This Gibson Custom one-off boasts a Wilkinson tremolo, a roller bridge, and single Lindy Fralin humbucker.
Photo by Ken Settle.
Is there one gig that you consider the pinnacle Aerosmith concert?
It was probably in 1971 when we got to play with Edgar Winter’s White Trash and Humble Pie at the Academy of Music in New York. We got 20 minutes. There were two shows a night, two nights in a row. Steve Paul, who managed Edgar and Johnny Winter, got us the gig because he wanted to see us. It was our first time playing on a big stage with top-level professionals. We thought, “Holy shit, man, this is great!” At one point, mid-set, we did a song called “Major Barbara,” where I sat down and played lap steel and Steven played harmonica. As soon as we got offstage, Steve Paul said, “What are you doing sitting down? You only got 20 minutes to get this audience off and make them remember who you are, and you sit down? I don’t care how good you are. You’re a baby band!” After that we might have cut the song out of the set.
The bottom line is, that show put us up against bands at the level we were shooting for. When Edgar played, Johnny came out halfway through the set and the place exploded. And then Humble Pie tore it up. It was an amazing experience, before our first record, before our first manager. It made me feel like, “Somehow we’re going to get here.”
Is there a recorded solo that you feel is your defining moment as a guitarist?
There are two. The solo on “Walk This Way” put the capper on that song. The middle solo was just a taste of the melody, and the solo at the end was kind of structured. I play with that structure every night, and I like to think people relate to it. And then there’s “Dream On.” Live, that’s the point in the show where I try to see if I can blow up more amplifiers than I did the night before.
How did you get interested in using alternate tunings?
Aside from Bo Diddley, who played in open E, the older blues guys were my resource. I find open G gives me a whole different palette. It’s got a lot of strange places you can go, and some of my favorite songs are in that tuning. It leads me to play something outside of the box.
There are some songs I’ve written that we don’t play very often where I put my own tuning together, but I’ve written mostly around the open A tuning. I talked to Ry Cooder once about it and he said, “Listen, if you’re gonna play the blues, you’ve got to tune your guitar in D. That is the baddest key.” But everybody has their own way of getting to that sound. So I start there and make any adjustments I need. In a song like “Janie’s Got a Gun,” I tune the whole guitar up a half-step because I want to hear those open strings ring. You can’t do that any other way. I experiment, but my basic thing is G chord or A chord tuning.
You’ve had a lot of guitars over the decades. Is there a Holy Grail instrument that’s eluded you?
I’m still looking for a ’68 goldtop. The first Les Paul I bought was a ’68 goldtop. Now that’s a sought-after Les Paul, but I only paid $300 or $400 for it at the time. I’d love to have that guitar back—especially looking like it did before I scraped the gold off of it. I’ve got a couple of goldtops that are close, but that particular guitar is the one. One of the rumors is that after they stopped making Les Pauls in ’60 or ’61, and then started making them again in ’68, Gibson had a lot of parts left over. If that’s true, a lot of those pieces of wood were just sitting around the factory and got used. And the pickups were great.
I think the first goldtop I got had mini-humbuckers, but I’ve seen pictures where I’m playing one with P-90s, so I’m not sure which goldtop was the very first one I had. I was trading guitars a lot back then. We called them “midnight trades.” If somebody had a guitar I liked at the moment, I would just trade—that and a bag of pot. One night we played a show with the New York Dolls, and I remember trading Johnny Thunders a guitar for a two-pickup TV Model with P-90s. I loved the way it sounded, and I had something he liked, so we just swapped. That went on all the time.
That ’68 goldtop was the guitar you played on “Dream On” and the Aerosmith album?
I would guess that was it. But I also used a Strat an awful lot all through my career. Somehow a lot of our more outstanding songs featured my Les Pauls. But if Brad [Whitford] was playing a Strat, I would play a Les Paul, and vice versa.