10 Most Iconic Guitars in Rock 'n' Roll History

The guitar has always been at the center of rock 'n' roll, ever since its roots in blues music. Musically, visually, physically, it’s the single backbone of modern music’s most famous genre, although some are more recognizable than others.

Among the millions of guitars that’ve seen the lights of a rock show in the last several decades, here are 10 that stand out from the crowd.

10. Bullseye Les Paul  Zakk Wylde
Make no mistake about it: There are dozens of more notable guitarists who have played a Gibson Les Paul, but most of them look pretty similar. Some gold tops, about a million variations of sunburst, and plenty of solid black or white Les Pauls belong to guitar legends, but it’s only the Black Label Society frontman and guitarist extraordinaire who has a truly recognizable, Gibson-certified paint job. The hypnotizing black and white circles are as much a part of Wylde’s legacy in both Black Label Society and his time as Ozzy’s hired ax.

9. Airline Res-O-Glas  Jack White
What would’ve once been considered a relatively worthless find at a used guitar shop has become a discontinued holy grail of a guitar for White Stripes fans. The previously uncelebrated guitar (whose only other mentionable player is blues guitarist J.B. Hutto) perfectly matched White’s color scheme for his most famous band, and created quite the demand as the duo grew in popularity. Although Eastwood has now re-created the guitar, it’s not made of the same 1960s-era “plastic” as the sub-$100 originals, which now go for up to $3,000 on eBay.
8. Jackson Randy Rhoads  Randy Rhoads
When Jackson Guitars first introduced the signature model for one of Ozzy’s most famous guitarists, it’s unlikely that either the company or the musician thought the angular V-shaped guitar would become every bit the hard rock staple of the only popular guitar with a similar body, Gibson’s Flying V. These days, the models (yes, there’s more than one) are some of Jackson’s most popular guitars, and some of the most common among metal shredders. As if Rhoads wasn’t enough of an influence, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett can often be seen playing one.
7. Cloud  Prince
Prince always had a unique sense of style. Although he’s had multiple one-of-a-kind axes, his various colors of Cloud are likely his most recognizable, thanks to Purple Rain and several classic performances. Whether you’re a fan of Prince’s otherworldly antics or not, there’s no denying his skill as a guitarist, his one-of-a-kind personality, and his status as a legend in the music world. Cloud goes hand-in-hand with Prince, and it’s instantly recognizable, with or without its owner.

6. Arm the Homeless  Tom Morello
Although Kurt Cobain rarely played his custom “Jag-stang” Fender built for him, rock legend Morello still plays his custom axe to this day. Considering the sounds the modern guitar wizard (of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave fame, along with several other projects) gets out of this instrument, most would think it’s constructed of only the most top-of-the line materials. The truth is, the hardware of Arm the Homeless isn’t anything special, and the guitar would likely sound average at best in the hands of many other musicians, but Morello’s been known to crank incredible sounds of even the cheapest of guitars, acoustic or electric.

5. Frankenstrat  Eddie Van Halen
While the everlasting debate of Gibson versus Fender will likely never be settled, Eddie Van Halen did his best to combine the best of both worlds with the Frankenstrat. It was essentially the body of a Fender Stratocaster with the electronics of a Gibson, and a red, white, and black color scheme that inspired countless multicolored tape-lined knockoffs. EVH is known for playing a few other axes as well, but none quite as iconic as this beautifully ugly masterpiece.
4. Custom Stratocaster  Jimi Hendrix (Monterey Pop Festival)
From a wood and wiring point of view, there’s nothing terribly special about the Fender Stratocaster that Jimi Hendrix busted out at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. The floral paint and upside-down stringing (which Hendrix was known to do to his guitars so he could play them left-handed) made the guitar identifiable, but it’s not what the instrument would ultimately be known for. Sure, plenty of guitars have met violent ends at the hands of their owners, but this one might have the most famous demise, being covered in lighter fluid and ignited at the end of the set.

3. Gibson EDS-1275 Double Neck  Jimmy Page
Along with Hendrix and Eric Clapton (who primarily played excellent, but slightly unremarkable Strats), Led Zeppelin’s legendary guitarist is almost always considered one of the best to ever pluck at strings. Though many of his most memorable riffs were played on a Les Paul, Page’s most legendary (and overplayed) guitar lick came out of the 18-string instrument that inspired so many terrible copycats. At least the dude from Cheap Trick knew his axe was ridiculous, but Page is to thank for every garage metal band out there playing a dual-neck guitar.

2. Trigger  Willie Nelson
No matter how you feel about Willie Nelson, it’s hard to argue that his faithful Trigger isn’t among the most famous acoustic guitars of any style and era. Trigger has definitely seen better days, now surviving despite a giant gash in the body from decades on the road (and being played with a pick, rather than its intended finger-plucking use), but the dozens of autographs on its surface make it a relic as much as an instrument. At its core, it’s just another Martin N-20, but it’s really so much more than that.
1. Lucille  B.B. King
Technically, Lucille was more than one guitar; it was whatever guitar icon B.B. King was primarily playing at the time. However, it’s synonymous with King’s black Gibson ES-355 since Gibson first manufactured an official Gibson Lucille model in 1980. From the backstory of how Lucille got its name to its legendary status in the music world, there’s no doubt that Lucille is as famous of an instrument as exists today.

This article originally published on August 3, 2015.
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Josh Chesler
Contact: Josh Chesler