Watch Acid Rockers Quicksilver Messenger Service Perform Their Celebrated Show Opener, “Fresh Air”

John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service
(Image credit: Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Songs like “Gold and Silver,” “Who Do You Love” and “Pride of Man” gave Quicksilver Messenger Service a sound that stood out from other hippie-era San Francisco bands.

But it was the impossibly slender lead guitarist John Cipollina (1943-1989) who stole the spotlight with his peekaboo ’do, biting tone and signature warbly vibrato.

Wearing two fingerpicks, Cipollina played a cherry-red Gibson SG (opens in new tab) that he customized with batwing pickguards, binding and a Bigsby (opens in new tab) tailpiece.

He also inlaid the fingerboard with ivory, added slabs of ebony on the headstock and neck heel to enhance sustain, and topped the control knobs with San Francisco Mint Mercury dimes.

John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service

(Image credit: Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

This unique electric guitar was wired for stereo so that he could feed a rig consisting of a pair of Standel solid-state bass amps for the low frequencies and a pair of Twin Reverbs (opens in new tab) for the highs.

“I like the rapid punch of solid-state for the bottom and the rodent-gnawing distortion of the tubes on top,” he said.

Cipollina could also kick on a Fender Dual Showman tube amp head that powered six Wurlitzer horns, and his effects included reverb, an Astra Echo, a Standel Modulux vibrato, a Maestro Fuzz-Tone and a Vox wah.

“My love for electronic gadgetry has been a shaping influence on my playing,” he revealed. “The trick, however, is learning how to use them just a little bit.”

Browse the Quicksilver Messenger Service catalog here (opens in new tab).

Art Thompson
Senior Editor

Art Thompson is Senior Editor of Guitar Player magazine. He has authored stories with numerous guitar greats including B.B. King, Prince and Scotty Moore and interviewed gear innovators such as Paul Reed Smith, Randall Smith and Gary Kramer. He also wrote the first book on vintage effects pedals, Stompbox. Art's busy performance schedule with three stylistically diverse groups provides ample opportunity to test-drive new guitars, amps and effects, many of which are featured in the pages of GP.