A few interesting and unusual gear setups

My guitar projects are all halted as I’m currently waiting on two guitar bodies: one which I painted and which I am waiting on a professionally applied clear coat, and one which is being painted by a pro, since I am looking for a high gloss, neon pink finish.

While I wait for the bodies, I’ve been watching a series (“Rig Rundown”) where Premiere Guitar magazine talks to the guitar techs for some notable and famous players. Most guys they talk to play traditional guitars with minor (sometimes major) mods, some actually play the signature model of a guitar issued in their name by Fender (G.E. Smith for one, Buddy Guy for a second).

But some of these guys have truly bizarre habits and gear needs. Here are some examples of the most interesting and unusual things I have learned:

Brian May


Brian May is lead guitarist for Queen (Brian is on the right, Freddy Mercury on the left) and his main guitar is a guitar that he built with his father when he was 17. He has used this same guitar for his entire career and while he occasionally can be seeing with other guitars (cough *Telecaster* cough), his main guitar for 98% of his performances remains this homemade thing-a-ma-jig.


You may have known that, it’s not a secret, but did you also know that Brian doesn’t use a standard guitar pick? He uses a sixpence coin as a pick! Apparently he holds them quite loosely, and consequently drops them often, so his guitar tech stuffs 5 or 6 of them into his guitar strap. The other thing you may be wondering is why on earth the British government would mint a sixpence coin? That would be like the US government minting an 8 cent coin. Then again the whole British system of measurements is without reason:  37.2367 quarts in a bushel?

Final tidbit, Brian also has a PhD in Astrophysics.

Billy Gibbons


Billy Gibbons plays a wide variety of guitars, many full custom builds, but what I found interesting about his guitars is that he strings them all with very, very light strings – 0.007 to 0.038! In fact his guitar tech said the heaviest strings he has ever seen him use in a performance were 8s, on a specific guitar tuned for a specific song. Most of the guitars are heavily customized, hollowed out for lightness. I noticed that many of his custom guitars have only a single humbucker in the bridge position.

Joe Perry

Joe Perry, lead guitarist for Aerosmith, has all kinds of weird instruments. One of his main guitars is a Strat-like guitar made from plexiglass, with a single custom built humbucker in the bridge position.


Another interesting guitar he plays in concerts is a custom 10 string guitar! The D, G, B, and high E strings each have two strings side by side, but with different sizes.


The guitar is tuned to a “drop D” tuning which is D-A-B-G-B-E instead of the usual E-A-D-G-B-E.

Also interesting is that Perry will apparently play many different types of guitars within a single show – custom guitars, a Telecaster, a Stratocaster, and Gibson Les Pauls. He and his tech build a list which matches guitars to their set list and even then he will change it up on the fly. He also has no set string size! He plays 8s, 9s, or 10s, depending on the guitar and the song.

But the most interesting thing I learned is that on the song “Back in the Saddle”, Perry plays a 6 string bass in open G tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D), with strings 0.045-0.105!! And he plays lead on this bass! Giovanni, are you listening?



Time to wrap this up, I’ve got dishes to wash. If you hear any more stories, let me know and I’ll add ’em.




One thought on “A few interesting and unusual gear setups

  1. That is interesting about Joe Perry playing lead on bass … not being an Arrowsmith fan I’d never heard of the song, and looked it up …here it is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3vlj8mUiPA

    I noticed that there is another guitar player who plays what sounds like most of the “solo” stuff though you can see that Perry is indeed playing a bass and the sort of “under solo” of the song – I cannot really tell whether he plays chords on the 6 string bass – I don’t think he does. Anyway, thanks for this, it was neat to see. Also learned about guitar string sizes


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