Wednesday, April 19, 2017

1957: Gibson Guitars, Korina wood, & Science-Fiction at it's finest.

A few months ago, I wrote about the convenient development of the fuzz-favorite Germanium transistor following a certain "weather balloon" crash near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947; Well, ten years later, a similar crash must have occurred near Kalamazoo, Michigan, because the R&D department at Gibson headquarters came up with some truly other-worldly ideas...

While the more traditional Gibson Guitar Company was struggling to compete in the same marketplace that Leo Fender was ruling with his Telecaster and Stratocaster models, President Ted McCarty patented some space-aged designs, supposedly influenced by science-fiction movies and the space race of the era; these prototypes were first seen at the summer of '57 NAMM show, and led to the introduction of the Flying V and Explorer in January of '58. Two of the other designs, unnamed at the time, wouldn't make it to the production line for decades; they surfaced in the early 1980s under the names Moderne and Futura.

The first appearance in a Gibson catalog of the Explorer & Flying V, 1958.

Original 1958 patents for what would become known as the Futura (left) and Moderne (right)

Made from slabs of beautiful white Korina wood (true name African Limba, although some early models also used the more standard Gibson mahogany) and featuring gold hardware with white or black pickguards and the new 1957 Patent-Applied-For "Humbucker" pickups, the world truly was not ready for these innovative designs, and wouldn't be for over a decade; Only 98 Flying Vs were produced from '58-'59, along with less than 50 Explorers, making them two of the rarest production-model guitars ever. Even rarer still, the Futura was limited to 5 or 6 units, with 3 known to still exist, but the original Moderne is the guitar equivalent of Bigfoot; possibly less than 3 made, with one rumored to still exist, although unverified (more on this later).

Early promo photos of Lonnie Mack (left) and Albert King (right) with their 1958 Flying Vs

The Flying V had a few early devotees, such as blues greats Albert King and Lonnie Mack, both of whom purchased their signature instruments in the first year of production. Mack was only 17 when he picked up Flying V #007 from Hughes Music in Norwood, Ohio after spotting one in a Gibson catalog; attracted to the Native American arrowhead shape, shop owner Glen Hughes drove to Kalamazoo, Michigan himself to pick up the instrument for Mack. Although Lonnie refinished the guitar in red and had Hughes install a Bigsby vibrato some time later (which Mack dubbed his "whammy bar", the first known instance of the term, after his 1963 single "Wham!"), it remained his favorite instrument for the rest of his career, and along with a Magnatone amp, helped define his unique sound.

Lonnie Mack with refinished '58 V and added Bigsby "whammy bar"

Albert King's original Flying V history is a bit more complicated, and greatly disputed; this writer won't claim to be the final word on the matter, but I've gathered as much information as possible and hope to present it all here for you to debate. Albert claimed to have purchased his first V new in 1958, attracted to it's unique look from a showman's perspective, and supposedly it was either stolen or lost in a craps game in the early '60s. Although no longer in production, Gibson assembled a Korina V replacement for King using leftover parts from the initial '58-'59 run, and stamped it with a '59 serial number; this became a favorite of King's for the next 18 years, until he sold it in 1981 to "Detroit" Frank DuMont for $2500. Some stories say that the '59 V was actually his original, and the sale was the result of a gambling debt to DuMont. Regardless, the guitar now resides in Steven Seagal's private collection, along with King's '67 Gibson V and the Dan Erlewine "Lucy" custom made for Albert (and spec'd from his '59). To add to the legend, actor Richard Gere claimed to have Albert's original '58 V, and sold it as such at a Christie's auction in 2011.

A couple shots of King with his '59-serial number V
Albert's 3 surviving Vs, the '59 (left), "Lucy" (center), and '67 (right).

60's rocker Dave Davies of the Kinks was a British Invasion proponent of the Korina Flying V, and helped push Gibson to reissue the instrument in 1967, albeit in a redesigned form. Another original '58 V was owned and played by Keith Richards briefly at the 1969 Hyde Park concert, although little else is known about this "arrow-shaped guitar", as Stones bassist Bill Wyman described it in his book; a rumor spread that it was actually King's original '58 V, although it was never confirmed to be true. That guitar was also stolen, along with many others, from Keith's Nelcotte villa in the south of France during the recording of Exile On Main Street. An original '58 V recently played by guitarist J.D. Simo was claimed to be Keith's Hyde Park guitar, but that is also unverified to the best of my knowledge and research; the whereabouts of the Richards' V is still unknown.

