Much has been debated about who are the world’s greatest guitarists. But what about the instruments that helped create the magic? From acoustic to bass, guitars have defined the sound for several solo artists and bands, prompted heads to bang along in rhythm, and are the reason behind scores of albums selling millions of copies. Some guitars in particular have their own colorful histories and are just as famous as the musicians who played them.
B.B. King’s beloved Lucille received so much attention that anyone who didn’t know better could easily mistake Lucille for an actual woman. It was, of course, the nickname the blues legend gave his Gibson guitars. In 1949, while playing one night at a dance hall in Twist, Arkansas, a fight broke out which resulted in a barrel of kerosene getting knocked over and flames began to spread. King went inside to retrieve his $30 Gibson guitar. After learning the fight was over a female named Lucille, King named the guitar (and every guitar he subsequently owned), after this woman whom he had never met. It was a reminder to never again run into a burning building or fight over a woman.
Named after Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger, Willie Nelson favored the Martin N-20 nylon-string classical guitar over other guitars he’d tested earlier in his career. Concerned that Trigger might be auctioned off during his 1991 IRS woes, the country music singer-songwriter once said, “When Trigger goes, I’ll quit.” Nelson reportedly asked his daughter to remove the guitar from the studio before any IRS agents arrived and bring it to him in Maui. His attorney then hid Trigger at his home until Nelson’s debt was paid in 1993.
The backstory behind rock icon Jimi Hendrix’s Black Widow is a strange tale of an allegedly stolen piece of property that later became the center of a custody battle. According to court documents filed in 2015, the company that runs the Hendrix estate sued a music store owner in Arizona for the instrument once owned by Hendrix. The store owner says he bought the guitar in 2014 from Sheldon Reynolds, the ex-husband of Hendrix’s adopted sister, Jamie. She claims it was one of the few guitars that came home after Jimi passed away and they wanted it returned safely back where it belongs. According to guitarist Harvey Gerst, Hendrix regularly used the Black Widow in the studio.
Long before the rock band Queen ever formed and while he was still a young lad, Brian May and his dad built a guitar due to money being tight. Completed in 1965, it took two years to build. The British rocker says he still uses the guitar 90% of the time.
1956 Martin D-28
In 1966, Joni Mitchell acquired a 1956 Martin D-28 from a Marine captain who was serving in Vietnam. One day, the tent where the captain kept two guitars was hit by shrapnel. Mitchell wondered if the explosion did something to the modules in the wood since she believed the Martin to be her best guitar ever. Unfortunately, the guitar was eventually damaged by an airline carrier and later stolen from a luggage carousel.
Influential guitarist Eddie Van Halen created a “monster” of guitar aptly named Frankenstrat, also known as “Frankie.” The late rocker combined the sound of a classic Gibson guitar with the physical attributes and tremolo bar functionality of a Fender Stratocaster. A copy of the Frankenstrat is housed at the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution.
Photo: B.B. King, 2009 (Tom Beetz via Wikimedia Commons)