Keith Richards: “If I had to choose just one guitar, it would be …”
A fundamental question was recently put to Keith Richards: “If you could only one guitar, which would it be, and why?” To the surprise of no one, the Rolling Stones legend’s instant response was, “… my Telecaster.” Richards offered few specific details, but as Guitar World points out, he almost certainly was referring to “Micawber,” the ‘50s-era butterscotch/black pickguard Tele given to him by Eric Clapton.
Clapton presented Richards with the Telecaster on the latter’s 27th birthday, in December 1970, just as the Stones were preparing to undertake the Exile on Main Street sessions. In the years since, Richards has made extensive modifications to the guitar, including installing a modified brass bridge in which the low E saddle has been removed. That mod, of course, was made to accommodate Richards’ fondness for five-string open tuning—which he began experimenting with in the late ‘60s.
“I was starting to really fix my trademark,” he writes of that period, in his autobiography, Life. “Suddenly, with the five-string, songs were just dripping off my fingers. My first real exercise on five-string was ‘Honky Tonk Women,’ a couple of years before. At that time it was, ‘Well, this is interesting.’ By the time we got to working on Exile, I was really starting to find all these other moves, and how to make minor chords and suspended chords. I [also] discovered that the five-string becomes very interesting when you add a capo.”
In the video below, you can check out live footage of Richards’ playing Micawber on a fiery rendition of “Brown Sugar.” Be sure to check back for our feature interview with Stones producer Don Was, who offers a bird’s-eye perspective on the band’s magical chemistry.