Keith Richards at Hyde Park (left), and Dave Davies playing his '58 V in an unconventional manner (right)

In 1980, perhaps the unlikeliest of Flying V aficionados arose in the form of Eddie Van Halen, then the hottest guitarist on the planet and enjoying his tremendous success with no shortage of incredible instruments at his disposal. The story goes that Dan Martin of the St. Charles Music Exchange near St. Louis, Missouri, acquired a mint-condition 1957 prototype Korina V from it's original owner under deceitful means; knowing he would receive a large sum for the rare instrument, he traded the older gentleman a nice but rather ordinary Gretsch guitar & Gibson amp for the museum piece, promising to keep it at home in his private collection. Well, he turned around and sold it to Eddie for a reported $10,000, beginning a long career of procuring instruments for the superstar. When the original owner discovered this, he was livid, but had no recourse. Van Halen used this '57 prototype Korina V in studio only, most notably for the recording of 1984's "Hot For Teacher". Eddie has stated in interviews that the '57 V is the prize of his personal collection and his favorite guitar.

Amos Arthur and his '58 Flying V

The last of our famous, or rather infamous, original Flying Vs is affectionately nicknamed Amos after Amos Arthur, the owner of Arthur's Music Store in Indianapolis, Indiana. Always appreciating the new and bold, Amos shared the same flare for showmanship that attracted Albert King to the V, and proudly displayed a '58 black pickguard model at his shop (one of only 10 originals with a black guard from the factory). It was sold a year later in 1959, and although the next 16 years are unknown, it resurfaced in 1975 at Norman's Rare Guitars in Van Nuys, California, where owner Norman Harris wouldn't let it leave. Residing in Norman's private stash for nearly 40 years, Amos was loaned out for the filming of This Is Spinal Tap in 1983 as a part of fictional guitarist Nigel Tufnel's collection, and was not seen again until guitarist extraordinaire and vintage aficionado Joe Bonamassa wrestled it away from Norman a few years ago. As one of Joe's favorite instruments, he has played it extensively on tour and in studio, but recently commissioned Gabriel Currie of Echopark Guitars to replicate it down to the finest detail so the original could be retired. As of this writing, Joe has received his Echopark Amos replica, and plans to begin using it on tour immediately.

Joe Bonamassa with Amos, almost 60 years later.

The original Explorer does not share the same prolific history as the Flying V, but with less than half as many units produced (19 shipped in '58, only 3 in '59, factory leftovers later assembled in '62-'63, 38 accounted for today and no more than 50 total manufactured), the Explorer stakes claim to the title of most expensive non-celebrity-owned electric guitar sold, with an original 1958 model fetching $1,100,000 at Denmark Street Guitars in London last year.

Clapton's original "modified" Korina Explorer

Although initially considered a bust, the Explorer had a resurgence in the 1970s, with Eric Clapton himself donning a '58 Korina, leading Gibson to reissue the model much like it did with the Flying V a decade earlier. Clapton's first Korina Explorer, seen on the '74-'75  tour, heard on the E.C. Was Here live album, and posed with for a MusicMan amplifier promo ad, had a chunk removed from the rear fin, and was reportedly sold to him as a one-off factory prototype from the '57-'59 era by Alex Music in New York City. Eric loved the guitar, but when he later discovered it was in fact a butchered original and not a rare prototype, he demanded the store take it back; they refused, and Clapton stopped playing the guitar altogether. It now resides in a Japanese collection.

Clapton with Explorer in Music Man ad (left) and triumphantly on stage (right)

Another unmodified original was purchased and used by Clapton in 1983, and sold at auction for his Crossroads charity in 1999.

Rick Derringer, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, U2's The Edge, and Kirk Hammett of Metallica all have original Explorers in their collections (Nielsen actually has 2), but those were acquired much later on in the instruments' lives. Derringer's early '58 Explorer, seen often with him in the '70s, has the split-headstock design of the Futura prototype, which makes it about as rare as a Loch Ness Monster photograph with Bigfoot in the background. Still, if the Flying V was considered a commercial failure at the time, then the Explorer was the equivalent of a rocket self-destructing at launch, and disappeared from the Gibson catalog until 1976.

