Jimmy Page

In our new series, Gibson.com continues to overview the work of some Gibson guitar greats. After we started with the legendary bluesman B.B. King, let's get dazed by Jimmy Page...

Who is he?

Led Zeppelin's Lord of the Strings, of course. Page is a mercurial character. In his first T.V. guitar performance and interview, aged just 14, as part of a British “skiffle” group “James Page” said he planned his career to be in “biological research of germs.” Comedians might argue he achieved that anyway.

But guitar soon became young Jimmy's muse. He worked and hustled hard and soon found himself a sessioneer in London's vibrant 1960s music scene. The late, rotund Big Jim Sullivan was then the go-to guitarist for pop producers. But “Little Jim”, as he became known to differentiate the two, was soon overtaking him.

Some of Page’s earliest sessions were for artists who you may not know. Brian Howard and the Silhouettes (“The Worrying Kind”), Tony Meehan and Jet Harris (“Diamonds,” which actually topped the U.K. charts) and Carter-Lewis and the Southerners (“Your Momma’s Out of Town”) anyone? But Page was versatile. “He was a fast player, he knew his rock’n’roll, and he added to that,” John Carter, of the Southerners, later recalled. “He was also quiet and a bit of an intellectual.”

Page was soon playing for bigger acts, such as P.J. Proby, Donovan, Tom Jones, The Who and The Kinks. But it's an urban myth that his was the fiery soloing on The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” That was The Kinks' own Dave Davies. The sessions paid well, though: it was this era that Page acquired his famous Gibson Les Paul “Black Beauty” Custom.

Growing tired of incessant sessions, Page joined The Yardbirds — first playing bass, then guitar alongside Jeff Beck. The Yardbirds didn't last, but when they split he contacted his sessions compadre John Paul Jones to form The New Yardbirds. With Robert Plant and John Bonham aboard, they started playing an even heavier blues brew than delivered by Keith Relf-era Yardbirds. Page was finally in charge of his own band, at the age of 23.

A change of name was made, to Led Zeppelin. And then... well, we don't need to explain that, do we?

Led Zeppelin Signature Sounds

Many people talk about Page as a heavy rock six-stringer or even a “heavy metal guitarist”, but that's doing him a disservice. True, he's renowned for heavy, snaky riffs such as Led Zeppelin's “Black Dog” and “Immigrant Song”, but he does a lot more.

Perhaps it's his sessions apprenticeship, but Page is something of a magpie. He'll pick up bits from anywhere and make them his own. Zeppelin reworked many Willie Dixon blues tunes then obscure to a rock audience, and Dixon finally ended up with co-writing credits. His use of a violin bow on

the epic “Dazed and Confused” was something he “borrowed” from '60s Brit psych rocker Eddie Phillips of The Creation.

Zeppelin's “Black Mountain Side” is a near-identical copy, in guitar style, of Bert Jansch's “Black Waterside.” But given the song is “traditional” Page can be forgiven — even if he credited it to himself. And like Jansch's folk contemporary Davey Graham, Page was soon experimenting with DADGAD tuning.

In an interview, Jimmy once told me it dated back to him listening to not only a lot of folk but North African and Asian music in the '60s. “Jeff Beck would come round, I'd play him these records and try and educate him,” Page laughed. “I was quite the dandy in those days!”

Page called DADGAD “my CIA tuning: Celtic/Indian/African.” It's most-famously used on Zeppelin's “Kashmir”.

It wasn't just Page's six-string skills that gave Zeppelin their sound. Page is also a masterful producer, using “ambient mic'ing” techniques that many others came to emulate.

Jimmy Page and Gibson Guitars

Page has understandably owned many guitars in a career that spans well over 50 years: in 2005, Page told the BBC he owned “around 1500” guitars. But there are certain ones he'll forever by associated with: two vintage sunburst Gibson Les Pauls and the Gibson EDS-1275 double-neck.

