Guitarists are a particular breed. From the head to the Humbucker, they know what they want in their instrument, how it should sound, and the way it should feel. Oftentimes, music’s truly great axemen have equally memorable guitars.
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ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons is among them, and for decades, his taste in instruments has been no less than legendary. Here are 4 of the iconic guitars he’s been known to use.
1. Gibson Custom Billy Gibbons “Pearly Gates” Les Paul Standard
Instantly recognizable from its cherry sunburst, a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard, which he named “Pearly Gates,” is an old faithful in Gibbons’ rig. A custom reproduction of the iconic ZZ Top instrument travels with the band now.
[RELATED: 3 Songs You Didn’t Know ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons Wrote for Other Artists]
“Here it is,” Gibbons shared in a video tour of his gear, placing the guitar on full display, “The faithful reproduction of the famous Pearly Gates 1959 Sunburst. Once again, this instrument has got the feel, has got the flavor, has got the finery, and it’s probably the one that is most easily associated with ZZ Top from the early days when Pearly Gates really carved up the cornerstones.”
2. Gretsch Guitars G5810 Bo Diddley Signature Electric Guitar
ZZ Top is known for its fur-covered guitars, which come in two styles: the Gretsch Bo Diddley and the Gibson Explorer. The former is defined by its sharp, rectangular guitar box body that is iconic in itself, but add white fur and it becomes the most eye-grabbing thing on-stage.
“This one has always brought some interesting and amusing attention inspired by [blues legend] Bo Diddley and his famous fur guitar,” the guitarist explained of his Gretsch in the same video tour. “He showed us all the tricks of course. We’re never too far from featuring this on our song ‘Legs.’ It’s got a great sound and sure is comfortable and pillow-like.”
3. Gibson Explorer Electric Guitar
The fur-adorned Gibson Explorer can be seen in the music video for their 1983 hit, “Legs.” Made possible by renowned luthier Dean Zelinsky, the fur guitars were conceptualized by Gibbons on a whim.
“One night, I received a 3 a.m. phone call; it’s Gibbons,” Zelinsky shared in an interview with Guitar World. “At the end of the conversation, he drops the line, ‘I’m sending you some sheepskins I purchased in Scotland, I want you to put them on some guitars.’
“I made a matching pair,” he continued, “painted them white, including the fingerboards, painted the Eliminator logo down the necks, and applied the sheepskins. I cleared a path down the center with an electric horse sheers to accept the pickups, tailpiece, and strings. I remember we were still gluing the fur on the tuning keys when the FedEx driver showed up to pick up the guitars. He waited while we boxed them up; they had to make it to the video shoot the very next day.”
The guitars are impossible to miss in the video below.
4. Gibson Melody Maker Electric Guitar
The ultimate staple in Gibbons’ rig is a Gibson Melody Maker. It’s not just a great guitar, it holds sentimental value to the renowned player as it was the first guitar he owned.
“Here’s a favorite,” he shared of his Melody Maker during his guitar tour. “This is a faithful reproduction of the very first guitar that I ever laid my hands on back on Christmas day when I turned thirteen. I got a Gibson Melody Maker, and on that same day, we took it over to the Axel Custom Shop where Fearless Fred put on these fine pinstripe lines down. This thing is outfitted with Seymour Duncan’s Stack Humbucker, so it’s a little bit different than the original but it sure does play and feel great. This is a good one.”
Check out his backstage rig tour below.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for CMT