Did you ever dream about what your guitar collection would be if you could just get that hit record… and the big bag of money to follow? We all know that scene in The Kids are Alright, where John Entwistle descends the stairs of his mansion, surrounded by outrageous and vintage axes. It’s a musician’s dream.

Well, one guy definitely living the dream is Aaron Lewis, the singer-guitarist-songwriter from Staind. In between touring (both with Staind and solo), recording and, heck, a personal life, Lewis also maintains one of the best guitar collections anywhere.

In this exclusive interview, Lewis walks us guitar-by-guitar through his favorite Gibsons.

What was your very first guitar?

My very first Gibson actually isn’t even in the pictures; it wasn’t worthy of having a picture taken of it. It’s a 1957 LG-0, which would have been the student guitar back in that time frame, and it’s not a great guitar. It wasn’t really made to be a great guitar. It was kind of one of those guitars that were made for kids to figure out if they wanted to play or not and learn how to play on it and then get a good guitar. 

Well, sometimes the sentiment of the guitar is as important.

Sure.

Do you still have it?

Yeah, it’s the one that just sits behind my couch in the house, and that’s usually the one I grab and start messing around with if I have an idea. 

When did you start collecting, seriously collecting?

Not until Staind had blown up and I had the money to do so. 

Which of these Gibsons we’re going to talk about is your most prized? Or to put it another way: if there’s a fire, which one do you run in and grab?

Man, I’d be full-handed. I would probably get stuck in the fire and burn trying to get too many of them out at once. But I would have to say that, out of the Gibsons, the first one that I would run in and grab would be my 1958 ES-335 that they only made 10 of. 

Yeah, I noticed that when we saw the laundry list. I noticed that one right away. 

And then, the next one I would run in after would be my 1957 Gold Top, that was Jimmy Ripp’s guitar before I bought it, and he used it live on pretty much all of the Mick Jagger solo touring. The guitar has been on, like, 45 different records over the years, recording-wise. I think the last record it was on before I acquired it was the last Jerry Lee Lewis record. I have had a lot of people play that guitar through clean amps, through dirty amps, and everything in between, and the response from just about everyone is that is the best-sounding Les Paul they have ever heard. It’s just a beast when you put it through distortion and, man, if you plug it into an old Vox AC30 or an old Fender, the clean tone that you get out of it is ridiculous.

When Gibson started cranking out Aaron Lewis guitars, how did it feel?

Pretty crazy, right? I’m very lucky and I’m very blessed to have had a long enough and a prosperous enough career to even be considered for such a thing.

All right, let’s get to the guitars. Number one on the list is the Gary Rossington Les Paul.

Yes, that’s a good one. I drove, like, four hours in New Hampshire to get that guitar and I plugged it in and strummed one chord on it, unplugged it, put it back in the case, and walked out of the store with it. There’s something about those old Gary Rossington reissues that — I don’t know if they wired things differently, I don’t know what’s different — but man, that is one fabulous sounding batch of guitars. 

 

1958 ES-335 (Mono)

Well, they made ten of those guitars from, I think, late September, early October until the end of December. This one is even more special than there only being 10 of them in the fact that it’s wired mono. It’s wired that way straight from the factory and there’s not a crack in the guitar – there is not a shoulder joint cut, the covers have never been off the pickups, and it honestly gives any Les Paul I have a run for its money as far as heaviness goes. And then you get that beautiful hollowbody tone when you play it through a real clean set-up. That thing is extremely special. 

 

1959 Les Paul Junior

That was a friend of mine’s father’s guitar and he was in a band back in the day. There’s no lineage to it as far as a famous band or anything, but that thing has had the tar played out of it, for sure.

 

1967 ES-334

That was one of the first guitars I picked up. I picked that up from my friends at the Chicago Music Exchange and it was at that point — because you go through phases and stages — and it was kind of at that point where I was comfortable starting to spend a little bit more money on the guitars I was picking up. The price was right for what it was and my boy took good care of me, so I picked that one up. It’s a great sounding guitar, too.

 

1974 20th Anniversary Les Paul (Alpine White), 1974 20th Anniversary Les Paul (Black)

It was Alpine White and it is now a very creamy banana color. I just really like those guitars. There is something about those 20th Anniversaries. If I’m not mistaken, that was what Randy Rhoads played, as well. They are just good, heavy… they’re like a boat anchor around your neck. They’re both 12 pounds and maybe a little more than that, and I think the black one is even a little bit heavier than the white one. 