Gibson Les Paul Standard Number 1

Page's “Number 1” Gibson Les Paul Standard was bought in 1969 from Joe Walsh, then of The James Gang. Walsh remembered, “He was looking for a Les Paul and asked if I knew of any, ’cause he couldn’t find one that he liked. And I had two. So I kept the one I liked the most and I flew with the other one. I laid it on him and said, ‘Try this out. He really liked it, so I gave him a really good deal, about 1,200 bucks. I had to hand-carry it; I flew there and everything. So whatever my expenses were, that’s what I charged him. But again, I just thought he should have a Les Paul for godsakes!”

On his part, Page once told Guitar World, “As soon as I played the Les Paul I fell in love.... gorgeous and easy to play. It just seemed like a good touring guitar.

“It's got a really beautiful sustain. I do like sustain. It relates to bowed instruments. Sustain speaks for itself, that's the whole thing. It's the whole are that everyone's been experimenting in, once it became electric, if you think about it — it was mainly sustain."

Jimmy Page #1

Despite its legendary owners, Number 1 is hardly a pristine collector's piece. The neck and headstock were already shaved back when Page acquired it (there is no serial number, but it's reportedly a '59) and had also been refinished.

Various mods were made to the jackplate, the pickguard and pickups (Page later installed a Seymour Duncan humbucker at the bridge) and the tuners changed as well. It also has an added push-pull pot for out-of-phase tones.

Gibson Les Paul Standard Number 2

Bought in 1973, this was used for “Over The Hills And Far Away”, “Moby Dick” and for “Kashmir” with DADGAD tuning, and many other songs. Used for latter-day Zeppelin shows. Page had the neck shaved thinner again to match the feel of Number 1 and, in the '80s, had push-pull pots installed for coil-splitting and two spring-loaded push buttons installed under the pickguard for series/parallel and phase switching.

Jimmy Page

Jimmy Page

Gibson EDS-1275

Page got it around '70/'71. It was custom-ordered (Gibson only built them on a per-order basis) to help him onstage. Famously the “Stairway To Heaven” live guitar - the studio track's overdubs were recorded on various guitars — and it became a JP icon. But he did use the EDS-1275 in the studio for the Coverdale Page album and Page/Plant's Walking Into Clarksdale (“Please Read the Letter”).

Page's original 1960 “Black Beauty” Gibson Les Paul Custom (with Bigsby) was stolen in 1970. In 2007 Gibson Custom built Page a replica. But with a 6-way pickup selector, and coil-tap on the bridge pickup.

Page also owns various Gibson J-200 and Everly Brothers acoustics, a Gibson RD Artist, a Gibson SG (rarely played live), Les Pauls with Transperformance tuning devices (a primitive precursor to Gibson's now G-Force), quite a few red Les Pauls and...

Well, let's just say someone should write a book on Jimmy Page's guitars. If he'd let them.

Essential Listening

Erm, all of Led Zeppelin? If you asked me, there are two particular stand-outs: the mighty Les Paul riffage of II and the eclectic “IV” (Untitled). Page has spent recent years remastering the whole Zep calatog and the albums sound superb. Walking Into Clarksdale, his last writing with Robert Plant, is also great. The 2015 remastered Led Zeppelin Mothership compilation splits opinion for its track-listing — but it's obviously the songs the band wanted as an introduction for newbies. Crucially, Page — now 72 years old — is working on a new album in 2016 and says he will tour.

Watch!

For their final reunion in Celebration Day, Led Zeppelin decided to close (before encores) with “Kashmir”. No guitar solo. But a testament to the epic writing of Bonham/Jones/Page/Plant. Plus, Jimmy resembles a wizard-like sorcerer of sound. Page, Plant and Jones all agree it's one of their greatest songs.

Last words to Jimmy Page himself. “Many people think of me as just a riff guitarist, but I think of myself in broader terms... As a record producer I would like to be remembered as someone who was able to sustain a band of unquestionable individual talent and push it to the forefront during its working career. I think I really captured the best of our output, growth, change and maturity on tape — the multifaceted gem that is Led Zeppelin.”

Learn more at JimmyPage.com.