Keith Richards

Keith Richards Guitars: The Rolling Stones’ Riff Master’s Arsenal

Keith Richards, the legendary guitarist of the Rolling Stones, is renowned for his exceptional guitar playing and distinctive sound. His collection of guitars, each with its own history and character, has fascinated fans and guitar enthusiasts alike.

In this article, we’ll delve into some of the most iconic guitars Keith Richards has played, exploring their features, history, and the magic they brought to Richards’ performances.

Keith Richards: The Legend

A performance by the Rolling Stones on October 7, 2016 from the music festival Desert Trip, held at the Empire Polo Club


Keith Richards is a renowned English musician, singer, and songwriter, best known as the co-founder, guitarist, secondary vocalist, and co-principal songwriter of the Rolling Stones. Born on December 18, 1943, in Dartford, Kent, Richards is one of the original members of the band, which formed in 1962. He is celebrated for his innovative guitar playing, having created some of the most famous riffs in rock music.

Richards’ style is characterized by his rhythm guitar playing, distinct use of open tunings, and a keen understanding of blues, all of which have significantly influenced rock music. Alongside Mick Jagger, his bandmate and childhood friend, Richards has written and produced numerous hit songs, including iconic tracks like (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Honky Tonk Women, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and Gimme Shelter.

His songwriting partnership with Jagger is one of the most successful in history.

Richards is also known for his distinctive voice, often contributing backing vocals and occasionally singing lead with the Stones. His personal life, marked by notorious substance abuse and a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, has been as much a subject of public fascination as his music.

Despite these challenges, he has continued to perform and record with the Stones for over six decades, making him one of the most enduring figures in rock music.

His contributions to music have earned him a place in both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Stones.

Here’s a look at some of the guitars that helped this legend achieve greatness.

1957 Gibson Les Paul Custom: The “Mickey Baker” Model

One of the crown jewels in Keith Richards’ guitar collection is the 1957 Gibson Les Paul Custom. This model, also known as the Mickey Baker guitar, is a rare and highly coveted instrument among guitarists, including icons like Eric Clapton and other legendary players.

Richards first showcased this guitar on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966, which cemented its place in rock history.

This guitar stands out due to its limited production. With only 283 units produced in that year, it’s a collector’s dream. The guitar’s rarity has led to it being a centerpiece in auctions and trades among famous musicians. Notably, a well-known trade occurred between Keith Richards and Gram Parsons, further adding to the guitar’s lore.

This Gibson guitar is known for its unique sound, contributing to the iconic tones of Rolling Stones’ hits. It features a solid mahogany body and neck, with an ebony fingerboard that adds to its rich, warm tones. The guitar’s sound is often described as powerful yet nuanced, capable of both screaming leads and warm, mellow rhythms.

This guitar has not only been associated with Keith Richards but also with other guitar legends, including Eric Clapton. Its sound and style have become synonymous with the golden era of rock music, and Richards’ use of this guitar in various Rolling Stones classics has immortalized it in the annals of rock history.

Gibson Les Paul Junior: “Dice”

Another noteworthy guitar in Keith Richards’ collection is the Les Paul Junior, affectionately known as the “Dice” guitar. This instrument stands out for its simplicity and raw power, perfectly complementing Richards’ playing style.

This model is a testament to the beauty of simplicity in electric guitar design. It features a flat piece of mahogany for the body, a single P90 pickup, and two controls. Its double-cutaway design offers easy access to higher frets, essential for Richards’ dynamic playing. The guitar’s minimalist approach, with its tortoiseshell pickguard and Telecaster-style control knobs, emphasizes functionality over frills.

What sets this particular Les Paul Junior apart is the pair of dice that once adorned its front, near the control knobs. This quirky addition has given the guitar its nickname and has become a part of its identity.

Over the years, several images and videos of Richards playing this guitar have surfaced, showcasing its unique look and his iconic use of it in both live performances and studio recordings.

The influence of the “Dice” guitar extends beyond Richards’ use. Its distinct sound and style have inspired numerous replicas and modified versions, allowing fans and guitarists to capture a piece of Keith Richards’ musical essence. The guitar’s straightforward yet effective design makes it a favorite among players who appreciate the raw, unfiltered sound it produces.

A performance by the Stones on October 7, 2016 from the music festival Desert Trip, held at the Empire Polo Club.


Gibson Les Paul Standard: The “Keith Burst”

The 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard, famously known as the “Keith Burst,” holds a special place in the realm of Keith Richards guitars. This guitar is not just a musical instrument but a piece of rock ‘n’ roll history.

Keith Richards purchased this iconic guitar second-hand in London in 1964. It debuted during the Rolling Stones’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show that same year. The “Keith Burst” is instantly recognizable by its dark figure near the cutaway on the top’s lower bout, a unique feature that adds to its mystique.

This Les Paul Standard boasts a mahogany body and neck, a beautifully carved maple top, and a rosewood fingerboard. The 24¾-inch scale, set guitar neck with pearloid trapezoid inlays, and cream binding contribute to its classic aesthetics. The inlaid mother-of-pearl Gibson logo on the headstock and two PAF humbucking pickups define its elegant look and sound. The guitar’s two-volume and two-tone controls, along with a three-way selector switch, offer a wide range of tonal possibilities.

