Guitar Heroes – Guitars and the Legends that Played Them
Guitar legends have an amazing relationship with their guitars. They play, rip, and smash them, but most of all, they’re loved by the guitarists that use them.
When it comes to the guitars most-loved by top guitarists, Gibson, Fender, Martin, Gretsch, Harmony, and Rickenbacker guitars top the list.
Now called Gibson Brands, Inc. with headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, this guitar manufacturer has created several iconic lines. Gibson invented the archtop guitar. They also manufactured the common flat top acoustic guitars and made one of the first hollow-body electric guitars that were available commercially.
One of the world’s most well-known and iconic guitars is the Gibson Les Paul. Duane Allman played a Gibson Les Paul on “Layla” and more. Slash is notorious for playing Guns N Roses hits on a Les Paul. Other guitar legends who favored Gibson include Chet Atkins, BB King, Elvis Presley, and Jimmy Page. Chet Atkins appropriately played a Gibson Country Gentleman. BB King played a Gibson that he affectionately titled, “Lucille”. Elvis Presley rocks a Gibson J-200 Acoustic. And where would “Stairway to Heaven” be without Led Zeppelin’s guitar virtuoso, Jimmy Page, playing the Gibson double-neck?
Though commonly referred to as Fender, the manufacturer’s full name is Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC). Founded in California in 1946 and currently headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, Fender manufactures stringed instruments and amplifiers. They are best known, however, for their guitars. Along with Gibson, they are among the most well-recognized in the world.
Fender is famous for the Stratocaster, Telecaster, Precision Bass, and Jazz Bass solid-body electric and bass guitars. Oftentimes, these iconic guitars are referred to by their nicknames Strat, Tele, P-Bass, and J-Bass. Notable guitar legends who favored Fender include Jimi Hendrix, Bonnie Raitt, and Bruce Springsteen. Jimi Hendrix played a flipped over Fender Strat and made noises previously unheard of. Bonnie Raitt played a blue Fender Strat. Bruce Springsteen played a Fender Tele.
C.F. Martin & Company was founded in New York City in 1833 by Christian Frederick Martin. In 1839, the company moved to its current headquarters in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Commonly referred to as simply Martin, this company is most well-known for their steel-string and flat top guitars.
A few notable guitar legends who loved Martin guitars are Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. Willie Nelson had his one-of-a-kind Martin N-20 that he named “Trigger”. Johnny Cash, the Man in Black, played a black Martin D-35.
Gretsch was founded in 1883 by Friedrich Gretsch in Brooklyn, New York. Until Friedrich’s death in 1895, Gretsch manufactured banjos, tambourines, and drums. When his son, Fred Gretsch Sr., took over, he moved to a larger facility in 1916 where Gretsch went on to join the ranks of prominent American musical instrument manufacturers. Now, Gretsch is headquartered in Savannah, Georgia and known for manufacturing guitars, basses, and drums.
Most of this brand’s modern-era guitars are manufactured in the Far East, but there are “Custom Shop” American-made models available. Since 2002, Fender handles most of the sales, distribution, and development of Gretsch guitars while the Gretsch family retains ownership. Notable ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons is one of the notable guitar legends who favored Gretsch. He’s known for playing a funky, yet bluesy, Gretsch Jupiter Thunderbird.
The Harmony Company was founded by Wilhelm Schultz in 1892. When the company peaked during the mid-60s, they were the largest American musical instrument manufacturer known for their ukeleles, acoustic and electric guitars, and violins. They’ve been through several upheavals, trades, and transfers throughout the years before closing and selling the Harmony name in 1975. BandLab Technologies relaunched the brand in 2017, accompanied by a new series of electric guitars and amp equipment. George Jones is a notable guitar legend who favored Harmony. His favorite was an acoustic, the Harmony Melody Ranch.
Rickenbacker International Corporation, often just referred to as Rickenbacker, was founded in 1931 by Adolph Rickenbacher and George Beauchamp. Headquartered in Santa Ana, California, Rickenbacker is classified as an electric string instrument manufacturer. They became the world’s first instrument manufacturer to produce electric guitars in 1932. From there, their lines grew to include a range of electric and bass guitars. Notable guitar legend George Harrison of the The Beatles favored Rickenbacker and is known for playing a cool-looking and sounding Rickenbacker 360.
Check out what kind of guitar these music legends played, along with the styles that made them famous, with our infographic below. And comment below with your favorite guitar.