Here we take a look at some of the most legendary and famous blues guitarists and what they played
Guitars have become synonymous with the world of blues with names like Gibson
dominating the genre. Images of players new and old come rushing through the head when you think about the great blues guitarists, whether that’s Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry or even rock guitarists who fully exploited blues scales like Angus Young. That's why we've made a list of famous blues guitarists and what they've played.
In this blog, we’ll take a look at some of the guitarists who came to define the blues genre as we know it today and what instruments gave them that rich iconic sound. Just so this list isn’t a rundown of obvious blues guitarists – we’re going to also include some that have more subtly shaped the genre.
Rory Gallagher – Fender Stratocaster
Rory Gallagher’s rough and ready take on blues has undeniably had a massive influence on the genre as we know it today. But what guitar did he play? That was the 1961 Fender Stratocaster. The guitar has gone down in folklore as Gallagher used it so much that the sunburst finish was pretty much worn completely away. This was mostly down to constant playing and hard touring. There were also rumours that his rare blood type caused his sweat to be more acidic and thus erode his guitar quicker.
Regardless - the unique rock growl that Rory got from the Stratocaster guitar played a huge part in his sound. As well as getting those rockier blues notes, the Strat also offered Rory a clean and gentle tone for his more sentimental songs. A lot of sunburst Stratocaster options are available from beginner Squier guitars through to Fender's for experienced professionals.
Gary Moore – Gibson Les Paul
Blues-rock legend Gary Moore played a variety of guitars throughout his career but he was most often seen with perhaps the ultimate rock guitar – Gibson’s Les Paul. We could have picked a multitude of blues guitarists who’ve used this. The reason why the Les Paul has been tried and trusted amongst the blues-rock community is that it’s a great all-around guitar.
Two-humbucking pickups are extremely versatile, the mahogany body is highly resonant and the playability is super comfortable for a variety of players. That timeless Les Paul tone shines through in Moore’s playing. This is mainly down to the warmth and sustain that has come to be associated with Moore’s sound over the years, whether that’s during his solo career or his time with Thin Lizzy.
Angus Young – Gibson SG Standard
It’s impossibly hard to imagine the heavily blues-inspired Angus Young without his faithful Gibson SG. The model has been seen in the immensely talented hands of Young on the world’s biggest stages. Why did Angus Young use the SG though? Well, the two Gibson humbucking pickups offered a world-beating rock sound when combined with a load of distortion. The all-mahogany body and neck gave this guitar a muscular feel that coupled perfectly with its slim fast neck. This was obviously a vital factor for Angus Young when it came to sculpting his sound.
This is all without mentioning the iconic and menacing horned double-cutaway body. The devil horns have long been associated with AC/DC, making this pairing truly a match made in hell. The SG has also been used by likes of blues legend Sister Rosetta Tharpe. This in itself is a testament to the spirit and tone of this instrument. SG's are available at a variety of price points from Epiphone models through to Gibson. You can even pickup an Eastcoast which has a similar double horned style - perfect for beginners.
Robert Johnson - Gibson L-1
Robert Johnson was, without doubt, a pioneer of the blues genre - his timeless guitar lines and painfully honest vocals laid down a marker before his tragic death at the young age of 27. But how did he get that thrilling delta blues sound which remains celebrated to this day?
Johnson used a Mahogany Gibson L-1 acoustic throughout his career which plays into the distinct style on those crackly old recordings of tracks like 'Crossroads' and 'Me and the Devil Blues'. What characteristics did that guitar offer up to Robert Johnson's legendary playing style though? Well, his guitar sound packed an incredible amount of warmth and depth with unmistakable tone. Such was the importance of this sound that Gibson decided to celebrate the legacy with a signature Robert Johnson L-1 guitar - which followed in the footsteps of the original in terms of build and tone but also included some modern-day updates.
Richard Hawley - Gretsch (Various)
Richard Hawley had to make our list of famous blues guitarists. He is a massive fan of Gretsch hollow body guitars and one even appeared on the album cover for his album 'Lady's Bridge'. A distinguished blues player - Hawley picked up a lot from his father who himself played alongside blues legends like Howlin' Wolf.
Hawley also claimed to be raised on the music of those blues greats. Why did Hawley favour the big Gretsch hollow-body guitars though? Hawley said it was either Eddie Cochran or Duane Eddy that inspired him to play Gretsch after seeing one of them in his Dad's record collection. He said he remembers playing a Gretch Country Gentleman as a teenager which was bought by his father with the last of his redundancy money.
The hollow body style offers resonance and sustain which helps capture that full-flavoured blues sound. That's why this style of guitar was used by many of the giants of the genre. Gretsch models were also quite prominent among rockabilly and rock and roll which are also genres Richard Hawley famously loves.
Chuck Berry - Gibson (ES Models)
A pioneer of rock and roll - Chuck Berry cherished Gibson guitars so much that he was buried with his ES-355 in 2017. He played a variety of hollow-body Gibson models throughout his career but was probably best known for his iconic cherry red ES-355.
It was with these guitars that Berry dragged rhythm and blues kicking and screaming into the world of rock and roll - inspiring generations to follow in suit. As we've mentioned before in this blog - Chuck Berry would have favoured these semi-hollow bodied Gibsons due to their rich tonal depth and sustain. There's also plenty of menace about these guitars.
Jack White - 1964 "JB Hutto" Res-O-Glass Airline Guitar
Jack White has a deep love of blues music which is evident in much of his work. He's played a huge amount of guitars throughout his prolific and glimmering career. The stand-out example would undoubtedly be his 1964 Airline Res-O Glass which has become infamous with The White Stripes. Speaking about the guitar - he said he liked how older instruments presented a challenge to play.
Despite being an originally cheap and affordable model, the sounds Jack White got out of this interesting looking guitar were nothing short of massive. More recently though - White has been seen playing one of St Vincent's Signature Ernie Ball signature models
which we love here at PMT.
See the "JB Hutto" model in action here:
Muddy Waters - Fender Telecaster
Another all-time legend of the blues genre has to be Muddy Waters - and more often than not he had his trusty Telecaster with him. Muddy Waters was such a big lover of the Tele that Fender honoured him with a signature model around the turn of the millennium.
The humble Telecaster has been a staple in the blues genre for years - mainly due to how adaptable, versatile and comfortable it is to play. You can expect a colourful and distinctive twang from the Telecaster which makes it so attractive to players not just in blues but from genres across the board.
B.B King - Gibson Lucille
BB King 'King of the Blues' delivered some of the most iconic blues tones in the genre- all with his signature Gibson ES-355. He simply had to make our list of famous blues guitarists. His guitar had the nickname 'Lucille' and there have been multiple signature models over the years paying homage to the late legend. The most recent 2016 models were all based closely on his specifications, featuring a semi-hollow, maple body and dual humbucking pickups to capture that iconic and unmistakable tone.
Howlin’ Wolf - Epiphone Casino
Howlin' Wolf is another one of the true blues greats and he was regularly seen with an Epiphone Casino. The Casino has been used from everyone from John Lennon to Thom Yorke as it's a versatile guitar with great tone and sustain which is why the hollow body model is very popular among the blues community.
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Read more: Top Best Blues Guitars Of All Time