Richards used this guitar extensively during the early years of the Rolling Stones, particularly throughout 1965 and likely into early 1966. Its association with Richards and the Stones has made the 1959 Les Paul Standard a highly valuable and sought-after instrument, with prices often exceeding $200,000.

Gibson Hummingbird: The Acoustic Companion

Keith Richards’ choice of acoustic guitar, the Gibson Hummingbird, has been a constant in his musical arsenal since 1964. This guitar has played a crucial role in shaping the acoustic sound of the Rolling Stones.

The Gibson Hummingbird has been the backbone of several famous Rolling Stones tracks. From the gritty strums of Street Fighting Man to the melancholic melodies of Angie and the raw energy of Brown Sugar, this guitar has been a key component in creating the Stones’ signature sound.

Its presence is also felt in the timeless tracks Wild Horses and Jumping Jack Flash.

Fender Telecaster – “Micawber”

Among Keith Richards’ collection, the Fender Telecaster known as “Micawber” stands out for its unique modifications and the stories it holds.

Keith reportedly received this 1950s Fender Telecaster around 1970, a gift from Eric Clapton for his 27th birthday.

It has undergone several modifications, most notably when recording the Rolling Stones’ 1972 album ‘Exile.’ Keith removed the top E string and played it in open G tuning (GDGBD), a technique he became famous for. The original single-coil neck pickup was replaced with a ’50s Gibson PAF humbucker, reversed to face the tail end of the guitar.

This modification, along with the possible addition of a lap-steel pickup in the bridge position, gave “Micawber” its distinctive bite.

The guitar’s nickname, “Micawber,” comes from Wilkins Micawber, a character in Charles Dickens’s novel ‘David Copperfield.’ Known for his melodramatic yet kind-hearted nature and eternal optimism, the character’s unique name was chosen by Keith without any particular reason other than its uniqueness and distinctiveness.

Fender Telecaster – “Malcolm”

“Malcolm” is another significant guitar in Keith Richards’ collection, often seen as a companion to his primary Telecaster, “Micawber.” First used around 1972, this guitar has its own unique features and history.

Initially, “Malcolm” appeared as a spare for “Micawber,” often used in live performances. It was recognizable by a Rolling Stones tongue sticker placed on the upper body. Despite its role as a backup, “Malcolm” gradually emerged as a distinctive instrument in its own right.

What sets “Malcolm” apart from “Micawber” is its visible wood grain, as opposed to the solid color finish of “Micawber.” Additionally, the Gibson PAF humbucker installed in the neck position faces the opposite direction compared to the one in “Micawber.” These subtle differences lend “Malcolm” its unique character and tonal qualities.

In the 1970s, “Malcolm” underwent modifications similar to those of “Micawber.” The most notable change was the addition of a Gibson PAF pickup in the neck position. Richards often used this guitar in open B tuning, which was essential for playing songs like Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Happy, and Tumbling Dice.

Keith Richards used “Malcolm” extensively from the 1970s to the late 1980s, as evidenced by footage from various Rolling Stones gigs showing Keith Richards playing the guitar. This guitar, with its modifications and unique tuning, played a significant role in many of the band’s live performances during this period.

Photograph of the Stones members Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts at Turku airport when arriving to Finland

[Source: Wikimedia Commons.]

Rosetti Classical Guitar: Keith’s First Guitar

The Rosetti Classical Guitar holds a special place in Keith Richards’ musical journey, being his first-ever guitar.

Not much detailed information is available about this particular guitar, but its significance in Richards’ early musical development is undeniable. Before acquiring the Rosetti, Keith could only practice on his grandfather Gus’ classical guitar.

While details are sparse, the Rosetti Classical Guitar had some peculiar attributes. Notably, the back of the bridge seems to have had a metal plate, an unusual feature for a classical guitar. Moreover, the pickguard appeared to be of a random shape, further adding to the uniqueness of this instrument.

Though the Rosetti Classical Guitar may not have the fame of Richards’ later guitars, its importance in his life cannot be understated. It was on this guitar that Keith Richards began his journey, laying the foundation for his future as a legendary guitarist and a cornerstone of the Rolling Stones.

This guitar gives us further insight into Keith Richards’ diverse and storied collection. Its unique features and history have contributed to the rich tapestry of the Rolling Stones’ music and Keith Richards’ legacy as one of the most influential guitarists in rock history.

Gallotone Valencia: Keith’s First Steel-String Guitar

The Gallotone Valencia holds a unique place in Keith Richards’ guitar history, being his first steel-string guitar. Its story is as interesting as its brief but significant role in Keith’s early musical years.

Keith used the Gallotone Valencia around 1961 when he was part of the band Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys. This group, which included Mick Jagger, Dick Taylor, Bob Beckwith, and Allen Etherington, was an early stepping stone in Keith’s musical journey.

