10 Guitarists Who Played Against Type
Guitarists and music fans alike are often guilty of pigeonholing certain musical styles, and of assuming the sounds of different genres can only be achieved on a limited range of gear. Such typecasting runs throughout the musical world, as it does through much of life, but plenty of adventurous artists have proved that it doesn’t matter what you make your music on, as long as you make it. Here are ten guitarists who “play against type,” using guitars and/or amps that you wouldn’t expect to see in such a setting.
We think of the Telecaster as a twang machine first and foremost, but jazz great Ed Bickert picked one up out of desperation when his main archtop jazzbox was in for repair . . . and never put it down again.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
It’s hard to say exactly what guitar you’d expect a soulful gospel crooner like Sister Rosetta Tharpe to be playing. It sure is a shock, though, to see the white-haired, grandmotherly singer pick up an Alpine White early 1960s Gibson SG Custom and wail away. Check out several available YouTube videos to see her in action!
A driving force at the center of the Americana and alt-country scenes, Gary Louris of the Jayhawks has played a 1960s Gibson SG throughout the history of that influential band, where you might usually expect to see a Tele or a Gretsch. Examples run throughout his work, but check out most of the seminal album Hollywood Town Hall for evidence of Louris’s shape-shifting semi-twang playing.
We might picture the Led Zeppelin lead guitarist on stage with a sunburst Les Paul Standard and a couple of Marshall stacks behind him, but this iconic rock tonecrafter recorded much of the first two Led Zeppelin albums on a Telecaster through a small sub-20-watt Supro combo amp.
The lead guitarist with early 1980s LA punk band X (which has reunited on and off over the years), Billy Zoom looks far more like a 1950s rockabilly artist — especially wielding his Gretsch Sparkle Jet (a sparkle-finished Duo Jet).
The founder, singer, and guitarist for Queens of the Stone Age played most of the band’s influential earlier music on an unusual 1984 Ovation Ultra GP electric guitar, a rare (and many would say failed) electric model from the maker better known for its bowl-back acoustics. His amp choice is also a little odd for an alt-rock/metal player: a big, firm, bold Ampeg VT-40 combo.
The Queen guitarist is known for his creamy, singing, sustaining tone, the kind of thing you’d expect to see played on a humbucker-equipped guitar through a high-gain amp. Instead, May produces his signature sound on a home-made guitar called the Red Special with single-coil Burns pickups, through a Vox AC30 amp, better known for its jangle and chime.
In addition to being a major singer and songwriter, Prince is an extremely talented guitarist, and he played many of his formative hits on a slightly odd, fancy Telecaster copy by Hohner, the HG490.
Another testament to the versatility of the humble Telecaster, perhaps, but this seminal country guitar born in 1950 is not what you might expect to see in the hands of an avant-garde shred-rocker like John 5. It all makes sense when you discover that he was first drawn to the instrument while watching Buck Owens play a Telecaster on TV at the age of seven. And with talent like that, he could do his thing on just about any six-string.
Heavy rock on a hollowbody archtop electric designed for Nashville jazz, country, and big-band guitarists? You bet! The Nuge has frequently played a Gibson Byrdland through any of a number of big, powerful amps to create his aggressive rock tones.