PLAYER SPOTLIGHT

KEITH RICHARDS

“Every cigarette you smoke adds a day to Keith Richards’ life.”

“I thought rock and roll was an unassailable outlet for some pure and natural expression of rebellion. It used to be one channel you could take without ever havin’ to kiss arse, you know?”

 Rolling Stone; reported in “In quotes: Keith Richards“, BBC (April 4, 2007

The time has come, we had to showcase this icon sometime, it was just a matter of when and how. This man is a living legend, his sheer existence is a timeline of rock ‘n’ roll!

One of the greatest guitarists to grace the planet, not solely based on his technical ability but his sheer feel, rhythm, tone and the ability to pull the greatest riffs out of the sky. 🤘 

This incredible player was at the forefront of rock ‘n’ roll and continues to hold the torch as the ultimate rockstar and guitar hero for generation after generation.

A personality that is bigger than every stadium “The Human Riff” never fails to disappoint. Be upstanding for Mr Keith Richards. 🎸 

“(Chuck Berry) once gave me a black eye. It was backstage at a gig of his. He’d left his guitar out in his dressing room and I just picked it up. And he walks in, “Nobody touches that.” Bam!! But he didn’t know it was me. A few months later I get this apologetic, “Keith I didn’t know it was you.” I said: “Chuck, you did the right move, I wouldn’t let nobody touch mine either!”

Keith Richards – keithrichards.com

King 👑 Keef’s Roadmap To Rock ’N’ Roll

The journey begins in Dartford, Kent on December 18, 1943, an only child was born to Doris Maud Lydia (née Dupree) and Herbert William Richards. His father was a factory worker who was a veteran of the  Second World War and returned home wounded during the Normandy invasion.

Richards’ paternal grandparents, Ernie and Eliza Richards, were socialists and civic leaders, whom he credited as “more or less creating the Walthamstow Labour Party”, and both were mayors of the Municipal Borough of Walthamstow in Essex, with Eliza becoming mayor in 1941.

The roots of his musical interest came through his grandfather, Augustus Theodore “Gus” Dupree an accomplished all-round musician who taught with a Jazz Big Band.

The interesting nature of the story is the fact that Richards was teased into music in a very disciplined way. His grandfather was a traditional man and thought things were best appreciated and learnt if they could be obtained and respected.

Gus would have an acoustic guitar in the house and place it just out of reach of a young Keith Richards. His reasons for this were very valid and some might say reflect Keith’s desires for the guitar now as a continuous trophy and extension of his own existence. His grandfather explained to him “If you can reach the guitar, you can have it”.

The guitar was generally placed on the shelf out of reach and a young Keith would ponder and construct many ways to obtain it 🤔 . After many brainstorming ideas such as putting books and cushions on chairs to be able to reach Keith finally did manage to lays hands on the guitar after much perseverance.

True to his word his grandfather introduced him to his first musical piece, “Malagueña” a song by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona. It was originally the sixth movement of Lecuona’s Suite Andalucía (1933), to which he added lyrics in Spanish.

The song is a popular jazz, marching band, and drum corps standard and has been provided with lyrics in several languages. In general terms Malagueñas are flamenco dance styles from Málaga in the southeast of Spain 🇪🇸.  

Richards 1963 – Image credit: Jeff Hochberg/Getty Image

That massively imprinting and significant moment proved to be decisive for a young Keith Richards; that experience with the guitar sure made some lasting impression on an impressionable young man.

He persisted with the instrument out of fascination and dedication, the acoustic guitar has been referred to and appreciated as a staple by Richards on many occasions. His first acoustic guitar presented to him by his mother at the age of 13 cost £10 – a substantial amount of money in those days – back in 1959, the guitar was a Rosetti acoustic.

“An acoustic guitar is the most important thing for a guitar player to start with.

Learn the feel and the touch of that string and what it does against the fret, learn that, and that you can add the effects later on.

