’s novels – David Copperfield. The guitar was named after a character named Wilkins Micawber – who is, as Wikipedia writes – a melodramatic, kind-hearted gentleman who has a way with words and eternal optimism.
Although this description almost sounds fitting for an instrument, Keith said that there’s no particular reason why he named this character in particular, apart from the fact that it’s such a unique name unlikely to be confused for something else.
All these guitars Pierre presides over have nicknames and personalities. Most of the people who made them in ’54, ’55, ’56 are dead and gone […] but you can still read the names of the checkers, the ones who gave them the seal of approval, inside the guitars. So the guitars get their nicknames from their checkers. On “Satisfaction” I play a lot of Malcolm, a Telecaster, while on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” I play Dwight, another Telecaster. Micawber is a real all-rounder. Micawber’s got a lot of highs; Malcolm’s got more bottom on it. And Dwight’s an in-betweener.Keith Richards – Life
Micawber and Malcolm PAF swap?
It is a known fact that Micawber and Malcolm are Keith’s two main Telecaster, and the main difference between them is that Micawber had the PAF humbucker installed the wrong way around. But, if you look at the footage of the 1978 Texas concert, you’ll notice that Keith played both guitars that night, only they were set up in a very unusual way. Malcolm had the wrong way around PAF, while Micawber had the standard oriented PAF.
The explanation for this doesn’t seem to exist, but both guitars went to their known configurations in the early 80s. If you happen to know why Keith swapped the PAFs, or you know something that would shed more light on this story, please leave a comment below.
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