Jimi Hendrix, whose recorded anthology includes the posthumous 1994 album, Jimi Hendrix: Blues, on the MCA Records label, and Muddy Waters, known as the Father of Chicago Blues, equally popularized Fender instruments.
Jimmy Page, from the essential electric blues based Led Zeppelin, along with legendary Allman Brothers Band guitar duo Dickey Betts and Duane Allman, were famous for using Gibson Les Paul’s. Given these influential artists all earned significant places in pop music history, which is the true blues guitar, Fender or Gibson? Will the true blues guitar please stand up?
Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters
The guitar most often associated with Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray and many other contemporary blues men is the same one favored by Texas axe slinger Stevie Ray Vaughn, the solid body Fender Stratocaster. Additionally, pop culture is filled with iconic images from the 60s and 70s of virtuosos like Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck, stars who blazed trails on Olympic white “Strats”.
Perhaps it’s the capacity of the Stratocaster’s neck and frets that easily facilitate string bends and trilling or maybe it’s the curvaceous ergonomic feel of the double cut away body type that has made this a favorite with so many notable musicians. Whatever the reason, since 1954 the Stratocaster has been a proven success, especially within the modern blues tradition.
The Telecaster is another Fender product with a legacy, partly because Muddy Waters used one while laying down a solid foundation for rock and roll. Waters played a Telecaster when Mick and the boys heard his moving “Rolling Stone,” prompting them to give their band its iconic name.
Muddy Waters restrung his Telecaster for slide work and Keith Richards preferred a modified five string version, evidence of Fender’s versatility. The prominent twang of the solid body Telecaster, its neck and bridge pick-ups and the distinctive “ashtray” saddle has attracted an assortment of significant artists since the guitar first became available in 1950.
Gibson Les Paul’s and the ES-355
When British legend Jimmy Page performed with Led Zeppelin, he was regularly seen with a Les Paul. Where Muddy Waters used a Telecaster for slide guitar, Duane Allman employed a Gibson for his brilliant open E chord string runs.
First sold in 1952, untold professionals have been drawn to the Les Paul for its range of warm textured tones and extreme playability, including the late Mike Bloomfield. The Gibson website explains:
To most guitar and blues aficionados, Michael Bloomfield was more than just a renowned, big-city blues guitarist. A session player who was weaned on Chicago’s legendary south side blues, Bloomfield forever altered American-based blues with his bold and passionate guitar playing and he did it all while strumming a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard.
Conversely, the one and only “Beale Street Blues Boy,” B.B. King, one of the greatest guitar players of all time, has always chosen a semi-hollow body Gibson ES-355, also known as “Lucille.” Initially sold in 1955, the dual humbuckers and chambered body offered King a sweet acoustic quality, vastly different than the solid Stratocaster or Telecaster and an established element of his compelling style.
Accessibility to these fine Fender and Gibson instruments won’t be easy on the wallet. Then, there’s the type of amplifier to use, depending on the desired sound, both key issues to reckon with when in search of the true blues guitar.
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