Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones have been touring for 52 years. The number of guitars they have played is, literally, in the thousands. But Andy Babiuk has done his best to document the key guitars in his expansive new book, Rolling Stones Gear.

Babiuk previously authored Beatles Gear, itself a bible for Fab Four gear fanatics. Rolling Stones Gear is way bigger. It’s a huge 296 pages with new photos, rare gear insights and interviews. The Stones’ guitarists – Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Mick Taylor, Ronnie Wood – have used many brands over the years, but the lavish book will still thrill Gibson fans and anyone interested in the history of guitars and “the world’s greatest rock’n’roll band.”

Inside, you’ll learn about Keith Richards’ Gibson acoustics, his Les Pauls (from Customs to TV Jrs), Ronnie Wood’s Gibson acoustics and Mick Taylor’s Les Pauls too. And all the other guitars and brands The Stones have played. asks Andy Babiuk about a book that took nine years to complete…

Obvious question, but Rolling Stones Gear must have been a lot of work?

Yes. I have to get all the detail I can. I tried to put that work in ahead of time of talking. For instance, I started with over 6,000 images of The Stones playing. You put those in chronological order and you have a good sense of what’s going on. But confirming that chronological order itself took a long time.

The cover features Keith Richards’ 1959 sunburst Gibson Les Paul with a Bigsby vibrato, one of the first ‘bursts to become “famous”…

It’s got a really colourful past. It was Keith’s first Gibson Les Paul, seen on many live shows. The funny thing is, Ian Stewart [Stones keyboardist] sold it when the Stones were doing the Their Satanic Majesties Request sessions in 1967.

I spoke to Mick Taylor about it. His own Les Paul got stolen when he was with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Mick needed a Les Paul, that was the tone he wanted. Via a mutual friend, he found out that Keith would sometimes sell guitars, but it was Ian Stewart that would arrange the sale. Mick went to Olympic Studios in London. The Stones were in the next room. Mick simply bought the guitar and left. That was way before Mick Taylor was even in The Rolling Stones.

There are great pictures of Mick playing that guitar with John Mayall, just in clubs. And later, of course, Mick Taylor joins the Stones. Apparently, Keith didn’t even realise that Les Paul had been sold! Keith uses it again in 1969, like it had never been sold. That story, to me, is quite funny.

Then, it got stolen in the Stones heist in France [early 1970s, during the making of Exile on Main Street – Ed]. Keith’s Gibson Flying V also got stolen, a host of guitars. In the book, we managed to the get the Les Paul, took it apart, and did a really nice set of pictures. You can really see the wood grain. It’s pretty cool.

Keith Richards names his guitars: a notable being “Dice,” his Les Paul TV Junior…

Yep, “Tumbling Dice,” right? But no. When Keith gets a guitar, it’s not ‘cos it’s new and shiny. When he got this, it had this sticker on it like you’d find on a car or something, a picture of dice. Keith likes naming his guitars, so it was going to be “Dice.” It’s another guitar used on a lot of live shows and many records, too. It’s one of Keith’s favorite guitars.

His main use of it now is in regular tuning, but capo’d. It’s used pretty much always for “Midnight Rambler” in shows. Keith uses so many guitars in a show, there are certain guitars in certain tunings or capo’d that are only used for one song. There’s a picture of his live rack in the book… so many guitars! But it’s not like he wants to take that many, they’re just the tools for certain songs.

With Beatles Gear and now Rolling Stones Gear, you’ve got close to some legendary instruments…

Oh yes. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of historic guitars in my hands. John Lennon’s guitars, the pleasure of going through all Ringo Starr’s drums…But I’m still a fan. When you get to see the “tool”, it’s kinda magical.

I was very reverent about it all. Keith Richards still uses a lot of these guitars now, but they’re historical artefacts to me. Do The Stones approve of the book? I hope so. They’re still busy, so I don’t know!

Simple but hard-to-answer question: what’s your favorite Rolling Stones song?

That’s impossible. But the ringer on my iPhone plays the riff from “Satisfaction.” So maybe that says it all. It’s such an important riff in guitar history. It launched a million pedals.

Favourite Stones albums? That’s also real tough. There’s the Brian Jones era, the Mick Taylor Era, the Ronnie Wood era… I almost look at them as separate. But of the Brian Jones era, I love Aftermath. The Mick Taylor era has to Exile on Main Street, but live – Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! For me, that’s the greatest live album ever. Ronnie Wood era, I think it’s a flip between Some Girls and Tattoo You. Different eras, y’know? But The Rolling Stones are worth celebrating. I hope the book does that.

Andy Babiuk runs Fab Gear in Rochester, New York. He’s also working on an update to his book Beatles Gear for 2015.