Rick Derringer with his ultra-rare split-headstock '58 Explorer

Explorer bass #001

Even rarer than the original Explorer guitar was the Explorer bass, of which only one has been proven to exist (along with rumors of one or two others). There's debate as to how or why it was created, possibly a special order, or a factory prototype that walked out the door, but it was built from a Korina guitar body with a mahogany neck, 3+1 headstock with banjo tuners (similar to what would appear on the Firebird model), and "Mudbucker" bass pickup. Regardless of it's origin, this serial number 001 bass ended up at Glen Hughes' music store in Ohio by 1962, where Lonnie Mack pressured his bassist Wayne Bullock to purchase it. The $300 price tag was steep at the time, but eventually, after a year of hanging on his wall, Mr. Hughes cut the young bassist a deal, and sold it to him for half price. Bullock played it for the next decade and refinished it first in green, then metallic blue, before selling it to Guitar Player columnist and guitar historian Robb Lawrence in 1973. Lawrence restored it to it's original look and got it into the hands of famed bassists John Entwistle, Jack Bruce, and Chris Squire, among others, before Explorer aficianado Rick Derringer saw the bass and had his manager purchase it. It changed hands many times since, hanging in a New York City storefront and even appearing on a Lou Reed track, but it's current whereabouts are unknown.

Lonnie Mack's band, circa '63, with original Explorer bass & Flying V

Monday, February 13, 2017

The '59 "Top-Loader" Tele & It's Devoted Fans

Late '58 Top-loading Tele bridge, courtesy of Premier Guitar

The 1958-59 period is a vintage often associated with Gibson guitars, the Les Paul Standard in particular, as discussed in a previous article. But in Fullerton, California, Leo Fender was experimenting as well, albeit not as drastically; for possible cost-cutting or time-saving reasons, or simply just emulating the popular evolution of the Precision Bass a year prior, the traditional string-thru-body design of the Telecaster was foregone in favor of a top-loading bridge, with the string slots drilled thru the rear lip of the "ashtray" plate. This began in late '58, and after a full year of production with mixed to negative results, the old string-thru-body construction was brought back by 1960, although the remaining supply of top-loading bridges were re-drilled and still used, allowing some models from late '59 all the way thru '62 to swing both ways. Why bring up such an obscure design failure? Because one of the most infamous Telecasters in rock-and-roll history was in fact a "toploader" from this period.

The Jimmy Page "Dragon" Telecaster

Jimmy Page's Dragon Toploader Telecaster, circa '68

Beginning it's life as a white-blonde Telecaster with white pickguard (exact date of birth unknown, but the slab rosewood fingerboard indicates mid-'59 at earliest), it was purchased by John Owen in 1961, who sold the guitar to his friend, former Deltones bandmate and then-Yardbirds lead guitarist Jeff Beck in 1965, who used it as a backup to his beloved Esquire while on tour. When Page joined the Yardbirds in 1966, Beck presented the instrument to him as gift, a thank-you for recommending Beck for the Yardbirds gig in the first place, and for throwing him some session work as well.


Jeff Beck playing the Toploader with the Yardbirds circa '65 (top & left), and Page with it in '66 (right & bottom).

The guitar underwent a few cosmetic changes, from white pickguard to black with Beck, then back to white with Page, who also added a few circular mirrors for a psychedelic effect, perhaps as a tribute to friend Syd Barrett's Esquire, in '67.

Page with the Toploader, circa '67.

Eventually, by 1968, Page stripped the guitar to it's natural ash grain and had some fun with paint, adding a mirror pickguard as well; the "Dragon" was born. This was Page's main guitar during his time as lead guitarist of the Yardbirds, as well as the New Yardbirds, who would change their name to Led Zeppelin and record a crushing self-titled debut album released in January of '69.  Along with a Supro combo amp, Vox wah, and Tone Bender fuzz, the Dragon helped Page create some incredible and timeless guitar tones on that record.

Page bowing Dragon on the first Zep tour, with Bonzo in background.

While also used for recording parts of Led Zeppelin II,  the Dragon was last seen live in May of '69, only to be brought out of retirement to record the epic climactic outro solo of "Stairway to Heaven" in 1971. Unfortunately, while away on tour (and favoring his Les Pauls for live use), a friend thought he'd do Jimmy a favor by crudely refinishing the iconic guitar; the new paint job "totally screwed up the sound and wiring" according to Page, and he scrapped the guitar, salvaging just the neck and using it on his brown B-bender Tele later on. "As for the body", says Page, "it will never be seen again!".

