Iconic guitars of famous guitarists

Famous guitarists often have many guitars – and some even have their own signature guitars made for mass production. However, some guitars are so famous (or infamous) that they have a legacy of their own. 

Here are some famous guitars and the musicians who wield them: 


Prince – ‘Cloud’

A true innovator, Prince played a number of unusual looking guitars, including his “Symbol” guitar. His most iconic instrument was the “Cloud” guitar, which was custom-built for him by a Minneapolis luthier, Dave Rusan, who had owned a guitar shop that Prince frequented as a teen. Prince commissioned a guitar from him for his film Purple Rain, but didn’t give him much to work with for parameters, besides using a bass guitar the musician owned as inspiration. “He said to take the bass as a starting point,” Rusan recalls. “It’s got to be white, it has to have gold parts, he already knew he liked EMG pickups, so it had to have those, he said it had to have spades on the fingerboard. A lot of people think they’re dots, but they’re actually little spades. He wanted one on the truss rod cover.”

Jimmy Page – double-neck Gibson EDS-1275

“Jimmy Page with Robert Plant 2 – Led Zeppelin – 1977” by Jim Summaria, http://www.jimsummariaphoto.com/ is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

The double-neck Gibson EDS-1275 (created in 1963) was no longer in production when Jimmy Page wanted one, according to a 2007 biography – so he had one custom-made in the color cherry. Page popularized the guitar, especially during live performances of “Stairway to Heaven”. He would use the bottom six-string neck for the intro and first verse before switching to the 12-string top neck, and back and forth throughout the song. 


George Harrison – Rickenbacker 12-string

George Harrison got his first Rickenbacker 12-string during The Beatles’ first U.S. tour in 1964. The guitar’s unique sound can be heard on most of A Hard Day’s Night and several other songs, including “Ticket to Ride” and “I Call Your Name”. 

BB King – “Lucille”

The King of Blues famously named all of his guitars – usually Gibson ES-355 or variants – Lucille. King said the name originated in the late 1940s, when he was playing a show in Arkansas. A fight broke out in the venue, causing a fire and forcing King and the crowd to evacuate. King returned to rescue his guitar and found out that the men were fighting over a woman named Lucille. As a reminder not to fight over women or tempt fate by entering any more burning buildings, he named the guitar (and all the subsequent guitars) Lucille. 


Stevie Ray Vaughan –  Fender Stratocaster

Stevie Ray Vaughan nicknamed his favorite guitar, a Fender Stratocaster, “Number One” (also “First Wife”). He originally acquired the guitar at an Austin music store in 1974 and it was featured on almost every recording he did with Double Trouble. In 1992, Vaughan released a signature guitar model based on the guitar called the Stevie Ray Vaughan Stratocaster. 

Eddie Van Halen – “Frankenstrat” 

“Frankenstrat” by Jared W. Smith is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Hoping to get the sound of a classic Gibson guitar with the tremolo bar of a Fender Stratocaster, Van Halen guitarist Eddie Van Halen put his mad scientist cap on to create the “Frankenstrat”. Kramer Guitars – the first company to be endorsed by Van Halen – built a “Frankenstrat” replica, and at that time, Van Halen replaced the original neck with a Kramer Pacer neck. 

Brian May – “Red Special”

“File:Brian-May with red special.jpg” by Eddie Mallin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Queen guitarist Brian May also took a DIY approach with his most iconic instrument. Most of his guitar work, both live and in the studio, is done on a guitar he built with his electronics engineer father at age 16. The guitar, called the “Red Special” was made out of wood from an 18th century fireplace, as well as items like buttons, shelf edging, and motorcycle valve springs.

Slash – Gibson Les Paul

“Slash en Vivo!” by Edvill is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Slash is a prolific guitar collector, but he prefers the Gibson Les Paul – he called it  “the best all-around guitar for me” in a 2008 interview.  His main studio guitar is a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard replica and his main live guitar for many years was a 1988 Gibson Les Paul Standard. Slash has also collaborated with Gibson on 17 signature Les Paul models since 1997, including the Epiphone Slash “AFD” Les Paul Special-II. 


Kurt Cobain – “Jag-Stang” 

Left-handed Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain pitched the idea of a combination Jaguar and Mustang guitar to Fender by taking Polaroid pictures of both guitars and pasting them together. He received two prototypes from the company, one of which he used, and only for a handful of performances. 


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