Butterscotch Telecaster in open G

Good music comes out of people playing together, knowing what they want to do and going for it. You have to sweat over it and bug it to death. You can’t do it by pushing buttons and watching a TV screen.
– Keith Richards

Here’s something I didn’t think I’d ever say. I’m a Keith Richards fan.

Not just a fan but a HUGE effing fan.

So what, you say? Everybody likes the Stones right?

Well, no. Anybody who knows me knows that I’m not much of a Stones fan. The reason for this is as follows, not necessarily in this order:

  • Jagger.
  • “Some Girls”
  • Mick Jagger

1) Jagger for obvious reasons. Who wants a 90-pound budgie strutting around onstage in top hat and tails while clucking into the mic, nearly unintelligibly, something about “Oh little sister, Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, girl, Pretty, pretty, Such a pretty, pretty, pretty girl, Come on baby please, please, please.”

2) “Some Girls,” because this was the first record they made with Ronnie Wood as a full-fledged member replacing Mick Taylor. And because, unless you were a pubescent, suburban schoolgirl, that album pretty much sucked. The hits from that record, ‘Miss You,’ ‘Beast of Burden’ and ‘Shattered,’ are a far cry from a ‘Street Fighting Man’ or a ‘Jumpin Jack Flash.’

3) Although in a recent interview on NPR, Richards calls Jagger a “phenomenal performer,” I’m not sure there are a lot of people who would refer to him a “good singer.” But I guess you don’t have to be a good singer to be successful in the music business even if your role in a band is that of singer. Just ask Bob Dylan.

It’s not so much that I don’t like Ronnie Wood. I loved him as a bass player in the Jeff Beck Group on ‘Beck-Ola’ and ‘Truth’ and I still liked him when he joined The Faces around 1969. He’s an amazingly versatile musician who, in addition to bass, plays slide, pedal and steel guitar and harmonica. He’s also a decent songwriter and fairly well-respected painter. I just don’t see his guitar style meshing well with Keith’s. I liked the lead /rhythm combination of Taylor/Richards. The Stones really need a lead player in my view but I’m obviously wrong about that because …

According to Wikipedia and regardless of VisualKaos’ personal opinion, the Stones seemed to have done fairly well.

“In a career that has spanned nearly half a century, the band has released over 90 singles, more than two dozen studio albums, and numerous compilation and live albums. Ten of their studio albums are among Rolling Stone magazine’s The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, with their 1972 double album Exile on Main St. placing seventh.”

It may be that Rolling Stone likes the Rolling Stones because they named their freaking magazine after them, sort of.

So, at the risk of sounding like one of those narcissistic know-it-alls who, when referring to bands, says pompous, self-important shit like, “Yeah, I liked their early stuff,” I liked (some of) their early stuff.

During the “British Invasion” of the 1960s (yes, I was around then) there was a bizarre and somewhat amusing competition going on between the Stones and the Beatles. You almost had to choose a side and I was, and still am, squarely in the Beatles camp. Toward the end of that tumultuous decade that all faded away and both bands were recording the best music of their careers.

The Stones’ two best records, 1968’s ‘Beggars Banquet’ and ‘Let It Bleed’ the following year definitely rank in the top 500 of all time in my book. Probably much higher than that, possibly the top 50. ‘Sticky Fingers,’ which came out in 1971 was also a pretty good record but it signaled the end of good songwriting and innovative guitar riffs and the beginning of a juvenile and sophomoric marketing plan that was directed at pubescent, suburban schoolgirls. The album cover, conceived by Andy Warhol, featured a photo of a man’s package in tight jeans and a functioning zipper that when pulled down opened to reveal his tidy whiteys. The album also featured the first use of the tongue and lips logo.

Clever? Hell yes. Artistic? Ok. Lame? Uh huh.

So it surprised me a little, when I heard Keith interviewed on Fresh Air, that I love this guy. Maybe what surprised me the most is that I realized that I have always loved this guy but I was only this week able to admit that to myself.

I immediately bought the autobiography he’s out there hawking called ‘Life’ and although I’ve only gotten through the first chapter, I’m so loving it.

What occurred to me almost instantly is that Keith Richards has over the years come up  with some of the most awesome and inventive guitar licks in all of rock music.

Because the song ‘Satisfaction’ is probably the single most played single in the history of radio, I pretty much hate it. That song came out in 1962 but if you put KLOS on your radio in Los Angeles, you’ll still hear that song in the rotation almost daily. To me, that says more about KLOS than it does about ‘Satisfaction’ but all that aside you have to admit that the guitar lick, as simple as it is, with that ancient fuzz box, was kind of a game changer.