Did Jimmy prefer this Tele to others due to it's top-loading bridge? He never said publicly, at least not to my knowledge, but you've got to assume he had access to others and still went back to the Dragon. There are some reports that this guitar was drilled out for string-thru setup as well, meaning it would have been a very late '59 or even a '60 production model, but Page clearly strung it up thru the top of the bridge. In theory, and claimed to be true by some fans, the toploading bridge adds a looser, slinkier feel to the strings by eliminating the drastic breakpoint angle behind the saddles and the extra string length (not to be confused with scale length, which stayed the same); this would aid in ease of bending and vibrato, but hurt sustain and the ability to really "dig in" to the strings, the main complaints with the design in '59 and beyond. Most traditional Tele aficionados love the way the guitar fights back when you play aggressively with either hand, and that was diminished with the top-loader. I suppose none of that bothered Jimmy, though.

The Jim Campilongo '59 Telecaster

Jim Campilongo with his '59 original (left) and playing his signature model.

There's also a modern Tele-master who prefers the '59 Toploader, and it's someone I've had the privilege of seeing live and taking lessons from right here in New York City: alt-country/jazz/western swing guitarist extraordinaire Jim Campilongo. Jim was given his authentic '59 as a gift from a friend after falling in love with it, and it's been his main instrument ever since (I need some friends like Jim's). He describes the feel of the guitar as "rubbery" compared to standard Teles, but still capable of the twang reminiscent of his guitar idol, Roy Buchanan, and excelling at behind-the-nut bends due to it's extra slinkyness (something Page did as well, albeit not as extensively).

Jim's '59 Toploader and Princeton Reverb amp

Fender released a limited edition Custom Shop Campilongo model in 2010, an exact replica of his beloved '59, and I had the pleasure of playing Jim's personal copy. It was strung up with .009's, so I couldn't give a fair comparison to a standard Tele, as I'm a .010 player; one would need to go back-and-forth on virtually identical instruments with matching string gauges for a fair shootout. Regardless, it's a fine instrument worthy of the headstock signature. If you're not familiar with Jim's music, I suggest you check out Orange or Dream Dictionary, both excellent albums with some great guests, including Norah Jones. He's also a phenomenal teacher with some great online lessons available for download.

The Jeff Buckley '83 Tele

And now, for the wild card... 24 years after the original Top-loader Telecaster, Fender brought the design back in 1983, now utilizing a Schaller "Freeflyte" top-loading bridge as opposed to a modified traditional-style unit. Although just as unpopular the second time around, especially due to a common complaint of microphonics in the bridge pickup, it became the main instrument of famed singer/songwriter (and hugely underrated guitarist) Jeff Buckley.

Jeff Buckley's '83 Tele (left), and a closeup of the Schaller Freeflyte toploading bridge (right).

Jeff borrowed the blonde mirror-pickguard instrument from his friend Janine Nichols in 1991, after all of his personal gear was stolen; he never actually purchased the instrument, but played it from then until his untimely death in 1997. A Seymour Duncan Hot Stack replaced the stock bridge pickup, and the mirror pickguard was originally added by Janine as a tribute to Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. This Tele was used for the recording of Grace, Buckley's lone studio album, including his breathtaking version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", and also featured on much of Live in Chicago and Live at Sin-e. The guitar was returned to Janine after Buckley's passing, and auctioned off via Chelsea Guitars in 2011 for over $50,000.

Fender only produced this Freeflyte-equipped model of the toploader through 1984, although some future versions of the instrument, like the Made-in-Mexico Classic 50's Tele, have featured variations on the toploading bridge since. It just goes to show that a universally unpopular design can still be magic in the right hands, regardless of style or era. One person's con might be another's plus.

Modern Classic 50's MIM Toploader bridge

Friday, February 3, 2017

Gig Survival: MONO Cases, Airports, & Norman's Rare Guitars

Fresh off the plane and already typing... I'd say it's good to be home, but honestly, nah. Four days in LA wasn't quite enough, although I packed about as much into that time frame as I fit in my Mono Dual M80 for this excursion...

Not pictured: eyeglasses, sunglasses, phone charger, iPad.
Otherwise, all I needed for 4 days.

First off, it does not get any better than these Mono cases for travel gigging; the perfect amount of protection and convenience for two Fender-style guitars, as well as a Pedaltrain Nano and cables. It could get a little heavy on a long TSA line, but really not terrible at all. Speaking of TSA, no major issues whatsoever at either airport, LAX or Newark... Newark took it off to the side of the scanner, which immediately concerned me, but all the agent did was open up the Tick and swab my pedals, then handed everything back with a smile and zero questions. In LAX, they sent me down a different line for a larger scanner, which the case passed thru with no issues.

