Keith Richards and the Fender Telecaster
Iconic Rock Star, Keith Richards
Keith Richards is kind of a big deal. He's one of the wealthiest and most easily recognized musicians in the entire world. Along with fellow glimmer twin, Mick Jagger, and then persons such as Sir Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr, one of the single biggest living icons of an entire generation.
Keith Richards isn't just one of the world's wealthiest guitarists, he's one of the wealthiest musicians in world history. How much money does Keith have? He's worth an estimated three hundred and forty million dollars.
Regarding him as merely a guitarist is selling him short. He's half of one of the greatest songwriting duos in world history. He's a sometimes singer, actor, and writer. Keith Richards is more than all of those things still, as he's an absolute icon of surviving decades of substance abuse. Many a good man and woman have fallen, and yet Keith still walks among us.
Regardless of everything else Keith Richards is, he's an absolute guitar hero just the same. Rolling Stone once stated that Richards had produced rock music's single greatest body of riffs. In 2011, that same magazine ranked him fourth on its list of the one hundred greatest guitarists. Again, the magazine with the name mirroring Richard's band, they ranked fourteen of the songs he's penned with Mick Jagger in the top five hundred greatest rock and roll songs.
To date, the Rolling Stones have sold over two hundred and forty million records. Keith Richards also has a solo career, and he's been a professional musician since 1962. Clearly, a guy like Keith owns as many guitars as he ever wants to own, and he's played many many models on records and on stage over the years. He favors the Fender Telecaster above all other models.
How much does Keith Richards love Fender guitars? Well, when the Rolling Stones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, the very first thing Keith said when he took over the microphone from Mick Jagger was, 'I'd like to thank Leo Fender.'
Micawber the Telecaster
Micawber is the name Keith Richards has given to his number one guitar. This is the one guitar, out of his very large collection, he says he simply can not do without. Keith is one of the most famous musicians in this world, and so he is clearly one of the single most famous guitarists in this world, and thus; Micawber is one of the world's single most famous guitars.
A voracious reader, something which Richard's image doesn't especially project, the guitar got the name from a Charles Dickens character. Keith says the name is such that, as no one and nothing else around him shares it, when he says 'Micawber,' or 'somebody go get me Micawber!' There's no confusion as to what he's talking about. When Keith calls for Micawber, go fetch his number one guitar, the blond blackguard Telecaster, and pronto.
When you've written countless songs with one guitar, and then played them on countless stages across the world, also with that guitar, such a individual specimen of Telecaster could and has taken on special properties. Hardcore guitar fans, or especially adoring Rolling Stones fans, such persons could nearly faint were they within a few feet of it. Such instruments are thought to have mojo the likes of which common objects are incapable of sharing. Micawber is a bit like a sword in the stone, and only the once and future king can have it.
Even the origins of Micawber are special. The guitar was given to Keith as a gift from another man who's a bit familiar with Fender guitars, a guy named Eric Clapton. Keith Richards is an extremely distinct individual. He's not someone who you'd lose in a crowd of persons, and so, Micawber has been heavily modified to fit Keith's ideals.
This is nothing like a stock Telecaster, and it hasn't been for a long, long time. I remember being much younger, and reading about this guitar I'm now writing about, and being a bit shocked to find out Keith keeps it as a five string guitar. Oh Keith has plenty of guitars which have the normal six strings, but Micawber, his numero uno guitar, is a five string guitar now.
Now, if you're a person like me, when Eric Clapton gives you a Telecaster, you're probably not going to change a thing. By 'person like me,' however, what we mean is a person who's not one of Eric Clapton's actual peers. Micawber is a 1953 Telecaster. The guitar would be extremely valuable regardless of who gave it to you.
Keith Richards had a lot of work done to the guitar, and for a period of time its exact specifications would be in a state of flux. In other words, one day it might be configured with electronics and hardware differently from the previous day. After a while though, Keith apparently became very pleased with his Micawber, and the guitar's parts have since been a settled affair.
The big E string has been removed, and the guitar is set in an open G tuning, and so if you strum the five strings without fretting any of them, you get a nice G chord.
Neither of Micawber's pickups are the ones which came on it. Keith had a Gibson PAF humbucker installed at the neck, and the purpose of this was to allow for the guitar to have some of the beefier tones Gibson electrics have, and also some of the classic Fender tones. The bridge pickup is still a Fender pickup, it just isn't a Fender Telecaster pickup, instead it is a Fender lap-steel pickup.
Most people notice Micawber's humbucker right away, and they know such an old school, or blackguard Tele didn't come with that pickup. But take a closer look at Micawber, and you notice that bridge is definitely not what Fender was using in the 1950s. That's a much more modern style bridge, with individual saddles instead of the brass barrel ones, and the bridge is also of solid brass.
Also long gone are the original Fender tuners, or machine heads. They've been replaced with Sperzel ones which Keith's guitar tech, Alan Rogan, feels are superior.