If you want to be a guitar player, you have to have your grounding. It’s like anywhere else – an astronaut doesn’t start in space, somebody’s gotta build a rocket [chuckle].”

“My guitar lessons came from my grandfather, who had a guitar. He was a musician, he was a fiddle player, a sax player, he was pretty much all around.

He had a guitar hanging on the wall, and I was this high, and he teased me for years about it, ’cause he noticed I kept looking at this damn thing up on the wall.”

“He said, ‘OK, now you’re gonna learn this little piece called ‘Malaguena.’ It’s a Spanish piece, he hummed it to me and showed me the first notes.”

Keith Richards – Matt SweenyNoisey.com



“I’d play whenever I could get my hands on an electric guitar; I was trying to pick up rock ‘n’ roll riffs and electric Blues – the latest Muddy Waters. I’d spend hours and hours on the same track, back again, and back again”

Keith Richards – Denyer, Ralph (2002). The Guitar Handbook. p.66

Guitar playing became part of his life very quickly, he’s referred many times to having been brought up on Blues music along with black music of the time. His ear was accustomed to it and his soul bound to it.

Keith referred to his guitar as the prize of the century, Richards played at home, listening to recordings by Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and others. One of Richards’s first guitar heroes was Elvis’s guitarist Scotty Moore.

Although his father, on the other hand, disparaged his son’s musical enthusiasm.

Image credit: Brian Rasic/WireImage

“The electric guitar? All they did was put a phone in it. But it was the right phone at the right time.” For a band with an electric pulse, it is remarkable that so many occasions have called for the acoustic guitar.’’

Keith Richards – https://www.guitarworld.com/features/keith-richards-a-life-in-guitars

The Rolling Stones 👅 

There have been many big bands throughout our musical history but this band has become so big, so iconic, so influential that it’s become an entity all of its own.

The Rolling Stones hail from very humble beginnings – as hard as it is too imagine now – essentially they were a Blues cover band twisting out Blues hits with signature sound and expression.

The Rolling Stones – Photo: Terry O’Neill/Iconic Images/Getty Images

The foundations of the group are structured upon one of the greatest songwriting partnerships of any generation:

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

The story stems from two friends that grew up back in Dartford, they attended school and college together but lost touch as the years went on.

A chance meeting at a railway station one day would change the course of history.

Both on the way to different colleges they clocked each other and reacquainted, the fascination from Keith’s perspective was not with Mick’s education goals and prospects but more his record collection he was clasping onto under his arm.

They discussed music and how they both shared an intense passion for exactly the same artists and records.

“Both had been influenced by the exciting sounds drifting from across the Atlantic to their radios, according to The Rolling Stones: A Musical Biography. Jagger, with his talent for mimicry, had already developed a unique singing style. And Richards, who hailed from a musical family and once sang in a church choir, was rapidly gaining ground with his guitar.”

https://www.biography.com/news/rolling-stones-origins

Both these guys began to jam in between college classes and quickly recruited other interested parties around them, and a movement quickly formed.

Once the right people were circulated around then they went out as the outfit Blues Incorporated.

The iconic name was drawn from a classic Muddy Waters track – Rollin’ Stone. On 12th July 1962, the band debuted as the Rolling Stones, with Jagger as lead singer, Richards and Jones on guitar, Taylor on bass, Stewart on keyboards and Mick Avory – later of The Kinks – on drums.

“If you’re going to kick authority in the teeth, you might as well use two feet.”

Keith Richards – keithrichards.com

Like any iconic guitarist Keith Richards is instantly recognisable from the very first note to the very last chord, it always sounds like him, and it defines the backbone of the band.

“I just can’t get the things to sound any different [laughs]. They always come out just about the same when it comes to recording, because without really thinking about it I shift slowly as I go. And no matter where I start, sooner or later I’ll get to where the rest of the band is going. I eventually get back to the one kind of thing.