As for the United Airlines staff, no problems at all with carrying on; I suppose they've received enough negative press in the past for a few infamous incidents, but a phone call to customer service the day before my flight reassured me there would be no problems as long as space was not an issue (also printed out the FAA Regulations regarding musical instruments, just in case). The Dual M80 fit perfectly into the overhead compartment with the Tick removed and placed alongside, and thanks to priority boarding, had an entire bin to itself. I'd definitely advise upgrading to a priority group if your airline of choice offers it strictly for this reason. Most planes have closets, but they're not very wide at all, possibly not wide enough for the dual case (A thin hardshell case or single-guitar Mono might fit, though).

Upon arrival, it was time to pick up my white Mustang convertible (yes, really!) and cruise up to Shadow Hills for a rehearsal with the incredibly talented Ms. Helen Rose and the rest of her band, consisting of guitarist/songwriter extraordinaire Jonah Tolchin, the man with the tastiest fills since Bonham, Kevin Clifford on the boom-booms, and bassist/hypeman/guitar builder Don Moser (who has one of his beautiful Katrina-inspired Voodoo guitars on display at the Smithsonian Institute. Jonah also played a brand new custom Telecaster by Don). After working out the set and running the tunes, we headed down to The Mint for a soundcheck and some dinner before the show.

Don's original Katrina-relic Voodoo Guitar (left), and Jonah's new custom Gratitude Tele (right).
More on Voodoo Guitars here in the future!

For the guitar nerds out there (basically all of you), I used one of The Mint's house amps, a Rivera Fifty Five Twelve EL34 1x12" combo (since evolved into the current Chubster model), which had an incredible clean tone with lots of depth, detail, and character. For dirt, I chose a Fulltone Plimsoul overdrive pedal, which is my go-to safety blanket for unfamiliar situations, along with an Ibanez AD-9 Keeley-modded analog delay and Strymon Flint for spring reverb and tremolo, my usual tone candy of choice.

My girls with their Rivera 5512 date for the evening.

The monitor & FOH sound was handled superbly by Steven, an employee of the venue, who was extremely accommodating to us as well the headliners, Grant Farm. By the way, if you're not familiar with these guys, check them out; self-described as "Cosmic Americana", and if I must label them, it would be something along the lines of the Allmans meet the Dead with some phenomenal chicken pickin' by guitarist Tyler Grant. Four-part vocal harmony, to boot!

All in all, the gig was great, and we'll be back on March 24th to open for British blues guitar phenom Davy Knowles... come say hi!

Helen Rose & the gang at The Mint

In other guitar-related news, a trip to Los Angeles would not be complete without visiting Norman's Rare Guitars in Tarzana, most notable for providing Nigel Tufnel's Spinal Tap collection (including the Les Paul you can still hear sustaining if you listen very closely), as well as Marty McFly's cherry red '59 Gibson ES-345. Joe Bonamassa drops by almost weekly when in town, and store manager Mark Agnesi posts his Guitar of the Day videos on Instagram to make me drool regularly.

Norman's Rare Guitars & me (on couch, with 1940 Martin). Photo courtesy of the lovely Lauren Hans.

Mark happened to notice me checking out an all-mahogany 1937 Martin, similar to the '39 model that Helen's father, Alexander Wright has (that I spent the night before playing), and handed me two others to check out: an Adirondack spruce-top 0-18 from 1940, and a refinished '48 model. There was something very special about the 1940, likely due to it's pre-war vintage (when Martin's craftsmanship was supposedly at it's absolute peak), and after comparing it with the other Martins and a few similar Gibsons, I knew it had to happen; Mark made me a great deal including shipping to New Jersey, and it's on it's way as I type.

So that just about wraps up an incredibly fun, productive, and exhausting trip, complete with a lunch at Duke's in Malibu, a dinner at James Beach in Venice, and a ridiculously fun night out at Jumbo's Clown Room on Hollywood Boulevard. Until we meet again, La-La Land!

