Keith Richards is most famously known for playing Fender Telecasters, however in the early years of The Rolling Stones, one of his main instruments was a Sunburst 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard.
The guitar pictured above held by Keith Richards is a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard; The Holy Grail of electric guitars. The instrument was originally purchased in March 1961 from Farmers Music Store in Luton, United Kingdom, by John Bowen the guitarist for Mike Dean and the Kinsman. At some point Bowen had a Bigsby Vibrato fitted and installed on the guitar at the famous Selmer’s Guitar Shop in London. Eventually, he traded in the Les Paul at Selmer’s for a Gretsch Country Gentleman in late 1962; It was there that it stumbled into the hands of Keith Richards.
Keith’s Les Paul would go on to be his main guitar of choice in the early years of The Rolling Stones, taking it with him on the band’s famed tour of The United States in 1964. Millions of audiences across America were introduced to Keith and his Lester when they made their debut performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Keith also used the guitar to record some of The Stones earliest hits including, “Little Red Rooster,” “Time is on My Side,” “The Last Time,” “Get Off My Cloud,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and most famously, “Satisfaction”.
Keith wasn’t one to be stingy with his instruments and would often loan his Les Paul out to several of his cohorts. It is known that Jimmy Page used it on at least one mid-’60s recording sessions, and Eric Clapton used the guitar in 1966 with Cream at the Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival. Keith used his Les Paul from 1964 until 1967 when sold the guitar to his future Rolling Stones bandmate Mick Taylor. Taylor had replaced Peter Green in John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers.
Ultimately, Keith and the Les Paul would be reunited in a way just a little under two years later when Mick Taylor was chosen to succeed Brian Jones as the second guitarist in The Rolling Stones. Mick Taylor was often seen playing the instrument at various Rolling Stones concerts, and can be seen with both Keith and Mick playing it on the film of the band at the infamous Altamont Speedway in 1969, “Gimme Shelter”.
|Mick Taylor with the “Keith Burst”|
At some point in 1971 under circumstances that aren’t exactly clear to this day, the guitar was stolen. There are many stories that swirl around what happened to the guitar including that it was stolen at The Marquee Club in London, or in Nellcote, France while the band was recording the album “Exile on Main Street”. Whatever happened to it, it next popped up in the hands of Cosmo Verrico, the guitarist of the group The Heavy Metal Kids. Verrico owned the guitar until 1974, when he sold the guitar to Bernie Marsden of Whitesnake. Bernie then held onto the instrument for a little over a week before basically flipping it to Mike Jopp a for a cool £50 profit.
Mike Jopp owned the guitar from 1974 until 2003 when he decided to finally part ways with it and sold it to a private unnamed investor who himself auctioned it off a year later through Christie’s in New York City. The guitar then only stayed off the market for a mere two years before it was again sold to a private collector for a reported $1,000,000.
In terms of history this is one of the most significant guitars that has ever been played. As I’ve stated above, The 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard is considered to be the Holy Grail of solid-body electric guitars. The reason for their notoriety is due to how many of the greatest guitar players of all time chose to take one up as their main instrument of choice. Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Gary Rossington, and on and on. However, it might have been that none of them would have even considered using one if they hadn’t been exposed to it’s tonal abilities through the exposure it received in the hands of Keith Richards.
I think it can be fairly stated that the “Keith Burst” Gibson Les Paul could be called the Grandaddy of all The Bursts