Guitar facts: 5 of the world’s most iconic axes

To me, a great musician’s instrument is as fascinating as the music it produces. In this post, I highlight some intriguing guitar facts about five of the world’s most iconic axes.

Eric & Blackie

If you’re a fan of Eric Clapton, you will know about his famous Fender Stratocaster Blackie. Well, do you know that this iconic guitar is made up of parts from three other Stratocasters? It’s true. In the 1970s, Clapton purchased six late-‘50s Strats from a store in Nashville, Tennessee (it must be nice to have so much cash to throw around). He took the guitars home and combined parts from the three he liked best. What happened to the other three? Well, he gave them to his mates George Harrison, Pete Townsend and Steve Winwood. Incidentally, Blackie sold at auction in 2004 for a whopping $959,500!

Eric Clapton and Blackie

Eddie & Frankenstrat

Eddie Van Halen is also a bit of a guitar DIYer, and he, in fact, built his famous Frankenstrat guitar.

Quick facts:

  • Van Halen purchased the ash body and maple neck from Wayne Charvel, the founder of Charvel Guitars.
  • In the bridge position, is a Gibson PAF humbucking pickup from a vintage Gibson ES-355.
  • There was originally a vintage Stratocaster vibrato tailpiece, though Van Halen later switched it to a double-locking Floyd Rose system.

Frankenstrat’s look

If you’re wondering how Van Halen achieved the unique tri-colour paint job, here’s what he did: First, Van Halen painted his guitar entirely black. Then, he applied random pieces of masking tape and painted the guitar white. Finally, Van Halen repeated the taping process and painted the guitar red.

Frankenstrat in action on the instrumental Eruption.
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BB & Lucille

Most people picture BB King’s Lucille as a Gibson ES-355. However, do you know that BB named all his guitars Lucille after an incident that nearly cost him his life?  In 1949, a fire broke out at a dancehall that BB had been performing at in Twist, Arkansas. Apparently, two men in the audience had knocked over a barrel of kerosene while fighting over a woman. To save his Gibson acoustic guitar, BB risked life and limb by running into the burning building. When he learned that the woman the men were brawling over was called Lucille, he decided to name all his guitars after her to remind himself never to be so foolish again.

One of BB King’s Lucille

Roy & Nancy

Roy Buchanan acquired Nancy, his ’53 Fender Telecaster in 1969. Apparently, while studying to be a hairdresser, a man walked past him on the street carrying the soon-to-be iconic guitar. It was obviously love at first sight because Buchanan ran after the man and traded his guitar at the time, a Gibson SG, for Nancy.

Unlike many other guitarists, Buchanan made minimal modifications to Nancy during his career. However, there is a hole on the headstock through the n of the Fender logo. He often joked that he it was there to enable him to hang the guitar on the wall. In truth, the hole is the result of a failed attempt at building his own b-bender mechanism.

Roy Buchanan and the one and only Nancy.

Related post: 5 things you might not know about Buddy Holly

Willie & Trigger

Willie Nelson has performed with his beloved Trigger since 1969. Before then, his main guitar was a nylon-string Baldwin electro-acoustic. As fate would have it, Nelson dropped the Baldwin leaving it seriously damaged. He sent it to a guitar shop in Nashville Tennessee for repair but was told that the guitar was a write-off. Nelson needed a guitar fast, so over the phone he purchased a guitar that the salesperson assured was similar to the Baldwin — the late-‘60s Martin N-20 that we know as Trigger.

Quick facts:

  • A classical guitar, Trigger was designed for finger picking, and Nelson’s plectrum use has worn a hole from the bridge to almost the sound hole.
  • More than one hundred famous names have signed Trigger, including Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson.
  • Nelson has said that he will retire when Trigger becomes unplayable. Hopefully he’s joking.
Willie and Trigger

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Andrew Healey


Andrew is an Auckland-based writer and musician.

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