Rolling Stones Gear: All the Stones’ Instruments from Stage to Studio . Andy Babiuk and Greg Prevost. Backbeat Books.

Thought that while Blabber’n’Smoke is on a book jag right now we’d mention this huge “coffee table” tome that sits somewhat outside our remit but is just too good not to mention.
Rolling Stones’ Gear is yet another history of Jagger et al but where this one differs is that it goes into clinical detail of every guitar, amp, pedal and drum that these “cats” (Keef’s favourite description of folk) ever owned, pilfered (in the early days) or commissioned. It’s an exhaustive (and for the less gear enamoured fan, at times exhausting) endeavour packed with pictures of the actual instruments and some great period snaps and adverts with the early days by far the most interesting with the pre decimal (LSD) prices and prime sixties copy capturing earlier innocent times.

While the book details the bog standard history of the group the attention to the instruments offers some interesting details which I don’t recall from the standard bios, for example, the fate of Keith’s second ever guitar, a Gallotone Valencia, akin to a Hofner, popular in the skiffle period and retailing back then for around £16 related by James Phelge.

On the day we were vacating Edith Grove, everyone was sorting out what possessions they wanted to take or leave behind. Mostly, it was records and clothes. The guitar was lying on the sofa, and Keith turned to me and asked if I wanted the guitar. The neck was unstable and that caused tuning problems, probably not helped by the machine heads and the damp atmosphere of gigs at the Ealing club. Anyway, I said ‘Yes’ and took the guitar with me.

The book can be considered a graph following The Stones’ financial position. Initially buying cheap mass produced gear once popular the manufacturers are offering them instruments in return for sponsorship with Brian Jones’ “Teardrop” Vox hand made for him in 1964. The following gives an indication of what to expect from the book.

Brian’s Vox MK III was a one of-a-kind prototype, completely hand-built by Mick Bennett at the Jennings factory in 1964. It had a white finish, matching headstock, and several other unique features. Its bolt-on neck had a dot-inlaid ebony fingerboard with a narrow “zero” fret at the nut, which appeared on very few British-made Vox guitars. It also had a chrome pickguard, a three-way toggle switch, and volume and tone controls, and was one of the few Vox Teardrops made with only two pickups. A recent examination of the guitar revealed that Bennett used a Fender Stratocaster tremolo bridge assembly to produce the guitar’s fixed bridge. He cut a small section off the original tremolo plate where the tremolo arm would normally have screwed in, and the individual intonation saddles are stamped “Fender.” The wood body of the guitar also was carved out to fit the Fender tremolo block, which was tightly fitted through the body. Brian’s Teardrop was the only one made with a Fender bridge; all future production models had standard Vox hardware. The first production models of the Vox MK III were manufactured in 1964 by the British G-Plan furniture builder E. Gomme & Son of High Wycombe in Bucks. Later production models were renamed the Vox MK VI.

By now the boys are somewhat flush and it’s noted that Jones spent $15,000 on a sitar in ’66 while Keith is using “luthiers” by the end of the seventies with one of his guitars covered in a thin leather skin. It’s onwards and upwards in term of gear from her on in and while there is plenty of information throughout the book regarding what was played by whom throughout their recording career the music itself is not critically appraised, presumably it’s taken for granted that anyone who wants this rock’n’roll equivalent of a train spotters manual will know the songs already. Whatever, aside from the technical info and guitar glam on show the book works well almost as a social history of the times (especially the first 15 or so years) and one has to admire the gusto of the authors when they launch into one of their boggle eyed descriptions of the “gear” such as this description of the Exile On Main Street sessions.

Keith employed his five-string open G “Keef-chord” tuning on several Exile numbers, including “Tumbling Dice” (with a capo on fourth fret), “Soul Survivor,” and “Happy”(again, with a capo on the fourth fret). He used a variety of electric guitars during the sessions at Nellcôte, including his Dan Armstrong Plexi prototype, (the two Dan Armstrong Plexi production models were present as well), the Gibson Flying V, the Gibson Custom Black Beauty and moon-painted Les Paul Custom, and, occasionally, the walnut Gibson ES-355TD-SV. Mick Taylor mainly used the ES-355TD-SV, the Gibson SG, the ’59 Gibson Les Paul, the “Ya-Ya’s” Les Paul, and the white Fender Telecaster, also using Keith’s Dan Armstrong Plexi guitars and Custom Black Beauty on occasion. Acoustic guitars on hand included Keith’s Gibson Hummingbird with the sunburst finish and a Gibson Hummingbird with a natural wood–finished top, the sunburst Gibson J-200, the Martin D12-20 acoustic twelve-string (with pickup), the Harmony Sovereign, a classical acoustic guitar, Keith’s National Style “O”, and a 1930s National tri-cone resonator guitar. Bill used his customized Dallas Tuxedo bass much of the time as well as his Fender Competition Mustang basses, and Charlie used his black pearl Gretsch kit. On many tracks, either Keith or Mick Taylor cut the bass track using Keith’s sunburst Fender Precision bass. Amplification was again Ampeg VT-22 combos and Fender Twin Reverb amps, as well as Fender Showman amps, Ampeg SVTs, and an Ampeg B-15 “flip-top” PortaFlex bass amp. Andy Johns remembered the VT-22 amps: “Keith and Mick Taylor were using these fabulous Ampeg amplifiers, with just two 12-inch speakers, but they were like 300 watts or something ridiculous. It was so loud. I had to build little houses for both of the guitar amps.” 16 Photos taken during the sessions also reveal a few new Fender models, including a “silverface” Fender Vibro/Champ amp, one of Fender’s smallest practice amps, and a Fender vibratone speaker cabinet, a Leslie speaker cabinet, designed for use as an unpowered extension speaker for a standard guitar amp.

Buy it here


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