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When a band’s career careens past the 50-year mark, it’s hard to imagine how much gear it took to get them there. Not for author Andy Babiuk. He’s made a name for himself by tackling the herculean task of documenting and detailing all the gear used by some of the world’s most iconic bands. His latest book, Rolling Stones Gear: All the Stones’ Instruments from Stage to Studio, is an exhaustive 650-page opus detailing nearly every piece of musical equipment the Stones used when performing or cutting records.
In his quest to discover what the Stones made music with over the years, Babiuk obtained first-hand accounts from various engineers, road managers, and producers. Still, for him the definitive proof is in the photos. “I always say that the best information is photographic evidence,” he says. “You can pinpoint things. If you know guitars and the history of instruments, you can realize and see what’s there.”
Babiuk’s book offers nearly 6,000 photos—many of them previously unpublished. The motivation behind this project was both personal and ambitious: Babiuk wanted to leave a document for future generations. “Fifty or 75 years from now some kid is going to stumble on the music of the Stones and wonder how they did what they did.”
In this exclusive excerpt from Rolling Stones Gear, we look at three snapshots of Stones history: Brian Jones’ first “real” guitar, the story of the “Satisfaction” sessions, and finally a unique Gibson SG that Keith Richards used in the early ’70s.
Keith Richards' Gibson Les Paul TV Junior
Keith named this guitar “Tumbling Dice” (or “Dice” for short) after a decal of a pair of dice that once graced the front of the guitar near the control knobs. Note that the remnants of the white dice decal near the knobs that has been worn off. A set of Grover tuners and a Leo Quan Badass adjustable bridge have replaced the original factory parts. “Dice” has been one of Keith’s main guitars over the decades. A pair of Fender Tele knobs replaced the original Gibson volume and tone knobs.
This was the same model as Keith’s 1960 wine red Les Paul Junior with one black P-90, the main differences being its TV yellow color and a tortoiseshell pickguard instead of a black one. Keith used this guitar in standard tuning, usually with a capo on the seventh fret.
Ron Wood’s Zemaitis “Metal Front” Guitar
Ronnie commissioned Tony Zemaitis to build this guitar for the ’78 North American tour. Note that the engraved metal top has references to the Stones and the American tour. The black plate on the guitar’s back is for a 9-volt battery to power the guitar’s power boost circuit.
This guitar is very similar to his original Metal Front, but with a different control knob arrangement on the lower bout. The truss rod cover at the headstock is engraved “Custom Ron Wood 1978.” This Metal Front Zemaitis remains one of Wood’s main guitars to this day.
Ron Wood’s “Disc Front” Zemaitis Guitar
Tony Zemaitis custom-built this guitar for Ronnie with a pirate’s treasure map engraved into the round metal plate. The mahogany body is hollow and stuffed with cotton. This has been—and remains—Wood’s go-to guitar for playing slide, and it’s always set up in open-E tuning. Wood has used this iconic guitar on a multitude of Faces and Stones recordings and live performances.
Zemaitis built guitars with glued set necks, but Ronnie requested that this guitar be built with a bolt-on neck. Zemaitis built the guitar with a set neck anyway, adding a neck plate with bolts to visually accommodate Ronnie’s request. Zemaitis also added a smiling skull to the neck plate to make a joke out of it.