 

1957 Les Paul Gold Top (Owned by Jimmy Ripp)

Unfortunately, it was one of the last ’57s that came through with P-90 pickups in it. Someone way back along the way routed it out for humbuckers, but the route out is so old that the black light does not glow any differently underneath the pickups. So there are 1959 PAFs in it and it’s been on, like, 45 different records and played out live with some very famous people. Since then, it’s been my main guitar that I use on stage and I have used it in the studio since I’ve owned it. It is definitely one of my go-tos.

 

So you don’t mind taking vintage stuff on the road?

It’s all out there: my ’65 SG, that ’57 Gold Top, ’58 335, the 20th Anniversaries, both of them. I mean, they are all out there. Why would I do that? Why would I leave the best-sounding guitars home to go out to play live to people. 

When you see footage of the guy tackling Slash and wrecking that guitar, does that make you think twice?

Let me tell you something, if somebody comes up onto the stage in my world, in my space, and tackles me, they’re gonna wish they hadn’t. I would handle the situation as it came, but I would definitely end it much quicker than it started.

 

1968 Les Paul Gold Top

That was one of those that I picked up kind of early in that stage [when] I spent a little more money on [guitars]. And that, again, was a ’68 Gold Top that got routed out for humbuckers and I threw ’59 PAFs in it, and it is a beast.

 

1966 Gibson SG

I picked that up in the same batch as the ES-334, from the same gentleman, and you plug that into a Marshall and it’s Angus Young. My guitar tech, when I’m out with Staind, likes to name the guitars so it makes it easier for him to know which one he is grabbing. With there being little light on stage, they all have these little labels on the side of the headstock with the name on them, and the name of this guitar is Angus. You plug it in and it sounds like Angus Young.

 

2001 Les Paul Acoustic

That Les Paul acoustic I have been playing on stage since I’ve owed it. It came very gaudy, very cherry sunburst, so I stripped it and made it a natural finish. Every band that we go out on tour with, every single guitar player, asks me what it is, where I got it. They have never seen it before. Gibson made it for one year. 

 

2001 Jimmy Page Les Paul

Ah, the correct reissue. This was the one that the first 150 were Murphy-aged and it is #179. It was not Murphy-aged, but having it out on the road for as much as I have, you might think that it was.

 

Red, White and Blue Les Paul Custom

It’s not one of the 9/11 special ones, but I do believe they did those runs all around the same time. They did the special 9/11 that had the all-blue back and neck and the back of the headstock was blue, as well. That was a very limited run. I think they only made 11 of them. But I think they made a regular run, as well, right around that time frame. 

 

1955 Les Paul Gold Top

That was the first big-dollar purchase that I made, the first truly collectable guitar that I purchased. I got that straight from Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, and I got lucky on that one. It hadn’t even hit the showroom floor yet. It had just come in. It is the quintessential, wrap-around tail piece, early ’50s Gold Top sound.

 

1976 Firebird

It’s a good Firebird. Those ’76 limited editions were good Firebirds. The Explorers that came out in ’76 with the black wax pickups on the back are quite good, too, and one of the few I haven't picked up yet. 

 

1950 J-45 (with Five-ply Binding)

It’s a J-45, but the body binding is for a Southern Jumbo. The fretboard is a dot fretboard for a J-45, but the binding for the body is the binding for a Southern Jumbo, so it's kind of an oddity in the sense that the body belongs to one style of guitar and the neck belongs to another. I picked it up from the Guitar Center in Hollywood. They have quite the amazing room in the back of the store and then, if you get the pleasure of going up into one of the offices, the guitars that don’t even get put on the floor are even more spectacular. All I know is that Keith Urban’s guitar tech was in there and eyeballing the guitar and asking all sorts of questions about the guitar and was coming back that evening to purchase the guitar for Keith, and I grabbed it. If I remember correctly, I think his guitar tech even came before I even left, so I almost didn’t have that one. 

 

1947 J-45

One of the oldest Gibson acoustics that I have and it’s probably in the best condition out of all of them. I don’t know, but if it did get played, it was played by someone with baby hands. Well, you know what, it did get played because the fretboard is worn out from fingernails, but the guitar looks almost brand-new. It’s amazing and sounds unbelievable. Obviously, somebody took good care of it and it got played, it got the dirt played right off of it, because the fretboard itself underneath those cowboy chord positions is totally scalloped and worn out.  