A Telecaster Named Malcolm
How much does Keith Richards love that Telecaster Clapton gave to him? He loves it so much his second favorite guitar is almost exactly like Micawber in every possible way. Malcolm is one year younger than Micawber, and so Malcolm is a 1954 Fender Telecaster. Every modification done to Micawber has also been done to Malcolm. When you realize this, you also have to realize Keith Richards is a guy who, more often than not, is playing a guitar with just five strings, and those tuned to an open G tuning.
If you look at several photos of Micawber and then at photos of Malcolm, you can tell them apart pretty quickly, as Malcolm has considerably less wear. Especially noticeable is Malcolm has a lot more of the natural finish left on the body whereas Micawber has been sweated on so very much, almost all of the finish is now gone.The grain pattern on the body of Malcolm is also very distinct.
Why would Keith need two Telecasters which are near to identical? Keith can afford whatever he likes, and by golly, he's earned it all, but in practical matters such as entertaining gigantic audiences, sometimes you break a string on stage, and this could even happen in the middle of a song. Keith is paying a man to be on top of such situations, and to be there with a replacement guitar to plug in and hand to him in an instant.
A Telecaster Named Sonny
Yes, here we are again with another Telecaster set up for five string play in the key of open G. This guitar is of 1967 make, and has the sunburst finish which gives it the name Keith calls it, but for whatever reason, his spelling is Sonny, and not Sunny.
Were I given the opportunity, I'd do anything but talk to Keith about how to spell the names he gives to his Telecasters. Were I given the opportunity, I'd probably just stutter a lot. Not getting much said.
They say variety is the spice of life. This guitar offers a different visual flavor with its dark sunburst finish, and the cover is off of the neck PAF pickup, and so you can see the bobbins.
You can tell Keith really loves a maple fingerboard on his Teles, and the maple boards are thought to provide a brighter tone than a rosewood board. Myself, I really love seeing the wear on maple fingerboards. The discoloration of them from constant play just screams out about the countless hours of play.
You also notice Richards is always keeping a single coil pickup in the bridge position. The bridge single coil on a Tele is where all the twang the Tele is known for comes from.
The Telecaster is a Darn Good Club
I should advise the reader here that guitars are for playing, and not for assaulting persons with. On the other hand, I should also advise that were you on stage, and some lunatic comes charging at you, and you've got a Telecaster in hand, hey, you have to protect yourself from getting hurt. Men have an instinctual thing for being protectors, and in the case of Keith Richards, it has been shown to be just so.
Keith famously bashed a person with one of his Teles. He felt he had to do so, as the security people were several steps behind the crazed man, who'd charged up onto the stage. It's an event captured for all posterity, and easily found over on Youtube. Keith missed a few notes of the song being played for whopping the rapscallion, but the Telecaster stayed perfectly in tune.
The man Keith smacked with a Tele was arrested. Keith Richards literally bailed the man out of jail afterwards. Who does that kind of thing? Only Keith Richards.
What was the Telecaster Keith famously clubbed a weirdo with? It was his 1975 Fender Telecaster Custom. A very different Tele from the previously mentioned ones, and this Tele, for a while, even became more favored than Micawber. Keith used it on the Rolling Stones 1975 tour of the Americas, and it became his most used guitar for recording and performing until the mid 1980s, when he remembered his previous love of Micawber, Malcolm, and Sonny.
Fender Classic Series '72 Telecaster Custom
So the Telecaster was a hit from the start, it was the hammer of the honky tonk gods. Almost everyone loved the thing, and most especially, they loved the fabulous twang you get from the bridge position pickup. Persons who were more into rock and blues instead of country often felt like their Tele could be improved were they to have a Gibson style humbucker in the neck position.
Keith Richards was obviously just that sort of person. The Rolling Stones absolutely play a lot of music which, were they not from England, would be called country music; and they are also quite the rock and roll band. They were all famous a decade before I was born.
A lot of people truly get off on buying guitars, and then changing out parts to personalize the instrument. Myself, I've done some pickup changing on electric guitars, but I really don't want to go through all the trouble. I'd much prefer to get a guitar and leave it exactly how I bought it, other than to change out the strings.
I especially don't want to have wood routed out of a guitar to transition from a single coil pickup to a humbucker. There's just no reason to do that in the here and now, and so, if you want to set up a Tele to get your classic Keith Richards style groove on, I think it the best possible thing to get a Telecaster which already has a humbucker in the neck position.
If you decided you have to have a Gibson humbucker, as much like an original PAF as possible, like Keith uses, then Burstbucker and '57 Classic pups are widely available to you, literally all over the world; and if you decide you want something different from the stock Tele single coil in this model, it's another easy thing to choose from a wide array of options, and have one installed.
This is an eight hundred and twenty four dollar guitar, at present, and a fantastic amount of value is present straight out of the box. The one caveat I've to mention here is this: The fingerboards on this guitar, and the boards on Keith's guitars, these are a very old school style.
The fingerboard radius is much less flat than what Fender's most modern guitars use, and they are absolutely less flat than just about any Gibson you could ever find, and so they are far and away rounder than the shred style player's fingerboards. The rounder boards, like what Keith Richards prefers, are thought to facilitate chordal playing, and isn't Richards one of the chordal riff masters of all time?