Monday, January 16, 2017

The 1959 "Keefburst" Les Paul & The Start of A Craze

In mid-1958, the Gibson Guitar Company tried something new to drum up sales for it's Les Paul Standard model, the latest evolution of what began as "The Log" in Lester Polfus's workshop; still utilizing the same design and construction as the "Goldtop" Standard model's mahogany neck and body with maple top (including the Patent-Applied-For "PAF" humbucking pickups invented a year prior), but now featuring a transparent cherry-red-to-yellow "Sunburst" finish on that maple top, inspired by the company's acoustic and archtop jazz models. No two guitars were alike, as the original dying process brought out varying degrees of depth from the maple wood grain unique to each instrument. Some models had rather plain tops, in comparison to the curly figured maple bookmatched tops found on some of the most valuable and desirable instruments of the era. As the original dye would fade rapidly over time when exposed to UV light, a new technique was employed in 1960, resulting in a bolder, more reddish-orange "tomato soup" look, with slightly less transparency (the neck thickness was also slimmed down a bit by then). Generally speaking, 1959 models are considered the pinnacle of the line, but all three years provided some of the most collectible, beautiful, and best-sounding electric guitars of all time.

Great examples of 'Bursts from '58 (left), '59 (center), and '60 (right), showing variations in figure and color.

A 1960 Gibson catalog page featuring the Sunburst Standard (right)

Despite all this, and rather ironically, the heavy, expensive Les Paul was considered a commercial failure at the time, and only 1,712 Sunburst Standard units were produced from 1958 to 1960 (Even Les himself preferred the tuxedo-like all-mahogany "Black Beauty" Custom model).  By '61, the Les Paul guitar was redesigned by Ted McCarty of Gibson as a thinner, lighter shape, with easier access to the upper frets; we now know this model as the SG, but until 1964, it hadn't changed titles. At that point, Les asked for his name to be removed from the newer design, which he never cared for, and as he was entering a state of semi-retirement and no longer retained his popularity of a decade prior, Gibson obliged. There would be no more Les Paul models in Gibson's immediate future beginning 1964.

A very young, innocent Keef, with his 'Burst, circa 1964

That very same year, across the pond in London, a young English guitarist named Keith Richards walked into Selmer's Music Shop with a few quid to spend before his group, The Rolling Stones, embarked on their very first tour of the U.S. He spotted a sunburst Les Paul Standard which had been retrofitted with a Bigsby vibrato, and since it was previously owned, he could afford to buy it. He played it extensively on that tour, including the Stones' debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and used it to record many of their early hits, most notably "The Last Time", "Time Is On My Side", and "Satisfaction". Keith owned and played a sunburst Les Paul before any of his contemporaries, including many of whom became famous for their use of the instrument: Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Peter Green, Paul Kossoff, Mike Bloomfield, Billy Gibbons, Joe Walsh, Duane Allman... Keef had 'em all beat to the 'Burst.

That particular instrument, serial number 9-3182, turned out to be a '59 model, purchased brand new in March 1961 at Farmer's Music Store in Luton, UK, by John Bowen, guitarist of Mike Dean & the Kinsmen. Bowen had the Bigsby vibrato installed at Selmer's shop in London, where he eventually traded in the guitar for a Gretsch Country Gentleman in late '62. It waited there a year and a half before it's serendipitous Rolling Stones future.

John Bowen (far right), playing that infamous '59 Les Paul circa '61-62.

As Keith played the 'Burst more and more, it's popularity grew on the London blues/rock scene. Jimmy Page used Keith's new guitar on a recording session in July of '64, as he was a busy session musician in London at the time, and Keith and Mick were honing their craft as songwriters. A version of "Heart of Stone" from these sessions featuring Page and the "Keefburst" can be found on the 1975 Stones compilation album Metamorphosis, and Jimmy went on to purchase several 'Bursts of his own over the years, including a '58 and '59.

Jimmy Page with Keefburst, July '64.

Clapton famously used a 1960 'Burst on the John Mayall Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton recordings of early '66, known widely as the "Beano" album, and the guitar subsequently referred to as the "Beano Burst". That guitar was stolen or left behind by Clapton shortly after the recording, and he is known to have borrowed at least two different 'Bursts during the early days of Cream, including one that looks suspiciously similar to Keith's. It's unconfirmed, but some experts believe it to be the same guitar, as Keith was favoring a Black Beauty by then and looking to sell his original. If true, that would mean the Keefburst may have been used on the Fresh Cream recording sessions, as well as with Cream at the Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival in July of '66.

Eric Clapton, possibly with Keefburst, performing with Cream in the summer of '66.