It’s sort of a trademark sound, but it’s more than that because of the way I go about getting it, working it through with what’s going on, rather than getting the sound first and then pushing it on the band. A lot of it is adjusting to Ronnie, and Ronnie to me, which brings a certain continuity as well as a certain flexibility.”

Keith Richards – Interview April 1983 issue of Guitar Player

Image credit: Graham Wiltshire / Contributor

The Rolling Stones have gone on to achieve incredible success and pretty much world domination within the music industry. And, rightfully so! The songs are incredible works of art, masterpieces of the modern era. The songs are generally driven by an astounding riff that you just cannot shake and can always hum back.

This is never more of a true statement than one of the most instantly recognisable guitar riffs in rock ‘n’ roll history:

There is extensive documentation and coverage discussing and dissecting the origins of the riff.

It is explained here by Keith himself that it, of course, stems from the Blues, that is something that came to him somewhere between asleep and awake 😎 .

Another great perspective on the riff is the fact that Keith highly appreciates and respects the Otis Redding version to be truer to the form within his imagination and thought the track should sound like that on reflection.

“The way Otis Redding ended up doing it is probably closer to my original conception for the song,” he told Guitar World. “It’s an obvious horn riff. And when this new Fuzz Tone pedal arrived in the studio from the local dealership or something, I said, “Oh, this is good. It’s got a bit of sustain, so I can use it to sketch out the horn line.” 

Keith Richards: A life in guitars By Jonathan Horsley May 24, 2021

Image credit: Stefan M. Prager/Redferns

Guitars A La’ Keef 🎸 

Familiar with all truly epic historical guitar heroes the guitars they are associated with define them and Keith Richards is a stand-up figure to that testament.

“Anything you throw yourself into, you better get yourself out of.”

Keith Richards – keithrichards.com

Image Credit – https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/articles/features/micawber_exploring_the_mysteries_of_keith_richards_iconic_telecaster-94153

Pictured above with his number one and most iconic guitar a 1953 blackguard telecaster “Micawber”.

“Micawber is an early 50’s (most accounts suggest it’s a ‘53 – but there is no visible serial number to properly date it) Butterscotch Telecaster Blackguard that found its way into the hands of Keith Richards around 1971 during the recording sessions for Exile on Main Street (although at the time they were recording it, the album was going to be called Tropical Disease). How did Keith come across the iconic axe? Well, like so many iconic instruments, it was given to him by Eric Clapton as a 27th birthday present*. The guitar became his go-to for recording and touring for the next 48 years, which is quite a statement considering he is said to own somewhere around 3000 guitars.

During the recording sessions for Exile, Keith took the low E string off and tuned the guitar to Open G. Up until that point, open tunings were almost exclusively used for slide playing in the realms of blues and rock music. The Tele was used throughout the Exile album (most often, in this tuning). In a 2002 interview with Guitar World, Keith talked about his first forays into open tunings:

Around the same time I was getting into Telecasters I was experimenting with open tunings, I don’t know why. Maybe it was because around that time, ’67, we started having time off that we didn’t know what to do with. So, I started to experiment with tunings. Most people used open tuning basically just for slide. Nobody used it for anything else. But I wanted to use it for rhythm guitar. And what I found was, of all the guitars, the Telecaster really lent itself well to a dry, rhythm, five-string drone thing. In a way that tuning kept me developing as a guitarist. ‘Okay, now figure out a diminished sixth on it!’ You’ve got so little to work with. And that makes you reconsider six-string concert tuning. ‘Cause if there’s so much in that little space [i.e., five-string] how much am I missing on the other? You can transfer some of that back to six-string concert tuning. You can swap knowledge between one tuning and another.”

Quote Credit – https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/articles/features/micawber_exploring_the_mysteries_of_keith_richards_iconic_telecaster-94153

“From time to time, you sense that Richards loved his guitars even more than he loved his “chicks”. He sometimes writes about the lure of the Gibson and the Fender with undisguised eroticism”

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/oct/31/keith-richards-life-rolling-stones

Image Credit – Annie Leibovitz for Louis Vitton

Another of his truly iconic Guitars is a 1959 Gibson ES 355 finished in a custom factory black colour configuration with mono wiring.

