The world's greatest Guitar
Hmmm I wonder which one that would be
That's almost like asking, 'how long's a piece of string?'
Let's see now. When it comes to musical instruments, the top players often have their favourites.
Satriani and Vai use Ibanez guitars, Billy Gibbons uses a 1959 Gibson, Mark Knopfler, Gary Moore and countless others use Fender Telecasters and Stratocasters. Brian May used one his he and his dad made and Led Zep's Jimmy Page used Gibsons and Fenders - remember the double neck Gibson SG?
Then there's Dave Gilmour, Jeff Beck, Joe Walsh, BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, Albert Collins, Rory Galagher...
Need I go on?
But wait. I've mentioned some guitars though mainly, it's been the nuts loose behind those axes and here's where the problem lies.
Each of those people mentioned above are masters of their guitars. Each of them has a favourite, but the tonal quality of each guitar is different, so it's highly likely that each guitarist will pick up a different guitar depending upon what he or she is playing.
We haven't even mentioned the arrays of electronic wizz-wangery many of those guitarists will have at their feet to change the sound, add chorus, flange, echo and oh God my head hurts.
That's before we even start on classical and acoustic varieties.
So which is best?
"...it was a Stratocaster with a whammy bar... " Frank Zappa - Joe's Garage.
There's no doubt that Fender make some of the best guitars in the world.
That's much is pretty obvious considering the popularity of them.
The two mainstays with the electric variety have to be the Stratocaster and the Telecaster.
There are many, many guitarists who use these guitars.
Who can forget the sound Mark Knopfler got from his Strat in songs like Sultans of Swing, Romeo and Juliet or Money For Nothing? Then there's Jimmy Page who used them a lot in the Led Zeppelin repertoire.
Jeff Beck is almost exclusive Strat player as is 'Slow hand' himself, Eric Clapton.
The most appealing thing I think about these guitars is the cross phasing with the pick-ups. I think for me, Knopfler was the best exponent of this although as players, I guess Hank Marvin also did, but I don't think he stands up against the later players.
Joe Walsh plays a mean Strat too, but uses a fair amount of distortion as does Gary Moore and the subtleties of the pick-up's harmonics and phasing, doesn't seem to come through.
In the seventies when I was just learning to play guitars, the biggest beef between Fender and Gibson users, was the fact that the Les Pauls - for those who could afford one, didn't seem to be able to stay in tune and besides, the Fender had a tremolo arm or 'whammy bar'.
Both Prince and Zappa seemed to favour the Telecaster. With just two pick-ups, this seemed to have a much more 'trebly', raw sound that both guitarists favoured.
Frank was much more a purist and I'm afraid that as good as Prince is or was, his penchant for the absurd in his guitars made him look ridiculous.
Other exponents of the Telecaster were Steve Cropper - he of Blues Brothers fame - who used one for many soul acts he played on, as did Jimmy Page, most notably on Stairway To Heaven for the solo. That particular guitar was given to Page by Jeff Beck and was also known as the Dragon Telecaster, painted by Page himself.
In addition to those above, Bruce Springsteen, Keith Richards, Joe Strummer, Albert Lee - AKA Mr. Telecaster and Andy Summers of the Police used this famous Fender model.
Shown (right) the Les Paul and the Flying V.
These guitars are seen everywhere and whilst some of the people listed above for their use of Fenders, most should also be listed down here for using the Gibsons.
Of course, there are those who find that the Gibsons are the only guitars they want to or need to play, although that's rare.
Slash for instance, plays a selection of Les Paul's and as well as their Fenders, Jimmy Page uses Gibsons. In the closing ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing, he played Whole Lotta Love on a Les Paul.
Gary Moore, who was featured in the Stratpack Concert plays Gibsonsas well, as does Alex Lifeson from Rush and Angus Young from AC/DC. He plays a Gibson SG, similar to Pete Townsend.
Now we start on the Japanese manufacturers.
Ibanez owned by the Hoshino Gakki company were apparently the first of the oriental companies to gain a foothold in the US and Europe and their guitars are almost exclusively used by Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.
Along with the guitars, the Horisho Gakki company also manufacture the effects pedals and their Tube Screamer is reputed to be the nearest thing to an overdriven tube amp.
What do motorcycle valve springs, a knitting needle end and a fireplace have in common?
Still no idea?
Well it's to do with a hand made guitar.
I'm sure that there are many of these out there, but it's doubtful that any are as famous as this one.
This is the Red Special as designed and made by Brian May and his father.
It was started in 1963 when Brian was sixteen and has gone on to win Brian's fans over time and time again.
There are a lot of things this guitar has that many others... no scratch that, this guitar is unique.
It was made from an old oak fireplace surround that friends were throwing out. Its tremolo arm was made from valve springs from an old motorbike and the end of the arm was made from a knitting needle end.
There are many things that Brian did to this that no other guitar has and that's what has made this so identifiable as soon as he starts playing it.
So which is it?
I have again spent a long time stating that out of the manufacturers out there, in my opinion there are three main makes that currently stand out.
Fender, Ibanez and Gibsons all have their place in the realms of the greats, with most musicians playing one or another of them, but for me, there can only be one truly great guitar.
All of the above are in some way tweaked. You only have to go on the various websites to know that many of the guitars sold as standard from Les Pauls to Strats, have been, shall we say... tinkered with?
John Entwhistle for instance, played a Gibson bass with a Fender Precision neck.
The Jimmy Page signature model Les Paul, has extra switches and a shaved neck.
Many of the musicians who play guitars have altered them in one way or another. Whether it's to change the sound or just the appearance, doesn't matter, they have ceased to be what they were to begin with.
I myself own a 1960's Watkins Rapier guitar that I have upgraded and generally refurbished until it no longer looks like a rapier at all.
But is it a truly great guitar?
Are any of them?
Well, to my mind, one is.
The Red Special
The world's best guitar
Arguably it's the most unique-sounding guitar and as a hand-built model from the ground up, it for me, represents the greatest achievement in musical history.
Sure, there are great manufacturers out there; great makers too and they are often makers who can command thousands for their instruments. Like Gibson's remake of the Billy Gibbons 1959 'Pearly Gates' model which is set to retail at $15,295 - which is about £9,343.
At the end of the day, a good guitar it may be - I certainly wouldn't turn one down, but it's just another Les Paul. The Red Special is truly a one-off.
However much it's copied, it's doubtful that the repro's will have the warmth and tonal qualities that the original has and anyway, even if you did own the most expensive guitar in the world, if you can't play worth shit, what have you got?
A very expensive paperweight.
Thankfully, this one is definitely in the hands of a virtuoso.
Take it away, Brian.
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