Richards is also a fine blues rock guitar soloist, and this same fingerboard radius was used by Jimi Hendrix at the Monterrey Pop Festival, and so, while sweep picking would be easier on a flatter fingerboard, there's no reason a fine soloist wouldn't love this guitar.
Fender Classic Series '72 Telecaster Custom Solidbody Electric Guitar Features:
- Alder body with iconic oversized Tele Custom pickguard
- Comfortable C-shape maple neck plays like a dream
- 7.25"-radius maple fingerboard with 21 vintage-style frets for an old-school feel
- Fender Tele single-coil pickup (bridge position) gives you biting, chiming Tele twang tone
- Fender "Wide-Range" humbucker (neck position) gives you rich, warm rhythm tones
- Deluxe Fender gig bag included
Young Keith Richards
Keith Richards was born in Dartford, Kent, England smack in the middle of the second world war. He's a 1943 model human, and the German Blitz was so hot in his hometown, the family moved for the purposes of safety. The move proved extremely wise, as the family home was, in fact, destroyed by bomb. The next year his father would be wounded in the invasion of Normandy.
His father's family were a very political bunch, but Keith's mother's parents were particularly musically inclined. The great story is his grandfather had a guitar up on a shelf, and Keith was always wanting to get his hands on it. He was told that when he could reach it, then he could have it. His maternal grandfather had been a touring jazz musician, and he had Keith listening to Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington. Later on Keith would idolize the guitarist for Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore.
For a few of his childhood years, Keith would live next door to Mick Jagger, then his family moved again. As a teen who was very into the music of Chuck Berry, Keith would be expelled from school, and enroll in another. He'd run into Mick Jagger on a train, they'd realize they now shared very similar interests, and therein lay the foundation of the Rolling Stones.
Bad Boy Keith Richards
It is important to remember the Rolling Stones were purposefully swayed by their management team, as a matter of public relations and for the purposes of sales, to become something like the anit-Beatles. The situation in the United Kingdom was that everyone thought of the Beatles as wonderful boys. The Stones had to have something different going for them, and so the path chosen for them was that of opposition.
Oh the use of illegal substances was very real, and in fact, the Beatles were all doing the exact same things. On February 12, 1967 both Jagger and Richards were arrested at Keith's home in Sussex. The United Kingdom then, as today, and just as we see here in the US, had a rabid dog mass media apparatus. The entire problem stemmed from the press, and in this case, it was a publication called The News of the World.
Think of it as something as vile as today's Buzzfeed, which seems to exist only for the purpose of slander, but in these times, the press was what you'd think of as extremely right wing. This hit squad news organization called the police for hearing a rumor of a drug fueled party at Richards place. The police knew George Harrison and his wife were there, and so they waited for the Beatle to leave before raiding the house.
Ten years later, in Toronto, Canada, Keith would have another very serious brush with law enforcement, and this time it would involve a very serious possession of heroin bust. He'd live in constant fear of criminal prosecution, but would also enter treatment for his addiction problem.
Part of Keith's issues with being so associated with illegal substance use is of his own making. He'd forever talk so candidly about it all. It's just the truth that Richards talks candidly about whatever it is he's talking about at the time. In recent years he's stated he no longer even drinks alcohol.
Keith Richards, Guitarist and Bandleader, Legend
What can we say about Keith Richards as a guitarist? Well, the Rolling Stones have always been a two guitar band, and only Keith has been there the entire time. He is also the absolute leader of the band. Even the drummer follows Keith, not the other way around.
Over the years he's played with three different Stones guitarist, Brian Jones, who was one of the founding members, and who went off the deep end with fame, money, and drugs, eventually dying of an overdose, and drowning in a swimming pool. Jones had been a fine guitarist, and he especially was noteworthy for playing fine slide guitar.
Brian Jones was replaced by Mick Taylor, and with Mick Taylor you had a true virtuoso. Oh Taylor was so very talented a guitarist there's not a lot of persons you could compare him to. He's the equal of persons like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, or any of the other greats. So great was his ability as a soloist, that while Mick Taylor was with the Rolling Stones, Richards stopped playing leads altogether, and only created his always memorable riffs, and played rhythm behind Taylor.
In 1975 Mick Taylor was replaced with Ron Wood, and this marked the return for Keith to what he liked the best, playing both leads and rhythm guitar, and trading back and forth with Wood in the way he used to do with Brian Jones. Richards has never had anything but praise for Mick Taylor, and Ron Wood, but considers Wood one of the greatest friends he's ever had.
Keith Richards, as has already been discussed, does an awful lot of playing in open G, with just five strings. The open G tuning is not the only alternate tuning which he uses, it is merely the most common one. He also frequently plays in the grand old standard tuning with all six strings, and Keith considers the acoustic guitar as more important than the electric guitar.
Keith Richards is a very unpretentious guitarist, and an unpretentious man. All of this despite him being worth more than a quarter of a billion dollars. He's an avid reader of history, his favorite meal is shepherd's pie, and he's also an author and an actor, a father and a husband. He famously stated he'd like to die magnificently on stage. Above all, Keith Richards is happy. Lets wish him all the best. Thanks for reading.
© 2019 Wesman Todd Shaw