7 Guitars That Changed Music History

7 Guitars That Changed Music History

1. Gibson L-5

Gisbon L-5 GuitarFirst introduced: 1923

Also Known As: The First Masterpiece

Notable Players: Mother Maybelle Carter, Eddie Lang, Wes Montgomery, Scotty Moore, Tuck Andress, Lee Ritenour, Pat Martino, Jan Akkerman, John Mayer, Eric Clapton

Quick Facts:
– The Gibson L-5 is the first modern orchestra guitar, the first f-hole archtop guitar, and the first guitar with a 14-fret neck to the body that had an adjustable truss rod.

– It was originally offered as an acoustic instrument, with electric models made available in the 1950s, and was considered the premier rhythm guitar in the big band era.

– Maybelle Carter’s L-5 is now kept at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee.

What It Sounds Like:


2. Martin D-45

Martin D-45 GuitarFirst introduced: 1933

Also Known As: The Flagship of the Martin line, The Pearl

Notable Players: Gene Autry, Neil Young

Quick Facts:
– From the fretboard markers to the trim, D-45s glitter with abalone, a shellfish whose mother-of-pearl interior gives us the name “pearl.”

– Only 91 D-45s were made between 1931 and 1941. Each is truly irreplaceable and carries an astronomical price tag.

– Gene Autry originally contacted Martin and requested a custom guitar with 12 frets and style 45 trim. He also requested his name be on it, but Martin refused.

What It Sounds Like:


3. Fender Broadcaster/Telecaster

Fender Broadcaster Telecaster GuitarFirst introduced: 1950

Also Known As: The Most Important Electric Guitar Ever Made

Notable Players: James Burton, Muddy Waters, Roy Buchanan, Albert Lee

Quick Facts:
– The Model-T of guitars, the stripped-down, easy-to-play solid-body Fender Broadcaster electric guitar was the first guitar of its kind to be produced on a substantial scale.

– Two single-coil pickups introduced the clean, bright Fender sound, developed out of Leo Fender’s love of the lap steel guitar and its Hawaiian twang.

– The name was changed from Broadcaster to Telecaster in the late 1950s to avoid a possible trademark conflict with Gretsch.

What It Sounds Like:

4. Gibson Les Paul

Gibson Les Paul guitarFirst introduced: 1952

Also Known As: The Legend

Notable Players: Les Paul, Jimmy Page, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Freddie King, Hubert Sumlin

Quick Facts:
– From mid-1957 until 1962, Les Paul humbuckers were stickered “Patent Applied For” and some players (and collectors) believe that have an almost mystical quality.

– The body is mahogany with a maple “cap.” The wood is bookmatched to create symmetrical patterns under the finish, giving the magical sunburst effect.

– The significance of Les Paul’s contributions to his Gibson guitar design remains controversial. The book “50 Years of the Gibson Les Paul” limits Paul’s contributions to two: advice on the trapeze tailpiece, and a preference for color (stating that Paul preferred gold as “it looks expensive”, and a second choice of black because “it makes your fingers appear to move faster on the box”, and “looks classy—like a tuxedo”).

What It Sounds Like:

5. Fender Stratocaster

Fender Stratocaster guitarFirst introduced: 1954

Also Known As: The Standard

Notable Players: David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, George Harrison, John Lennon, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Everyone

Quick Facts:
– The Stratocaster is the most played, most popular, and most copied electric guitar ever.

– The perfect six-on-a-side peghead was designed in response to the minimal Telecaster style. Everything is new: two cutaways, the beveled body, an unheard-of three pickups with selector switch, adjustable bridge for each string, protected output jack, and angled lead pickup for better treble response.

– The vibrato unit, or “whammy bar,” was so revolutionary that it took a decade, when Jimi Hendrix came along, to be fully explored.

What It Sounds Like:

6. Gibson Flying V

Gibson Flying V guitarFirst introduced: 1958

Also Known As: The Modernistic

Notable Players: Lonnie Mack, Albert King, Dave Davies, Jimi Hendrix

Quick Facts:
– The original Flying V was made of korina, a trade name for African limba wood.

– The prototype of the Flying V has a black pickguard and input plate, but most original models had white trim.

– Gibson shipped only 98 Flying Vs in the 1950s, making original models very rare and collectible. Flying V reissues started showing up in 1967.

– Dealers originally took the guitars off the floor, where they weren’t selling, and hung them in the window to attract attention. Sales caught on a decade later, and eventually the design became recognized as a classic.

What It Sounds Like:

7. Paul Reed Smith Santana

First introduced: 1980

Also Known As: The Stradivarius of the Electric Guitar

Notable Players: Carlos Santana, Ted Nugent, Al DiMeola, Joe Walsh, Dickey Betts

Quick Facts:
– The famous bird markers, used on higher-end models, are inspired by a guidebook belonging to Paul Reed Smith’s mother, a bird-watcher.

– Beautiful, popping wood grain is a PRS signature. The first wood Smith used was curly maple from the drawer-fronts of a friend’s dresser.

– Carlos Santana, the person for whom the guitar was made, was so impressed with the guitar that he called it “an act of God.”

What It Sounds Like:

Sources: “Guitars: A Celebration of Pure Mojo” by David Schiller, an excellent book of images and information about historical guitars, which you can purchase on Amazon; Wikipedia