He has favoured this guitar more and more over the years and is now seen as symbolic to his image as a rock ‘n’ roll icon. They could quite possibly be one of the coolest guitars on the planet. 🌏 

Now we could delve into the guitar collection extensively but we must conclude towards the reason why we are all here for strings, right? 😉 

So check out this top five compilation by “Guitar Nerds”

King 👑 Of Strings 

So let’s investigate and discover how one of the greatest men in rock ‘n’ roll goes about selecting strings for his extensive guitar arsenal.

Search on the man himself, he answers the elusive question, in his own manner as loose as ever as in descriptors ever with some solid detail. 👅 

Being a character that he is he does disclosed that he is open to trying things, letting new things come in, and generally just being a free spirit.

But again we see that Ernie Ball is an absolute staple here for an iconic rockstar like Keith Richards. This historical manufacturer is predominantly the backbone of the greats both live and in the studio.

It’s been mentioned many times now and it’s common knowledge that Keith Richards staple tuning is an open-G with the low-E string removed.

His long serving tech Pierre de Beauport gives us a solid overview here:

“The usual” will invariably include several of Richards’ iconic Fender Telecasters such as the 1953 model he calls “Micawber” and the ’54 named Malcolm. Both of these are set up in the guitarist’s trademark five-string open G tuning (low to high: G, D, G, B, D, with the low E string removed).

There are also always a few Teles set up in six-string standard tuning, such as Richards’ ’59 with rosewood neck. Note that Richards has been using Ernie Ball strings for several decades; the company even makes a custom five-string set (.11 .15 .18p .30 .42) for the guitarist.”

guitarworld.com – Alan di Perna April 23, 2019

As specified Ernie Ball manufactur sets for Keith personally and these are not available in the open market, so of course highly sought-after!

So we thought we’d create this set and replicate exactly just for you, so you can get that Keith Richards tone straight out of the packet. 🤘 

The following video really shows Keith opening up and explaining the 5-string theory and everything behind it. In true Keith fashion he just yanks low E string off of the guitar, stands on it and demonstrates in only the way he can 🤘 😎.

I will leave you with another of the incredible quotes – they just pop up on the immortal Keith Richards’ official website every time you reload it – what a character! 😎 

“So last time I saw John Lee, he lived in Oakland, across the bay from Frisco. He invites me over and he’s having a barbecue. But John Lee has five chicks living there and they’re all white and they’re all learning blues guitar from John Lee Hooker. And they’re damn good too. I mean he certainly didn’t short them on the tuition. But, I mean, in a way, that was John Lee, he always wore his hat in bed and what he did with his chicks when he wasn’t teaching them I have no idea. But I’ve got to say the man was still up and ready at 75 and I admire John for that. He was a funny cat… great sense of humour. And anyone who wants to find out what blues are about has got to listen to Boom Boom.”

Keith Richards – keithrichards.com

* * * * *
References

https://www.keithrichards.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keith_Richards

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/oct/31/keith-richards-life-rolling-stones

https://www.guitarplayer.com/players/keith-richards-talks-tone-playing-live-and-the-stones-longevity-in-his-1983-guitar-player-cover-story

https://www.allmusic.com/artist/keith-richards-mn0000767068/biography

https://www.guitarworld.com/features/keith-richards-a-life-in-guitars

https://www.guitarworld.com/gear/keith-richards-guitar-tech-reveals-keefs-studio-rig

https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/articles/features/micawber_exploring_the_mysteries_of_keith_richards_iconic_telecaster-94153

https://www.biography.com/news/rolling-stones-origins








2 Comments

  • Paul Braddock

    Your best so far !

    • Pete C

      Excellent article! Have retuned a guitar as per Keef already!

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