Legendary Guitar Series: The Culmination
Four of the most legendary guitars in rock history
June 1, 2023 at 1:58:28 PM PDT June 1, 2023 at 1:58:28 PM PDTst, June 1, 2023 at 1:58:28 PM PDT
If you missed our Legendary Guitar Series via email, fret not. We’ve got you covered right here. The following are four of the most legendary guitars in the world; iconic for both who played them and their origin stories. And we’ve compiled not just the list but the stories for you.
The Most Legendary Guitars and the People that played them:
Eddie Van Halen’s Strat: Frankenstrat
Here we have arguably one of the most recognizable and iconic guitars in modern history.
The “Frankenstrat” was Eddie Van Halen’s main guitar from 1977 to 1983, and its striking appearance and explosive tone left a permanent impression on the musical landscape that followed Eddie’s career.
The creation of the Frankenstrat started as an experiment by Eddie to combine the tonality of a Gibson with the functionality of a Fender Stratocaster, and the guitar was constantly improved and modified through the 6 years that it served as Eddie’s primary instrument on the stage and in the studio.
The constant modifications done to the instrument included new paint jobs, pickups, pickguards, necks, and hardware. This mirrored Eddie’s personal quest to push the limits of his tone and creativity; and to truly make the instrument “his guitar”.
The guitar started its journey with Eddie featuring a 5.5 lb Wayne Charvel Natural Ash body with a homemade black pickguard in early 1977, but Eddie quickly repainted the guitar black and installed a mint green guard towards the end of the year. Not entirely satisfied with this combination, Eddie repainted the guitar white, added black pinstripes, and reinstalled the homemade black pickguard with a PAF humbucker (from his Gibson ES-335) installed in the bridge position. This was later replaced by a custom Seymour Duncan PAF clone.
The guitar stayed in this configuration from August of 1977 to February of 1979, then was repainted red with black and white pinstripes the following March. This marked the beginning of the iconic era of the red body with black and white pinstripes that became synonymous with Eddie and his band, Van Halen.
Neck swaps were also a common occurrence for the Frankenstrat. Many necks were installed on the guitar throughout its life, and these included necks from Fender, Grover/Jackson, Lynn Ellsworth, Kramer, Danelectro, Boogie Bodies, and Tom Anderson. While Eddie typically preferred a maple fingerboard for speed, the guitar can be seen with a rosewood board for a brief time. This once again showed Eddie’s consistent and obsessive pursuit of finding the perfect tone married with effortless playability.
Multiple configurations of pickups were also seen in the guitar through the many modifications and upgrades during this era. Eddie preferred the open-cover Dimarzio PAF clone in the bridge position over the custom Seymour Duncan PAF that was originally installed, but upgraded to the uncovered Dimarzio Super Distortion in 1980. There were also several iterations of multiple single coil pickups installed throughout the evolution of the Frankenstrat, but little has been documented concerning the make or models.
Eddie also used a variety of tremolo systems including the 70s Fender “cast” tremolo, but in 1980 ultimately settled on the Floyd Rose FRT-1 for its incredible range of tones and excellent tuning stability. This led to Eddie establishing an ongoing relationship with Floyd Rose, and incorporating their FRT-4 and FRT-5 bridges in the guitar in 1982.
Eddie also added many personal touches to the Frankenstrat including a quarter drilled directly into the body, multiple roadside reflectors, and a mirror attached at one point. These eclectic additions further cemented the guitar’s legendary and jaw dropping aesthetic, and were an expression of Eddie’s love for the guitar and his devotion to it.
With Eddie’s passing in 2020, his son Wolfgang mentioned that the guitar is in retirement and in storage with some of Eddie’s other prized instruments; and replicas of the Frankenstrat can be found on the market from EVH, Charvel, and Fender. The constant changes made to the original Frankenstrat are a deep dive into Eddie’s evolution as an artist and performer; and the guitar has become a timeless relic and representation of his endless pursuit of tone.
Willie Nelson’s Acoustic Guitar: Trigger
Willie Nelson’s “Trigger” has become synonymous with the legendary folk singer, and has been by his side throughout the decades spanning Willie’s career.
Trigger is a vintage Martin N-20 nylon string acoustic, and came into Willie’s possession in 1969 after his main guitar was destroyed. Willie aptly named the guitar after Roy Roger’s horse, and initially desired the guitar to get closer to the tone of his favorite guitarist at the time, Django Reinhardt.
The guitar has survived countless live performances and studio sessions, and Willie has been open about the fact that he won’t perform if Trigger isn’t nestled comfortably in his hands.
Trigger features a solid Sitka Spruce top with Brazilian Rosewood back and sides, and a mahogany neck with an Ebony fretboard. Not only do these ingredients add up to more than the sum of their parts, but give the guitar a mellow tone that has only gotten better with age.