With Keith looking for a buyer, he eventually found one in the young 17-year-old blues prodigy Mick Taylor. In 1967, Taylor was invited by John Mayall to replace Peter Green in The Bluesbreakers, following in the footsteps, err, fingerprints of Clapton, and he jumped at the great opportunity, having filled in for Clapton once before with Mayall a year prior (and played the Beano Burst before it was lost). As Clapton defined the sound of the Bluesbreakers and British blues in general with his Beano/Marshall amp combination, Peter Green followed suit accordingly with his own 'Burst, a '59 with a reversed and polarity-flipped neck pickup, yielding a haunting, piercing out-of-phase tone in it's middle position, drenched in reverb, taking the blues towards a psychedelic direction and eventually forming the group Fleetwood Mac (articles have been written entirely on Greeny's '59 'Burst, which was later passed along to Gary Moore and currently owned by Kirk Hammett of Metallica, who paid over a million dollars for the instrument).

Back in America, Gibson took note of the newfound popularity of it's discontinued instrument, and in 1968, reissued the Les Paul Standard and Custom models, with none other than Keith Richards as their advertised endorser. Keith was playing black Customs almost exclusively at this time, including one that his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg painted a colorful psychedelic dragon on. The SG design that initially replaced it was very popular and has stayed in production to this day, but the Les Paul became THE rock guitar of the era, thanks in no small part to Keith.

1968 also saw Jeff Beck using a '58 'Burst for his seminal and incredible solo debut Truth, and it was the same year that Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top acquired the infamous Miss Pearly Gates, a '59 model which he was recently offered five million dollars for by a Japanese collector.

As the newest Bluesbreaker, Mick Taylor knew he'd need the right instrument to fit the sound and style Mayall had become known for, and the Keefburst did the trick, recording the great albums Crusade and Blues for Laurel Canyon with the instrument. Circumstances came full circle when Taylor was asked by Mick Jagger to join some recording sessions with the Stones in June of 1969, and then in July, two days after the tragic death of Brian Jones, Taylor made his live debut with the band at London's Hyde Park in front of approximately 250,000 people in what became a tribute to the fallen founding member of the group.

Mick Taylor with the Keefburst (left) at Hyde Park, July '69.
(Also, Keith in the back with a Korina Flying V!)

Mick Taylor played the Keefburst throughout the '69 Stones world tour, even sharing it with Keith for the odd tune now and again. It's featured all over the Sticky Fingers album as well. The guitar then disappeared in '71 under mysterious circumstances; one story claims it was left in a closet at London's Olympic Studios before the Stones fled the country as tax exiles, another says it was stolen at their farewell show at London's Marquee Club, or from the Nellcote villa in France during the recording of Exile On Main St., along with a few other instruments such as Keith's Telecaster. Regardless, the Keefburst would eventually surface in the hands of Cosmo Verrico, guitarist of The Heavy Metal Kids, in the mid-'70s; he claims it was given to him by a "Stones representative" as payback for a guitar of his that was stolen. Cosmo removed the Bigsby and pickup covers (which have since been re-installed), and at some point the Kluson tuners were replaced by Grover machines, possibly by Mick Taylor.

The guitar began changing hands after this, with Cosmo selling it to Bernie Marsden of Whitesnake. who turned it around in a week for $50 profit to collector Mike Jopp, who then held onto it for nearly 20 years (and much greater profit). It was bid up to $340,000 at a Christie's auction in 2004, but did not meet reserve... rumor has it that $600,000 was turned down for it privately around the same time. Most recently, it was purchased by a private collector in Europe in 2006 for a rumored $750,000. Considering the increasing value on the vintage market of such guitars over the past decade, it would easily sell for over a million now.

The Keithburst, in it's aged, faded glory.

So, did Keith Richards unknowingly start the 'Burst craze when he walked into Selmer's Music Shop in 1964? It's fair to say he was the first on the scene with one, and his influence is undeniable. The funny thing is, according to a few first-hand accounts who've seen and played it, that the guitar is rather unremarkable compared to others of it's vintage, likely why it's changed hands so often compared to other instruments of the era, and possibly why Keith wanted to sell it in the first place. It's certainly beautiful looking, but possibly not the most resonant choice of wood, or an off day at the factory for the pickup winder (as opposed to the Greeny 'Burst, which has been described as breathtaking in all regards). It certainly has it's place in rock-and-roll history, though, and that cannot be denied.