There is some confusion about the make of this guitar. Keith Richards has mentioned that he believed it to be a Hofner, but photos from the era suggest it was actually a Gallotone Valencia. Regardless of its brand, this guitar was significant in Keith’s early development as a guitarist.

The story of the Gallotone Valencia ends with a bit of misfortune, as Keith famously forgot the guitar on a train on one of the London Underground lines, marking the end of its time with him.

Keith Richards’ 1962 Epiphone Casino

The 1962 Epiphone Casino is another pivotal guitar in Keith Richards’ collection. This model actually became his main axe during the Stones’ early years.

Keith likely purchased the Epiphone Casino just before the Stones’ first US tour, which started on June 1st, 1964. The guitar made its first appearance on the Hollywood Palace show with Dean Martin on June 3rd, 1964.

The Epiphone Casino featured a thin-line hollow laminated maple body, a trapeze-type tailpiece, and two Gibson P-90 pickups. These attributes contributed to its distinct sound, making it a favorite for Keith during this period.

The guitar was prominently used during the band’s first US tour and was a critical instrument in the recording sessions at Chess Studios in Chicago. Here, Keith Richards recorded a significant part of their second album, “12 X 5,” with this guitar.

Keith continued to use the Epiphone Casino as a backup guitar for his Les Paul Standard up until late 1965. It saw its last use in the studio in early September 1965, during the recording sessions for I’m Free, The Singer Not the Song, and Gotta Get Away.

In recounting the stories of the Gallotone Valencia and the 1962 Epiphone Casino, we see different aspects of Keith Richards’ musical evolution. Each guitar, whether briefly used or a mainstay, played a role in shaping the sound and style of Keith Richards and the Stones. These instruments, with their own unique stories and characteristics, are integral to understanding the development of one of the most influential guitarists in rock history.

Keith Richards Amps

While Keith Richards is primarily known for his iconic guitars, his choice of amplifiers has also significantly contributed to his legendary sound. Two amps, in particular, stand out in his early career: the Vox AC30 and the Fender Showman.

Vox AC30: The Early Days

In the early days of the Rolling Stones, around 1963, Keith Richards often used the Vox AC30. This period coincided with the time when he played his Harmony Meteor H70 guitar. The Vox AC30, known for its rich and jangly tone, was a popular choice among British rock musicians during the 1960s and perfectly complemented the sound of the Stones during their formative years.

Use by Keith and Brian

Both Keith Richards and Brian Jones, another founding member of the Stones, frequently used the Vox AC30 throughout 1964 and 1965. The amplifier’s distinctive sound was a key element in the band’s early recordings and live performances. The Vox AC30’s ability to provide a clean yet richly textured sound made it ideal for the Stones’ blend of rock and blues.

Fender Showman Amp: A Shift in Sound

The Fender Showman amp made its debut in the Stones’ equipment lineup around 1964, most notably during their first American tour. The introduction of the Fender Showman represented a shift towards a more robust and versatile sound.

Adoption by Keith and Brian

Both Keith Richards and Brian Jones experimented with the Fender Showman amps during this period. The Showman, known for its clean, powerful output and reliability, offered a different tonal palette compared to the Vox AC30. This allowed the Rolling Stones to explore a broader range of sounds and dynamics in their music.

Comparing with Vox AC30

Despite the introduction of the Fender Showman amps, the Vox AC30s were still used more frequently by the band. The Vox’s signature tone remained a favorite for studio work and certain live performances.

However, the Fender Showman amps were occasionally preferred for live gigs, likely due to their greater power and headroom, which suited larger venues.

By exploring the amplifiers used by Keith Richards, we understand another layer of his musical genius. The Vox AC30 and the Fender Showman each played a role in shaping the sound of the Stones during their early years. These amplifiers, along with Keith’s iconic guitars, combined to create the unique and timeless sound that has become synonymous with one of the greatest rock bands in history.

A guitarist playing an electric guitar.

Conclusion: Walking Through Keith Richards Guitars

Keith Richards’ journey through the world of rock and roll is not just a story of musical genius but also one of resilience, innovation, and a deep passion for the art of guitar playing.

His array of guitars, each with its own story and character, has shaped the sound of the Stones and influenced countless musicians worldwide. From the iconic “Micawber” and the rare 1957 Gibson Les Paul to his first Gallotone Valencia and the versatile Epiphone Casino, each instrument played a pivotal role in the evolution of rock music.

Richards’ use of amplifiers like the Vox AC30 and the Fender Showman further illustrates his mastery in crafting a distinct sound that is both powerful and emotive. His contributions to music, alongside his unique playing style and songwriting prowess, have earned him an indelible place in the history of music.

You can see easily this in action, thanks to the footage available of Keith playing the different guitars mentioned in this article.

As we look back on the remarkable career of Keith Richards, it’s clear that his legacy goes beyond just being a member of the Rolling Stones. He is a symbol of the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll – rebellious, innovative, and enduring.

His guitars are not just tools but extensions of his artistry, each string and fret telling a story of a man who redefined the boundaries of music. Keith Richards, with his guitar in hand, has truly become a legend of our time.