The guitar is covered with various autographs and scars from years of use and abuse, and has a large hole in the top due to Willie’s unique picking technique. Despite Trigger’s condition, it still continues to deliver for Willie night after night, year after year.
This is a testament to the quality tone woods and methods of construction used by Martin Guitars, and is a prime example of how a finely tuned and carefully crafted instrument can deliver a lifetime of creative inspiration. Willie continues to write, record, and perform with Trigger to this day; and the undeniable bond he has established with the guitar can be heard and felt in his music across his storied career.
Jimmy Page’s Double Neck: EDS-1275
The Gibson SG Dual Neck EDS-1275 is a striking and instantly recognizable instrument, and has come to be commonly affiliated with Jimmy Page during the rise of Led Zeppelin in the 1970s.
When recording the timeless classic “Stairway to Heaven”, Page used several guitars in the studio to create the otherworldly tones including a standard 6 string electric, 12 string, and acoustic.
When the band began to prepare to perform the song live, Page found his solution for the multiple textures and tones in the Gibson Dual Neck EDS-1275.
Gibson started their dual-neck line in the 1950s with a hollowbody carved top design, but this was updated in 1961 when Gibson launched the SG line as a fresh take on the original Les Paul. The pointy SG was a lighter instrument, and this made it a perfect fit for a dual-necked guitar.
Page used this iconic guitar to play the acoustic and electric parts of 1971’s “Stairway to Heaven” in concert without needing to swap instruments. The EDS-1275 also served for the six- and twelve-string parts of “The Song Remains the Same”, “The Rain Song,” and “Celebration Day”. The flexibility of the multiple tones and tunings on the fly gave Page exactly what he needed to replicate the epic tones captured on Led Zeppelin’s recordings, and the guitar quickly became a crucial part of Page’s nightly performances.
Page had the guitar modified from its original factory specs by installing coverless Seymour Duncan humbucking pickups on the 6-string side of the guitar, but otherwise kept it stock.
The guitar features a Cherry Red mahogany body with 2 mahogany necks, and has a 24 3/4" scale length. Each neck features split pearloid parallelogram inlays, two 3-way toggle switches, two volume and tone controls, and 2 humbucking pickups per neck.
While the guitar has become synonymous with Page, the EDS-1275 was later adopted by Slash of Guns N’ Roses fame further cementing the design in the halls of rock n’ roll history.
Eric Clapton’s Strat: Blackie
Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” Fender Stratocaster was his main performing and recording guitar throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and has undoubtedly become one of the most iconic Fender guitars in modern history. Blackie’s soaring tones can be heard on some of Clapton’s biggest singles from that era, and the impact that this special instrument had on audiences and guitarists alike is nearly immeasurable to this day.
The guitar was assembled by Clapton’s guitar tech Ted Newman-Jones in 1970 from three different 1950s-era Fender Stratocasters purchased in Nashville, Tennessee at Sho-Bud Guitars; and was first played live by Clapton in January 1973 at London’s Rainbow Theatre.
The 1956 Ash body and 1957 one-piece maple neck yield a sharp and immediate tone that’s beautifully amplified by the 1950s era single coil pickups; and Blackie quickly became Clapton’s number one guitar in the studio in 1975. Clapton used several Stratocasters from 1975-1979, but admitted to always coming back to Blackie as there was just something special about the feel and tone of the guitar.
Clapton tapped Lee Dickson as his new guitar tech in 1979, and had Dickson modify Blackie with a 5-way selector from the standard 3-way switch. This gave Clapton more tonal options with Blackie, and further ignited Clapton’s creativity to shape the sound of his legendary catalog of music. Dickson has remained by Clapton’s side for over 30 years as his guitar tech, and has designed multiple sets of pickups for Mojotone to replicate the sound of Blackie as accurately as possible while remaining true to the original Fender design.
Blackie would go on to define the sound of Clapton’s musical journey for years to come, but was retired after 15 years of intensive recording and performance duties. The guitar was auctioned to support Clapton’s Crossroad’s Center Foundation for nearly one million dollars in 2004 to support drug and alcohol addiction.
This special Stratocaster is a testament to the quality construction and materials used by Fender in the 1950’s era, and the legacy that the guitar speaks through the years of music created by Clapton is undeniable. Clapton has been quoted as saying that Blackie has become a part of him, and that bond can be felt in every note and chord that you hear in his music.
Blackie lives on with Fender’s modern reissue of Clapton’s fabled guitar, and also in Lee Dickson’s stellar pickup designs available through Mojotone.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did collecting the stories. What's your favorite legendary guitar? Do you have your own legend at home?