Friday, June 19, 2009

Can a Guitar Make a Guitarist?

Given that an overwhelming number of famous guitarist owe their fame to their trusty and very particularly distinctive guitar, can a guitar – especially very good ones – make a great guitarist?

By: Ringo Bones

From B.B. King’s Lucille to Junior Brown’s Guit-Steel guitar slingers - made famous either by talent or by frequent MTV appearance - from every genre imaginable are often remembered for their “personalized” and particularly unique guitar. And the particular guitar that makes them famous is more often than not the one they primarily use. Either in the recording studio or in live concerts.

Now 83 years old and still thrilling audiences in his European Summer 2009 Tour. B.B. King is probably unique among the famed “Blues Gods” because he uses only one trusty guitar – the famed Lucille. Either in the studio or on stage, his very distinctive playing technique had influenced legions of guitar players from Blues, Jazz and even Heavy Metal. From my perspective, it seems that B.B. King had long ago become one with his trusty Lucille.

Though not as well known on a global basis, if you’re lucky enough to be a Junior Brown fan, then you’ll know what I mean that his primary instrument is indisputably one of a kind. Brown’s primary guitar – known as a Guit-Steel – is a double-necked melding, thanks to a hefty helping of modern polymer resin and fiberglass, of a six-string electric and pedal steel guitars. Legend has it is that this unique instrument was envisioned by Junior Brown in one of his dreams. Created and designed by Junior Brown himself with the help of Michael Stevens back in 1985, the instrument for all intents and purposes is what made Brown the “unique artist” he wanted to be. This unique instrument was even updated by Brown and Stevens back in 1995 and since was named “Big Red” which made Junior Brown truly a unique sounding guitarist currently in the touring circuit.

But famously unique looking – and sounding – personalized guitars do not all look pristinely beautiful like B.B. King’s Lucille or Junior Brown’s Big Red Guit-Steel, or those 8,000 US dollar PRS dragon inlay electric guitars or equally as expensive Martin & Co. Acoustic guitars. Some do look like something being sold in a garage sale for less than a hundred bucks. Like L7 guitarist Donita Sparks’ Gibson Flying V-based monstrosity which she named as the Flying Vagina. Which eventually became one of Guitar World magazine’s featured articles back in July 1992 when her band was catapulted into fame after scores of touring dates across America. Friends of mine who are forever rabid L7 fans say that particular article prompted them to check out what this L7’s Flying Vagina stuff is all about back then.

Even though a very good and unique looking guitar can always inspire every guitar virtuoso to the very pinnacle of creativity. Some “Guitar Gods” sometimes try to prove the point that it is their talent – as opposed to their guitars – that made them into a Guitar God. Jeff Beck demonstrated this years ago by playing a 75 –dollar entry-level / beginners electric guitar and managed to make it sound like one of his trusty 3,000 US dollar Fender Stratocaster. Although Jeff might be certainly much happier “test driving” one of those 8,000-dollar guitars from PRS, just to see if they are really the “wellspring of creativity” some owners tout them to be. Or maybe it is the guitar amps that make a guitar god? So it's good news then to EL34 vacuum tube manufacturers in Russia, especially when our current global recession won't be going away any time soon.


  1. Fortunately, I have a copy of that Guitar World magazine dated July 1992. Joe Satriani was on the cover and the most talked about article of that magazine - according to my older audio-buddies - was the story on L7 and their guitarist Donita Sparks who named her less-than-pristine Gibson Flying V as the Flying Vagina. I don't know if Donita Sparks was "inspired" by Sharon Stone in the movie Basic Instinct which was probably released back in 1992. Or if Donita was inspired by Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues. Nonetheless, don't you think it's kind of "unfortunate" that Donita Sparks wasn't with North American Aviation when they rolled out the XB-70 Valkyrie? She could have named the Mach 3 capable strategic bomber as the "XB-70 Flying Vagina". I think Donita Sparks is the best thing that happened to L7 or the Gibson Flying V, don't you think?

  2. I've remember this particular article too. July 1992, Joe Satriani on the cover. L7's Donita Sparks and her Flying Vagina managed to get on air, looks like George Carlin's 7 words is not the only FCC threat out there.