13 Times Rockstars Bought Their Hero's Gear

Photo of Hank Williams by Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer / Getty Images. Neil Young by Frazer Harrison / Staff / Getty Images.

We all daydream about our heroes’ gear. Maybe something specific—like, say, Elvis Costello’s walnut-stained Jazzmaster—is your white whale. Perhaps you’re not so picky and would be happy to own anything played (or even touched) by Prince.

Unfortunately, many of us may never have the opportunity to own the gear played by our biggest influences. But a lot of rockstars have. Here are a few examples of times musicians bought gear that once belonged to the heroes who shaped them.

Neil Young and Hank Williams' 1941 Martin D-28

Neil Young discusses Hank Williams' acoustic at a concert. Video via Martin Guitar.

Rock and folk icon Neil Young may be best known for his ‘53 Les Paul, but another famous guitar in his collection is a 1941 Martin D-28 that was previously owned by the legendary country singer and songwriter Hank Williams.

Of course, Neil didn’t purchase the guitar directly from Williams, who died in 1953 when Young was just eight years old. Instead, he purchased it from friend-of-a-friend Tut Taylor.

He’s even loaned it out to other famous friends from time-to-time. Most notably, he loaned it to Bob Dylan when Dylan was also borrowing Young’s tour bus.

It's worth noting that there is some speculation that Young got taken on his purchase, since Williams played a 1944 D-28 that is on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame. However, there's no reason to believe Williams ever owned just one, and his son, Hank Williams Jr, has reportedly verified that Young's was one of his father's.

Waddy Wachtel and Stephen Stills’ Les Paul

Waddy Wachtel talks about buying Stephen Stills' Les Paul in this video.

Session musician Waddell "Waddy" Wachtel is best known for his work with Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks, The Rolling Stones, Jackson Browne, and more. He even had a signature guitar released for the Collector’s Choice series from Gibson.

The special signature was modeled after his beloved 1960 Les Paul that he purchased for $350 from one of his musical heroes—Stephen Stills.

Kirk Hammett and Peter Green's Les Paul

Starting at 4:16, hear Kirk Hammett talk about the '59 Les Paul.

One of the greatest guitar-related headlines of all time might be Guitar World’s “Kirk Hammett: ‘Jimmy Page Told Me to Buy Peter Green’s Les Paul.’”

This Burst has changed hands often throughout its life. It was famously owned and played by Gary Moore after Green, as well as several collectors before Hammett. (One of those collectors, Melvyn Franks, was the owner when Gibson created the Collector's Choice #1 Reissue of the guitar.) But when it was Hammett's time, rather than pursuing this particular 1959 Les Paul Standard like Hammett normally does with gear, the dealer called him.

Hammett of course knew the guitar and its story, and he also knew the hefty price tag. Though he was interested, he wasn’t sure about making the purchase. So he messaged friend and guitar god Jimmy Page to ask him what he thought. Page’s reaction? “Buy it.” The rest is history.

Dan Auerbach and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s Gibson Trini Lopez

See Dan playing the Fred McDowell Trini Lopez out in the wild in 2016.

Another case of the guitar finding the rockstar is Dan Auerbach and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s Gibson Trini Lopez.

Mississippi Fred McDowell was an early blues guitar legend and was renowned for his slide playing. One of his beloved guitars was a Gibson Trini Lopez, which has found its way into the possession of modern blues rocker and enormous McDowell fan Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys.

Auerbach was contacted by a person in St. Louis who’d gotten hold of the guitar that he’d seen so many times in classic Alan Lomax VHS tapes. “It was crazy,” he told Vintage Guitar, “I used to stare at it in those videos. I never forgot the little jewels glued to the headstock and upper bout. It was just wild, you know?” After some negotiations (and apparently a terrible poker face on Auerbach’s part), the guitar became part of his permanent collection.

Phoenix and Michael Jackson's Console

Phoenix - "Entertainment," from Bankrupt!

It might not seem groundbreaking to hear that French indie band Phoenix recorded their 2013 album Bankrupt! on a Harrison 4032 solid-state recording console. But you’d probably change your mind when you learned the console was the same one used on the best-selling album of all time—Michael Jackson’s Thriller—as well as dozens more from artists like Donna Summer, Billy Idol, and Paul McCartney.

Apparently Phoenix guitarist Laurent Brancowitz saw the console listed for sale on eBay of all places. According to The New Yorker, the band “liked the idea of working with a consecrated artifact, as well as having something strange upon which to fixate between albums.” Phoenix talked “spooky” and “pushy” seller Clayton Rose down from his $32,000 asking price (the original asking price was one million dollars just after Jackson’s death) to $17,000 and had him ship it to Paris for the Bankrupt! recording sessions.

Jason Isbell and Ed King’s (Lynyrd Skynyrd) Les Paul

Jason Isbell demos the "Red Eye" Paul, before getting the money together to buy it.

One of the more recently acquired guitars on this list started with Ed King of seminal Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. King, who passed away in August 2018, infamously played on songs like “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Saturday Night Special.”

After he died, part of his collection landed at Carter Vintage Guitars in Nashville, Tennessee. According to Guitar Player, co-owner Christie Carter asked Jason Isbell to come by and play some of King’s guitars for the shop’s YouTube channel. Isbell saw the fabled ‘59 Les Paul (nicknamed Red Eye), which had famously been stolen in 1987 and recovered a decade later. By the time Isbell left the shop, he had Ed King’s Les Paul with him.

