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6 Superstar Guitars With Superstar Nicknames

Russell Hall
|
05.14.2009

Given the love they feel for their most cherished instruments, it’s hardly surprising that six-stringers often endow their favorite guitars with affectionate nicknames. Below are six famous musicians whose guitars bear monikers that give them a near-life-like persona. Check them out, and be sure to share the names you’ve bestowed upon your own favorite guitars in our comments section below.

Neil Young — “Old Black”



Neil Young obtained “Old Black” — his repainted ’53 Les Paul Goldtop — in 1969 through a trade with fellow musician Jim Messina. Through the years the instrument has been the go-to guitar for the dazzling, feedback-drenched playing that’s characterized Young’s most aggressive material. Old Black has undergone considerable modifications during its lifetime, the more notable being the addition of a Firebird mini-humbucker in the bridge position, the installation of a Tune-O-Matic bridge (not available when the guitar was originally produced), and an aluminum pickguard that accentuates feedback. Old Black invariably is accompanied by Young’s famous “peace symbol and dove” guitar strap. To fully experience the guitar’s incomparable feedback capabilities, check out Young’s ferocious 1991 album, Arc.



Eric Clapton — “Blackie”



Eric Clapton built Blackie himself, assembling the guitar from three different Stratocasters purchased for $100 each from the Sho-Bud guitar shop in Nashville. He first played the guitar live in January 1973 at the famous Rainbow Concert. For the next twelve years, Clapton played the guitar both on-and off-stage, before at last retiring the instrument in 1985 due to issues with the neck. He brought Blackie out of retirement for a final public appearance — for one song — during the 1991 Royal Albert Hall shows. In 2004 Blackie was sold at auction for $959,000, a figure that set a record, at the time, as the highest price ever paid for a guitar. The proceeds went to the Crossroads Center, a rehab facility founded by Clapton himself.



Willie Nelson — “Trigger”



It’s a measure of its worth that Willie Nelson’s beloved Trigger enjoys round-the-clock protection from a bodyguard. A 1969 Martin N-20 Classic, Trigger has been Nelson’s constant companion for nearly four decades. Millions of pick-strums have worn a gaping opening near the sound-hole, but the tone remains rich and like none other. On the advice of fellow songwriter Leon Russell — who said it made for a “good insurance policy” — Nelson has had hundreds of friends, celebrities, and sports figures autograph the guitar. So cherished is Trigger that during Nelson’s notorious tangles with the IRS, he had the instrument hidden away at his manager’s house in order to prevent the government from seizing it. “I don’t know what I’d do without Trigger,” Nelson told People magazine in 1984. “I think it will live as long as I will.”



Stevie Ray Vaughan — “Number One” (also known as “First Wife”)



Stevie Ray Vaughan obtained Number One — his 1961 chocolate sunburst Stratocaster — from Ray Hennig, owner of the Heart of Texas music shop in Austin. Vaughan had borrowed the guitar for a gig and liked it so much he offered a nearly-new Stratocaster in exchange. From 1973 onward, Number One was his main performing instrument and companion. Purported to be a “mongrel” with a ’62 neck and a ’63 body, the instrument underwent many changes — both cosmetically and functionally — through the years. An early tremolo modification resulted in a hole in the body, which Vaughan covered with a “CUSTOM” sticker. Similarly, the “SRV” stickers Vaughan applied to the body gave the guitar a flashy presence.

Vaughan was hard on Number One, often breaking the whammy bar and putting the instrument through countless re-frettings. In 1990 the neck was broken when some stage scenery fell on the instrument. Nonetheless, Number One ended up missing just one show before undergoing repair. Rumors have circulated that the guitar was buried with Vaughan, but reliable sources say the guitar is in the possession of Stevie’s brother, Jimmie.



Bo Diddley — “Big B”



Bo Diddley created the prototype for Big B — the world’s first rectangular guitar — by installing the neck and electronics from a Gretsch guitar onto a body Diddley made himself. Not entirely satisfied with the results, Diddley then asked the Gretsch factory to build him a custom rectangular guitar from scratch. The year that request was made was either 1958 or 1959. From that point forward, for the next two decades, Big B was a staple of Diddley’s live shows. Big B saw only limited use on Diddley’s studio recordings, however, and near the end of the ‘70s Diddley decided to retire the innovative instrument. For its replacement, he commissioned Australian luthier Chris Kinman to build another rectangular guitar – one fitted with a Les Paul-style neck and Gibson humbuckers. Diddley endowed the new guitar with a new name: "The Mean Machine."



B.B. King — “Lucille”



No article about guitars endowed with names would be complete without mention of B.B. King’s beloved Lucille. The story of the original Lucille — how the guitar was named for a woman whose charms nearly led to the guitar’s destruction — has been told many times. The first version of Lucille dates back to 1949, but through the years she’s appeared in many incarnations. For many years she was an ES-335. For the past several decades, however, she’s been an ES-355. King spoke lovingly of Lucille in the liner notes for his 1968 album that bears the guitar’s name. ”I'm very crazy about Lucille," he said. “I've had many guitars ... and I always call them Lucille. She's taken me a long way, even brought me some fame ... most of all, she's kept me alive, being able to eat ... Lucille practically saved my life two or three times.”


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