 

1953 J-185

Found that guitar in Aspen, of all places. I went there to do a charity event and we were walking around one afternoon and I saw that there was a vintage store there and I walked in and that sucker was just screaming at me. 

 

1951 J-45

I got that at the Hollywood Guitar Center, as well, and somebody had played the finish off of half of the guitar with the back of their fingernails to the extent where the finish is so far gone and the wood is so wore away, that it’s like corduroy. That just happens to be that guitar’s name, just like the other guitar that I was saying had a name, too. 

 

If it’s in that rough of shape, what made you pick it up?

Oh, you should hear it. As beat up as it is, it’s one of the best-sounding acoustics that I have in front of a microphone. 

 

1950 J-200

That would be Angie Langford’s guitar. I don’t know who she was, but boy, she played the heck out of that guitar and her name is carved into the back of the headstock, so I can’t really clean it off. That’s one of the main acoustic guitars that I use when I play out on my solo shows. That is an absolute unbelievable-sounding J-200. From what I understand, from that time frame, it was kind of hit or miss. Some of them sounded really good and some of them didn’t sound all that great. 

 

Speaking of acoustics, you recently did a solo tour.

I was supposed to take the summer off for the first time in my 13-year career. So, the whole story is: the school district that my town belongs to decided, for financial reasons and the best interest of the students, to take five elementary schools and consolidate them all the way down to two elementary schools. It just so happens that the elementary school that my daughters would have now had to go to was over an hour each direction on a bus. So that wasn’t okay with me, so I am reopening the elementary school in my town in September as a privately funded community school – basically a private school without private school tuition. By doing that, I am now going out doing these handful of shows to fund opening the school in September. We live in a very rural town of 1,200 people, your very typical average New England, hard-working country folk. And this wouldn't have been possible without me stepping forward and saying I would pay for it, so that’s what I’m doing.  

 

1956 J-45

I picked that up from Lloyd Chiate, who was the guitar player for Eddie Money back in the day. And he had — for many, many years, and has since closed — he had a store on Sunset [Boulevard] called Voltage Vintage, and I picked that guitar up from him. In hindsight, on that same day when I was looking at that guitar, he brought me upstairs and showed me another guitar that should have been the guitar I walked out of the store with, because it was Tom Petty’s Hummingbird. You know, there are stages of collecting and when you first start out as a collector, you go through these stages until you finally get to the point where now you’re only purchasing guitars that have a collectable value to them. Where back then, I was more thinking about the fact that, and we hadn’t gotten deep enough into our career at that point, it was the difference between the four or five grand that the guitar was instead of the seven or eight grand that this guitar was. Like I said, in hindsight, I made the wrong decision. 

 

1951 Southern Jumbo

That has been a favorite guitar of mine since the day I picked it up. I got it from my friend Nate, a.k.a. “Willy” of Willy’s American Vintage in St. Paul, Minnesota. But it was Willy’s guitar and wasn’t even for sale. I was in there looking at all the guitars on the wall and I looked over and sitting on the floor near the counter was this old Lifton case. And I was like, “What’s in there?” And he was like, “Oh, that guitar. Well, that’s my guitar.” I said, "Can I check it out?” And he was like, “Sure, go ahead, check it out.” So I took it out and I started playing it and I talked him into selling it to me. You know, I have to say he’s a good businessman because it wasn’t all that difficult to talk him out of it. I have since gone back in with the prototype of the 1951, the one that we did, the run that we did, and 15 minutes into him playing it and getting reacquainted with an old friend and everything else, I told him that it wasn’t his and he didn’t believe me. That’s how spot-on these guitars are to the original. 

 

2005 Prototype Hummingbird #1 and #2

It’s prototype #1 and #2, because they only made two of them. They are basically a Hummingbird, but with Rosewood back and sides and the tree of life is super ornate, all Mother of Pearl and Abalone all the way down the fretboard. They are absolutely beautiful guitars.

 

2005 Aaron Lewis Custom 12-String

There are two of those, as well. One is blond and one is tobacco sunburst, and just amazing-sounding 12-strings. The thing about 12-strings is that a lot of times they are really bright, because of all the extra unwound strings and that big body of that J-200 really adds all the meat back. So you get this very meaty, yet crystal clear… and all the high end that you could possible want with all the meat. 

 

What is the one guitar that you don’t have, the white whale that you are searching for?

I am waiting to run into a 1959 Les Paul at a tag sale. And I live in the right part of the country for that to happen.

Photo Credit: Jayson’s Photography