Okay. Pretty much everyone knows about the rigs of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, and the rest of the much-documented greats of rock guitar’s glorious early days. But those icons weren’t the only players adding to the vocabulary of classic-rock guitar. There were lots of one-hit wonders, awesome bands hovering under the media radar, and interesting acts that never reached headliner status. So we thought it would be fun and informative to look into rigs of the “kinda unknowns” who served with passion, grit, and musical integrity.
Obviously, some of the tools detailed here were used by scores of guitarists back in the day, but the trick is to research the music of these players, and see how they used that gear to craft their individual licks, riffs, solos, and songs. And, hey, it never hurts to expand your personal guitar-pedia of influences to draw upon.
Here are five rigs used by players you likely don’t think about every day—or perhaps have never heard of at all. If you’re intrigued by what you see/hear on YouTube, and want to take the tone quest further, we’ve included suggestions for comparable modern gear to check out. Rock on.
Sensational Alex Harvey Band, 1972-1978
Cleminson was one of the most striking figures—a twisted pierrot wearing white makeup—in a motley band of brilliant weirdos, but he was much more than a glam cartoon figure. His edgy, melodic solos in SAHB were like little symphonies of guitar thrills, and, believe it or not, he was a major influence on Guthrie Govan.
Essential Gear: ’60s Gibson SG, Marshall 100-watt head, Vox Super Beatles cabinet, Cry Baby wah.
Modern Options: Gibson SG Standard ($1,539 street), Marshall Plexi 1959SLP ($2,699 street), Vox V212C Custom 2X12 ($449 street), Dunlop Cry Baby wah ($79 street)
His band’s signature tune, “Hocus Pocus,” is one of the era’s sublime guitar workouts—as well as a bizarre example of yodeling in a rock-instrumental piece—and Akkerman’s frenetic solo lines are like watching a champion downhill skier shred the run. The Dutch musician—also an accomplished classical guitarist—graced GP’s May 1975 cover.
Essential Gear: Heavily modded Gibson Les Paul Personal, Fender solid-state amps, Colorsound treble booster, Leslie rotary speaker.
Modern Options: Gibson Les Paul Studio ($1,649 street), Fender Champion 100 ($349 street), Electro-Harmonix Screaming Bird Treble Booster ($40 street), Strymon Lex Rotary Speaker Simulator ($299 street)
Iron Butterfly, 1967-1969
Braunn was a violin prodigy who became seduced by rock and roll, and he joined Iron Butterfly at just 17 years old. His fuzzy, psychedelic romp on the 17-minute smash hit “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was a long way from Bach and Mozart, but what a crazy and mind-bending jam.
Essential Gear: Mosrite Mark IV, Marshall stack, Echoplex, Mosrite Fuzzrite, Vox wah.
Modern Options: Eastwood Mark IV KC ($599 street), Marshall DSL100HR ($899 street), Marshall 1960 cabinet ($949 street), Dunlop EP103 Echoplex Delay ($199 street), Catalinbread Fuzzrite ($149 street), Vox V847-A wah ($99 street)
The Cramps, 1976-2009
We’re veering slightly into classic “punk” rock here, but Ivy’s supercharged yet respectful rockabilly-surf-Link Wray gumbo is as rootsy as it gets. Ivy’s sultry looks were a big part of the Cramps’ psychobilly stage act, so were her careening and staccato solo licks, clean-toned melodic runs, and outbursts of overdrive and feedback.
Essential Gear: ’58 Gretsch 6120, Fender Pro Reverb, Univox Super Fuzz.
Modern Options: Gretsch G6120TFM ($2,799 street), Fender ’57 Custom Twin-Amp ($2,999 street), EarthQuaker Devices Fuzz Master General ($175 street)
The Stooges, 1970-1974
Strutting, screaming, and roaring into the Stooge’s unhinged caterwaul that was Raw Power (1973), Williamson’s fully committed and impassioned performance mirrored the album’s title. Raw Power struggled through a few controversial mixes and remixes—the most renowned by David Bowie—but no fader moves could diminish Williamson’s explosive onslaught.
Essential Gear: ’69 Les Paul Custom, Martin D-28, Vox AC30.
Gibson Les Paul Custom Heritage Cherry Sunburst ($4,599 street), Martin D-28 ($2,699 street), Vox AC30C2 ($1,199 street)