Gavin Rossdale and Joe Walsh’s Jazzmaster

Gavin Rossdale shows off the Jazzmaster

Bush singer and ‘90s rock god Gavin Rossdale’s New York Magazine feature “What Musician Gavin Rossdale Can’t Live Without” is mostly full of toiletries and kitchen gadgets, but the guitar he acquired after he inked his first record deal—a purple 1960s Fender Jazzmaster—managed to make this exclusive list. “When I bought it, they told me it had been Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh’s guitar,” he told New York Magazine.

Years later, Rossdale met Walsh and asked him to confirm what he thought might have been a tall tale. Instead, Walsh said that not only had the guitar previously been his, but that it had been used to lay down the rhythm guitar parts with it to The Eagles’ most recognizable song, “Hotel California."

Marty Stewart and Clarence White’s B-Bender Telecaster

Marty Stuart: The Story of Clarence White & The Parsons/White StringBender | Reverb Interview

B-benders, a contraption installed in a guitar to help six-string players emulate pedal steel sounds, are already a rarity. But Byrds and Gram Parsons guitarist, the late Clarence White, was the first to employ this unique technology, created for him by drummer Gene Parsons.

Though Clarence tragically died in 1973, when then-child prodigy Marty Stewart was just 15 years old, Stuart had the pleasure of meeting Clarence once before then, through his brother and bandmate Roland White.

Stuart considered the White family to be like family—after all, Roland had gotten Stuart his first job with Lester Flatt when Stuart was only 13. So when Clarence White’s widow, Susie, was selling some of her late husband’s things, she offered the famous b-bender Telecaster to Stuart.

That’s not all Stuart, who was initially just interested in a Stratocaster, walked away with. For under $1,450, Stuart obtained the B-bender Telecaster, the Stratocaster, Byrds memorabilia, and some Nudie suits.

Rick Nielsen and Jeff Beck’s Les Paul

Most of the guitars featured in this article are of guitarists buying gear once played by their heroes. In this case, the guitar was sold to the guitar hero. “You know, I sold Jeff Beck the second Les Paul he ever owned,” Nielsen told MusicRadar. “It was a ’59 that had a Bigsby on it… If you look close, you can see where it used to be. I traded a Gibson SG and $25 for it. I have pictures of me with him, Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan 10 years after selling him that guitar.”

Joe Bonamassa and Eldon Shamblin (Bob Wills) Stratocaster

Joe Bonamassa is one of the world’s foremost guitarists and collectors, so it should be no surprise he’s purchased some historically significant gear. One of those is a gold Fender Stratocaster previously owned by Eldon Shamblin, most known for his work with Bob Wills. In 2016, Bonamassa told Tulsa World that the Shamblin Stratocaster is in the top five off his 260-plus guitar collection.

Nels Cline’s and Mike Watt’s Jazzmaster

Nels talks about the Mike Watt Jazzmaster at the beginning of this Rig Rundown video.

Wilco’s Nels Cline is known for Jazzmasters, but his first bass was purchased from American hardcore legend Mike Watt, bassist for Minutemen, Dos, and fIREHOSE. "I've broken virtually everything on it at some point except for the knobs and the pickups," Cline told Spin Magazine in 2011. The ‘59 Jazzmaster is one of Cline’s most prized guitars and boasts an enviable relic.

Paul McCartney and Bill Black’s Upright Bass

McCartney shows off the Bill Black bass here.

Original Elvis Presley bassist Bill Black had a short but substantial legacy. He was with Presley since the beginning of Elvis’ career and performed with his own group, The Bill Black Combo. Other than performing with Elvis, The Bill Black Combo were asked by The Beatles themselves to open for the Fab Four on their first-ever tour of the United States following their historic Ed Sullivan performance.

It’s fitting then that Paul McCartney would later own Black’s main upright bass. In the late 1970s, Paul’s wife Linda gave the ex-Beatle the bass as a birthday gift. McCartney has put the bass to good use over the years, even performing with it on television specials.

David Gilmour and Seymour Duncan’s 0001 Stratocaster

Despite its serial number, David Gilmour's 0001 Stratocaster isn’t the first-ever Stratocaster made. Still, it’s an obviously special build with a unique color and gold hardware that was likely a showpiece.

While David Gilmour is now a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, it was previously owned by legendary guitarist and master pickup builder Seymour W. Duncan. Duncan had allegedly acquired the one-of-a-kind Stratocaster directly from Leo Fender, and had sold it to Gilmour’s guitar tech Phil Taylor, who then sold it to Gilmour as part of a deal for a home loan.

In 2019, Gilmour sold the Strat along with more than 120 instruments through Christie's to raise money for charity. The 0001 Strat was sold for $1,815,000 alone, while the full collection sold for $21.5 million.

Despite such prices for the likes of Gilmour and Christie's, owning a piece of your hero’s gear isn’t as unattainable as you might think. Reverb often hosts Artist Shops—for everyone from J Mascis and Derrick Carter to Dweezil Zappa and Green Day—where everything from iconic guitars to mics and heavily used touring gear goes up for sale.

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