Add to that, the aforementioned ‘Street Fighting Man,’ ‘Jumping Jack Flash,’ ‘Gimme Shelter,’ ‘Monkey Man’ and ‘Midnight Rambler.’ All cool songs but I’m talking about just the guitar. Next time you listen to any of these, listen to the basic rhythm guitar. That’s all KR.

Then there is what may be my favorite Stones song, mostly because of the whole garage guitar sound, ‘Stray Cat Blues.’ And  just so many others. Keith even plays that awesome, thumping and melodic bassline on ‘Sympathy for the Devil.’

Ask any modern rock guitar player who they think are among the best and you may hear the usual and obligatory reply; Clapton, Satriani, Van Halen, Beck. You’ll probably even hear some say Robert Johnson or any of the Kings, BB, Freddy, Albert. You have to give the Delta its due. But once you get past those names nearly all will have KR on their list.

Perhaps the coolest thing about Keith Richards the guitar player is that most of his signature licks come from an old ’53 butterscotch Tele which he calls “Micawber,” set up for five-string open-G tuning (-GDGBD), and has only five bridge saddles. He’s actually pretty famous for this tuning and it’s well imitated.

As you can see in the photo it’s further modified with the neck pickup being replaced by a Gibson humbucker and the bridge pickup swapped for a Fender lap/steel pickup.

This is KR’s main stage guitar and he usually plays it through an 80-watt Fender Twin.

This is how multi-millionaire rock guitar gods with access to any guitar/amp combination imaginable get their sound. Not everybody uses a wall of Marshall stacks and a forest of Les Pauls.

Maybe in the end this is why I love Keith Richards.

Now go play ‘Stray Cat Blues’ and tell me you don’t agree.

Note: The amazing art at the top of this post was ‘borrowed’ from the great German painter Sebastian Krüger, a long-time Stones fan and fab portrait artist.

3 thoughts on “Butterscotch Telecaster in open G

  1. Back in the early ’60s, Dick Dale used to play those Fender Showman (Dual Showman?) amps, and he pretty much torture-tested them for Fender. If he couldn’t blow ’em up, they were ready to sell.

    We have a 1970s Fender Champ (what do those things put out, about 8 watts?). It’s not working right now (I’ve been meaning to fix it for 10 years), but when it does, it sounds really, really, really good. It sounds so good, it makes you want to play more. Most jazz players these days use solid-state amps because they’re clean, consistent, sturdy and not so damn heavy. But a tube amp with a lot of power sounds great at low volume (you get more dynamic range) and high volume (when you’re overdriving it). They’re just hell to carry around.

  2. I had no idea that Keith Richards used that particular Tele so much.

    Things I notice about it that you didn’t mention:

    The bridge appears to be all brass. I’m not sure if “traditional” Tele bridges are all brass, but they certainly have brass saddles.

    The “real” Tele bridge has three saddles, with each handling two strings, and many players prefer the three saddles over the six that Strats and most “modern” guitars have.

    You can certainly dial in better intonation with six (or in Keith’s case five) saddles.

    Another cool thing about many Fender guitars (and I think the Tele is among them, but I’m not sure about all models) is that the strings go through the body. That exerts a lot of downward pressure on the bridge saddles, yielding more sustain and keeping the strings in tune (presuming that the tuners are solid/stable).

    He has the Gibson humbucker added in the neck position. Lots of players do that, and you can get the Muddy Waters Tele from Fender with a Gibson-style humbucker in that position. Most of the Teles with factory humbuckers (like the Telecaster Custom, which I think Keith also plays on occasion) have Fender-style humbuckers in there. I don’t know exactly what the difference is in sound, but it’s nice to be able to drop any Gibson-style humbucker in there.

    I’ve never seen a closeup of this particular Tele, but now I see that Keith’s Tele has the humbucker installed backward with the pole pieces reversed. This was a signature of Peter Green from the early Fleetwood Mac. He always reversed the neck humbucker this way in his Les Pauls. I love the sound he gets — it’s not at all distorted and really lets the character of the instrument shine through.

    I was looking at a new book yesterday of “lost” Stones photos from the mid-’60s – still the Brian Jones era – and both Keith and Brian were playing Fender Showman amps – basically Fender Twin Reverbs with separate speaker cabinets. They might have had more power, but I’m not sure. I love those old Fender amps. You can really make ’em loud. Ted Nugent back in the ’70s would play those Gibson Byrdland guitars through about 10 Fender Twin/Showman amps. I don’t know how that hollowbody didn’t spontaneously fall apart from the feedback.

  3. Heee, very entertaining read! I agree with you on many points, especially with your pick of favorite R.S. songs. I do have to disagree with you on Mick’s singing. Say what you will about the quality, but that raspy, bluesy voice mixed with Keith’s guitar, well, it’s a perfect, magical match, IMHO.

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