Are you looking for a way to increase the throbbing and burgeoning connection you have with your instrument, old or new? Are you stumped as to what to call your steed of choice, having wrung your brains out like washing on a line?
Then come forth, for today we will be exploring some famous examples of guitar names so that you, too, can come up with your own personal name for the instrument you so love and respect.
Should a Guitar be Named?
The best part about music is precisely how subjective it can be. It is arguably the most abstract art form, theoretically less pinned down by mere logic and language and, in fact, able to communicate oceans of thought and feeling in a language all its own.
A method that many use to feel more connected to their electric guitars is to name them. Many guitarists with many famous guitars have done so over the years, and are often called upon to do so by the extreme wellings of emotion that the guitar itself makes them feel, as though the guitar gently weeps.
This is, of course, not a phenomenon reserved for only the electric guitar either, for there are countless acoustic musicians who have felt similarly attached to their own instruments of choice, from Willie Nelson’s ‘Trigger’ to any one of Tommy Emmanuel’s well worn and road beaten wooden icons that take the form of an acoustic guitar.
Certainly, a guitar is merely an object, much like Eric Clapton is merely a racist, and this goes for acoustic guitars and electric guitars, but some things reek out emotion so much that they call upon to be named.
Naming a guitar can hurt, even, when checking a guitar on a plane and subsequently damaging it.
1. B.B. King’s ‘Lucille’
The now iconic ‘Lucille’ is arguably one of the most famous examples of a guitarist naming their guitar. Whenever one sees B.B. King playing the instrument it is clear to see that they have a very special connection.
But it was not always this way. He used a variety of different equipment throughout his career characteristic of the periods in which he played, using a Fender Esquire in his early recordings, though more famously using variants of the Gibson ES-335 later in his career.
The story goes that ‘In the winter of 1949, King played at a dance hall in Twist, Arkansas. The hall was heated by a barrel half-filled with burning kerosene set in the middle of the dance floor, a fairly common practice at the time. During a performance, two men began to fight, knocking over the barrel and sending the burning fuel across the floor. The hall burst into flames and was evacuated.
Once outside however, King realized that he had left his guitar inside so he went back into the burning building to retrieve his beloved $30 Gibson guitar. King learned the next day that the two men who started the fire had been fighting over a woman who worked at the hall named Lucille. King did not know Lucille but named that guitar, and every guitar he subsequently owned, Lucille, as a reminder never again to do something as stupid as run into a burning building or fight over a woman.’
2. Eddie Van Halen’s ‘Frankenstrat’
The iconography of this guitar is now legendary, courtesy to the sheer level of shred that Eddie Van Halen was willing to put out into the world on a nightly basis.
The guitar is essentially his attempt to combine the sound of a Gibson Les Paul with the physical appearance and vibrato system of a Fender Stratocaster, in turn creating one of the earliest attempts at a Superstrat. And boy did he use it! He zipped round these instruments so fast you would think there were four hands playing a double neck guitar at points!
The body itself is a Fender Stratocaster shape made from northern ash alongside a maple neck. The original Fender tremolo system was used at first, though Van Halen eventually came to install a Floyd Rose system which served his penchant for dive bombing and the like perfectly.
It is hard to properly keep track of all of the changes that the Frankenstrat has gone through over the years. Being such an unruly personality and a raucous guitarist, the guitar has taken its fair share of beatings, even having to be subbed out sometimes in favor of what it referred to as the ‘Bumblebee’ guitar, a black and yellow guitar of similar construction.
Thankfully, for those interested enough, there is a line of EVH Frankenstrats that are designed to Van Halen’s express specifications and able to purchase after the fact, a marvel especially since he is now dead.
3. Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Black Beauty’
Though Hendrix was known for playing a number of different kinds of guitar throughout his career – trying to experiment as much as possible with his sound to see what worked for him best – he was arguably best known for playing a Fender Stratocaster.
Acquiring his first in 1966 with some money he loaned from a girlfriend, he consistently used them both live and in the studio praising their ability as ‘ the best all-around guitar for the stuff we’re doing’, notably admiring its ‘bright treble and deep bass’.
Originally a blues guitarist, it is not hard to see why Jimi would praise the full and rich tonal spectrum offered by the Stratocaster, able to be a conduit for the pure expression of the guitarist. Simultaneously, he would have found in it the ability to experiment to his heart’s content. In this way, the Stratocaster could satisfy those two seemingly conflicting binaries that dictate the dichotomy of Hendrix’s musical artistry.
Hendrix played guitar so much that he almost felt uncomfortable when he was not holding one or playing one. All who knew him saw that he felt far more comfortable when he was holding a guitar, as though he was utterly transformed when he went up on stage.
Otherwise, he was as shy and nervous as could, something that those who have seen him perform struggle to believe, though videos like that below prove wholeheartedly and without a doubt.
4. Jaco Pastorius’ ‘Bass of Doom’
Infamous jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius used a number of different jazz basses over the years, though is undoubtedly most famous for using a 1962 jazz bass that he modified himself. Purchasing it at the age of 21, he removed all of the frets with a butter knife and supposedly sealed the fretboard afterward with epoxy resin.
