Electric guitar



When Riley B. “BB” King passed away at the age of 89 in 2015, he left behind a six-decade musical legacy as the “King of Blues”. Since starting recording in the 1940s, King has released over sixty albums, toured extensively – averaging hundreds of shows each year, and defined the blues for millions with one of the most recognizable guitar styles in the world. From humble beginnings on a cotton plantation in Indianola, Mississippi, he went on to become one of the most influential musicians of all time, cited by nearly all the great blues and rock musicians who followed him, from Eric Clapton and George Harrison to Jeff Beck and Bono.

One of the first to start the trend among musicians to name their favorite guitars, BB King was notoriously inseparable from “Lucille” for over 50 years, often joking that she was the only woman in his life. “The minute I stop singing orally,” King said, “I start singing playing Lucille.” What distinguishes “Lucille” from Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” for example, is that there is not just one “Lucille”, but a procession of guitars throughout his career, which have all received the nickname. The legend of Lucille dates back to the winter of 1949, when a young BB rushed into a burning dance hall in Twist, Arkansas, to save his guitar, then a cheap Gibson L-3 archtop, after two men knocked over a kerosene burning barrel while fighting over a girl of the same name. Having also risked his own life, King decided to name his guitar “Lucille” to remind her “never to do something so stupid again”.

After experimenting with Fenders, Gretsches and Silvertones in his early years, the bluesman became best known for playing Gibsons, and more specifically the semi-hollow stereo ES-355, telling Guitar Player magazine in 2007: ” when I found this little Gibson with the long neck, it did. It’s like finding your wife forever. The ES-355 remained his guitar of choice from its first use in 1967 until its collaboration with Gibson on the signature BB King model in 1980, named Lucille.

Photographs suggest that King acquired two high-end cherry red stereo ES-355s around the same time around 1967, one with a standard Gibson Maestro tremolo and the other with a Bigsby tremolo. With its distinctive Bigsby tailpiece, the current guitar is easily distinguished from its counterpart by Grover tuners rather than standard Klusons, a black plastic outline under the toggle switch grommet and neck pickup inversion so that the poles are towards the bridge rather than the neck. When American journalist Michael Lydon accompanied King on tour in late 1968, he noted that “the current Lucille – a red Gibson with gold frets and mother-of-pearl inlays” – was Lucille number seven. guitar is probably Lucille number 6, 7 or 8, as it is certainly one of the first two cherry red ES-355 that BB was spotted with.

A defining year for BB King, 1968 saw him perform for the first time in front of a predominantly white crowd at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West, increasing his reach to a wider audience and allowing him to break into the pop charts. Courted by the blues-rock counterculture stars who idolized him, King casually began jamming with musicians like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, leading to a supporting tour with the Rolling Stones in 1969. He would also release l ‘album. Lucille, the title song rightly dedicated to his faithful companion. King chose this Lucille, along with the Bigsby tailpiece, for another historic performance that same year at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island on July 27, 1968, as seen in photographs by David Gahr and Elliot Landy. Join a roster of contemporary folk-rock artists including Big Brother and the Holding Company, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, King’s setlist included Every day I have the blues, how blue can you get ?, Sweet Sixteen and Please accept my love. Reviewing the festival for Rolling Stone magazine, Jon Landau said, “I think BB King is the greatest blues singer I’ve ever heard and probably the greatest guitarist too. It was nice to see him go wild towards the end and pose a bad guy, bad guy, Sweet sixteen. ” Photographs by Walter Iooss show King, dressed in a bright orange suit, playing that same ES-355 at an unidentified New York club that same year – possibly at the Generation Club where BB performed a series of shows in April. 1968.

A December 1969 article in Guitar Player Magazine noted that BB was playing a flashy red Gibson stereo model (ES355TD) at this time: “I like the neck, it’s easy to get to the last position quickly. Probably referring to this guitar or the aforementioned cherry red sister ES-355TD, the article continued, “He likes the position of the tone controls too. He uses Fender Rock ‘n’ Roll strings because he likes a string. “G” unrolled. He plays with a medium to stiff pick, usually a tortoiseshell. ” Although few photographs have surfaced, the noticeable wear and tear of the playing and signs of sweating, along with King’s intense touring schedule, suggest that the current guitar was used extensively on stage until the late 1960s. and 70.

In 1983, this ES-355 was donated by BB King to his longtime friends and employees, Cato Jr. and Polly Walker of Memphis, Tennessee. Well known to the Memphis music scene, the Walkers got involved in King’s professional organization early in his touring career, after Polly grew up opposite BB’s house in Memphis. Her husband Cato Walker Jr. drove the “Big Red” musician’s tour bus from 1952 until his retirement due in 1976, King continuing to pay Cato’s salary until his death in 1988. Interviewed for the magazine in May 2007, Polly recalled “I went to work [for B.B.] in ’55. Memphis was BB’s home port, and he needed things to be done here, but they were still on the road. guitar on the death of his mother in 2008, agreed to sell the instrument to the late husband of the sender in July 2018, following a prior introduction through a mutual friend John “Jabo” Starks, who had been BB King’s drummer from 1972 to 1977.

The present “Lucille”, dating from a defining period in BB King’s career when he began to assert himself as a popular artist and gain recognition by the burgeoning rock audience of the counter-culture from the late 1960s, is one of the most important and best documented. Lucilles’ coming onto the market.

Among Gibson’s many guitar innovations, the slim and semi-solid (or semi-hollowbody in today’s parlance) electric guitar has been a game-changer for many musicians. Since 1936 Gibson had successfully produced and marketed electric guitars starting with the ES-150. From those beginnings Gibson’s “Electric Spanish” line has grown with improvements and upgrades in body design and materials, as well as pickup design and placement. But viewed as a whole, they were essentially archtop acoustic guitars with additional electronic amplification. Although serving well as a rhythm instrument in big bands and jazz accompaniments, electrically amplified hollow bodies suffered from feedback problems at higher volumes. In 1952 Gibson introduced its first solid body guitar, the Les Paul model. The solid body with little acoustic properties solved the problem by controlling the feedback of the pickups while increasing tonal sustain and a tenor drum. Realizing the needs of the guitarist who wanted an electric guitar with the outline of a traditional archtop, without the typical 3 3/8 inches deep and weight of the Les Paul, Gibson merged his already successful “Thinline” models with the ideas which drove a solid body to create a guitar that had the attributes of both. The new model released in 1958 was the ES-335TD. The width of the body was 16 inches but only 1 5/8 inches thick. It would have two humbucker pickups mounted in a solid maple tone block attached to the top and back and extending the full length of the body. No one can deny that the design theory mirrored that of the 1941 Les Paul guitar which he called “The Log”.

The success of the semi-hollowbody was swift and Gibson added new and improved models to the lineup. 1959 saw the release of the ES-355. The multi-binding body featured an ebony fingerboard with bead block inlay, split diamond pearl inlays at the headstock and gold-plated hardware. Throughout the production history of the ES-355, it was almost always equipped with a vibrato tailpiece. Early examples used a Bigsby vibrato and by 1961 Gibson’s side-pull vibrato was standard while the Bigsby was available by special order. The original finish would be a deep, glossy red lacquer called “Cherry Red” and by the end of 1959 the guitar would be available with stereo wiring and a Gibson six-position tone control called Varitone. It now carried the model designation ES-355TDVS. The instrument’s versatility proved successful and by 1960 the 355 had quickly found a devoted following among electric guitarists of all genres. Keith Richards, Alvin Lee, Chuck Berry, and David Justin Hayward are all dedicated ES-355 players, but the guitar has received its widest exposure and has been made iconic by the virtuosity of BB King.