10 Legendary Guitars Modified By Their Owners

10 Legendary Guitars Modified By Their Owners

While our #DiyKitChallenge22 is in full swing, the art of modifying and customizing guitars is nothing new! In this article, we present to you 10 legendary guitars that have been modified, personalized, or even completely manufactured by their no-less-famous owners! 🎸🎸🎸

“Blackie” – Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton, Slowhand, is one of the most recognized blues guitarists of his generation, and his black Fender Stratocaster is just as recognizable! In addition to the cigarette burns on the head of the instrument, Eric Clapton is known to have modified the guitar in question quite extensively by blocking the tremolo system with a wooden wedge and installing the famous ” mid boost in the electronics of the guitar, an active preamp that allows it to boost the output signal of the instrument in order to obtain a more powerful and cutting overdrive in the mix.

“Fender Esquire” – Bruce Springsteen

The singer, guitarist, composer behind Born in the USA and Streets of Philadelphia among many others is a “Tele guy until he dies”! He even told Leo Fender when he offered to put his Esquire aside to use one of his new Strat models. Bruce Springsteen has always been around his Esquire (neck) / Telecaster (body) hybrid which has seen quite a few modifications over its years of service: from the inevitable change in tuners as the originals began to falter, to the trigger guard of the high E string, with modifications made by the previous owner of the guitar (before its purchase by Bruce in 1973) who had hollowed out the body to add other microphones and separate jack outputs, also making it one of the lightest TVs in history, according to Bruce and most people who had the opportunity to play it.

“Gibson Les Paul” – “Les Paul”

How can we talk about famous guitarists and their guitars without mentioning the man whose name is now synonymous with the instrument itself: Les Paul! Jazz and pop guitarist, he became the emblem of the Gibson brand during his transition to electric instruments through his participation in the design and creation of the Gibson Les Paul . Beyond the cosmetic choices he made and which are now intrinsic to the design of the guitar, Les Paul also experimented a lot with the electronics of the instrument by modifying the neck pickup of his guitar to develop the humbucker, at the “ dummy coil ” principle  inserted into the rear of the body to limit noise from the P90s, to the various pickup wiring options, not to mention the addition of a prototype Vibrola system to what was originally a wraparound bridge.

“62/63 Fender Strat” – Stevie Ray Vaughan

Although the guitar named after Frankenstein’s creature only comes after this one, Number One by Texas Blues master Stevie Ray Vaughan isn’t far off from the science experiment either! It is indeed a stratocaster body dating from 1963 , a neck from 1962 , and pickups / electronics from 1959 . And as if that weren’t enough, SRV also later replaced the pickguard with a black model bearing his initials, a left- handed tremolo in tribute to his idol Jimi Hendrix, and numerous rescues made by his technician Rene Martinez, such as the change of mechanics , and the ends of plastic sheatharound the base of the strings in the bridge to avoid the almost daily breakage that resulted from Stevie’s sometimes super aggressive playing.

“Frankenstrat” ​​- Eddie Van Halen

THE DIY guitar par excellence, creation of master Eddie Van Halen ! This guitar, which accompanied him throughout his career and gave birth to an impressive number of signature models, has very modest origins! This is a rejected body and neck from the Charvel production line that Eddie bought for the modest sum of $130. He then finished the guitar with the now legendary design that we know him well: these strips of tape added between each layer of white, black and red. The electronics are a big deal, originally featuring a simple PAF pickup taken from a Gibson ES335connected directly to a volume knob marked “tone”, and a single microphone in the neck position, connected to … nothing at all! This guitar hides many more secrets and evolutions than we can describe here, but I recommend that you read its complete history right here.

“#5 Gibson Les Paul” – Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend of The Who was one of the most influential guitarists of the 60s and 70s and his guitars are no less well known. Numbering 9 on most of his tours, Pete would number his guitars 1 through 9 based on their tuning. With a mixture of Gibson SGs and Les Paul Standard, Deluxe and Customs, he used to change the pickup selection , regularly adding a third pickup in the middle of the two doubles already in place (a change that would later be adopted by Gibson on certain Black Beauty and LP Custom models) and modifying the routing options of these pickups accordingly with a second 3-position selector , as you can see in this photo.

“Micawber” – Keith Richards

No need to introduce Keith Richards though? ” Micawber “, a name taken from Dickens’ David Copperfield novel, is one of the Stones guitarist’s most iconic guitars. This is a 1952 Fender Telecaster , modified with a brass bridge and a PAF pickup added in the neck position. On top of that, this tele is tuned in open G five strings (GDGBD). This explains the absence of the saddle normally dedicated to the low E string.

“Red Special” – Brian May

Red Special surpasses all the other guitars on this list in terms of customization and DIY spirit because Brian May, not only modified this guitar to his liking, but created it from scratch! The future Queen guitarist , then a teenager and already a handyman, asked his father to help him build his own electric guitar and they set about creating the legendary guitar that would accompany Brian throughout his career with Queen until this day. From the cutting of the wood, to the winding of the pickups, to the final assembly of the instrument, it is one of the rare examples of “homemade” guitars that has achieved such acclaimed status. The original model has since retired , but Brian has since collaborated with manyluthiers who have reproduced the instrument as faithfully as possible, for Brian May himself, as well as for the general public.

“Gretsch Jet” – Malcolm Young

DIY also goes through minimalism sometimes! This is the spirit adopted by the late AC/DC rhythm guitarist: Malcolm Young . His favorite guitar was a Gretsch Jet which he had considerably modified over the years in search of a more organic , natural, powerful sound, to get the most out of his amps pushed to their limits! This is how he removed 2 of the pickups from the guitar and all the associated wiring to keep only the bridge pickup and a volume knob directly connected to the jack output of the guitar. Minimal impedance, organic and powerful output level, it’s the sound that created the greatest riffs in the history of hard rock!

“Gibson SG Monkey” – Tony Iommi

Monkey’s story begins in pain, when Tony Iommi, newcomer to a small group called Black Sabbath who was going to record his first album, suffers an accident at work which costs him 2 knuckles in his right hand. In order to compensate for the lack of mobility of his makeshift prostheses, he will considerably modify his Gibson SG in order to make it easier to play. He varnishes the rosewood neck to make it less resistant to friction, he changes his strings for a super light gauge from 8 to 32 as well as the pickups for much more aggressive P90 style to compensate for the light strings, and finally the easel for a wraparoundadjustable allowing it a more precise adjustment and a lower action.


And what about yours?

If you also like to build and modify your instruments, consider our #DiyKitChallenge22, participate for your chance to win a €500 Thomann voucher!

Find all the conditions of participation right HERE.

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Joe has been singing since he can remember and started playing guitar when he was 10. He's been using it as a songwriting tool ever since. He is passionate about melody and harmony and admires musicians who create these in unique ways. Check out his alternative / indie projects Best of Feelings and Zef Raček.

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