Hell of a story, especially since his recollections of the fateful event varied over the years, though there is no doubt that the bass lay beneath his enormous hands and was played upon with majesty and grace.
As with many other of these fabled instrumentalists, Fender has since issued a tribute guitar that attempts to capture the essence of what made the bass so great in the first place, as have many other brands seeking to ride on their coattails.
The original bass, however, now resides with the Pastorius family. It turned up in the hands of a guitar shop owner in 2006 who refused to give it back to the family, and it was only with the help of Robert Trujillo of Metallica that they were able to get the guitar back in their lawful possession.
Now Robert is its custodian and has even been seen performing with it on a number of occasions, having financially helped in purchasing it back from the guitar store owner. Pastorius was a major inspiration to him, so he thought it was the least he could for the musician’s legacy.
5. Willie Nelson’s ‘Trigger’
This classical guitar is more than just an instrument to Nelson, having been with him through thick and thin for several decades along his career as a developing and again country artist.
Classical guitars do not traditionally come amplified, and so he has opted to further his desired stylings of Django Reinhardt by installing a pickup within.
The story goes that, in 1969, ‘after a concert at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, Texas, a drunk man stepped on Nelson’s [previous guitar], breaking it beyond playability. David Zettner and Jimmy Day, members of Nelson’s band The Record Men, took the guitar to Shot Jackson, a luthier in Nashville, Tennessee. Jackson, who considered the damage irreparable, offered Nelson a Martin N-20 nylon-stringed classical guitar.
‘Nelson instructed Jackson, during a phone conversation, to move the pickup from the Baldwin to the Martin. The pickup allowed him to amplify his classical acoustic sound to perform in large dance halls, contributing to his signature style.
The name itself comes from the name of the horse of Roy Rogers. Nelson’s typical response, when asked about the name of the guitar, is that ‘Roy Rogers had a horse named Trigger. I figured, this is my horse!’
Much like B.B. King, Nelson also had to save the guitar from a burning building, a ranch to be exact, further solidifying his connection with the instrument forevermore. Onward!
6. Brian May’s ‘Red Special’
Granted all of the relationships between artist and instrument so far have been special, but other than perhaps in the case of Van Halen, none of the artists here arrayed have actually built the instruments that they play. This is where Brian May comes in.
Unable to afford a Fender, Gibson, or Höfner guitar, he and his father began working on their own guitar in 1963 and concluded construction the following year. The neck is formed of wood from a hundred year old fireplace that a family friend was on the cusp of discarding, hand shaped into the desired form, a feat made difficult by the age and quality of the wood and the presence of worm holes.
To this day, Brian May still uses the original guitar, though has been seen to use replicas in some performances, such as those manufactured by Guild. There have been many moments such as in music videos where he has opted to use either a replica or another guitar entirely so as to prevent the original from destruction, still using one of his own guitar bridge types.
The more astute will notice, for example, that in the video for ‘We Will Rock You’, the guitar that Brian uses is a replica of the original, so as to avoid the original coming into contact with the snow ever present in the video.
Ironic seeing as one of the original replicas of the Red Special constructed by John Birch was allegedly destroyed by May in a fit of rage regarding the tuning stability issues.
So, there you have it!
Hopefully, your curiosity has been satiated and you are feeling at least a little more inspired with regard to naming your own guitar.
There is, of course, no need to force a name upon your guitar – the best ones come naturally. You will notice from reading the examples above that none of them were really forced upon the guitars but rather came about as a result of the wealth of experiences that the artists accrued. So be it!
FAQs Guitar Names
There is no single guitar name that is the best. Since music itself is a highly subjective art form – and this is precisely one of the best things about it; the sheer subjectivity makes it one of the most abstract forms art can take (if not the most) – and so the names that a guitar is given will rank different depending on whoever’s ears they are gracing. Some, for example, might be fond of the fact that Eric Clapton has named two of his famous Fender Stratocasters ‘Blackie’ and ‘Brownie’ respectively, though it personally seems to me a little rich knowing that he is a racist pig.
Though there are a whole bunch of different types of guitar available today, for the beginner guitarist who wants to get to know the guitar world there are three central types that many of the others fall into: Electric guitars (i.e. those that are powered by electrical means to be amplified louder than the naked strings allow); Acoustic guitars (i.e. those that use their own acoustical power to get their message across); and Classical guitars (i.e. those that are constructed for the performing of classical music – very similar to acoustic guitars).
This remains to be seen, though there is plenty of evidence available to suggest that doing so could improve the connection between yourself and your instrument; even if only emotionally and spiritually this is bound to have at least a marginal effect on the performing outcome. The more famous examples of artists naming their guitars, however, tend to come about as a result of chance and are not forced. B.B. King’s ‘Lucille’, for example, was named after a woman who caused two men to fight at a dance and who subsequently caused the fire that almost destroyed the guitar in question. Try naming a guitar for a cooler reason than that!