Everyone remembers their first guitar—the one that fanned the flames. And let’s face it: While most beginners can’t afford the types of instruments that pro players acquire and use as they mature into bona fide stars, they simply don’t care. They just wanna play!

That’s why first axes are so memorable. They are the keys to the magic kingdom of the 6-string, and once we enter, that’s where so many of us spend much of our lives. So, Premier Guitar asked a dozen elite players about their own first guitars. For most, it was love at first strum—even if there was a little rattle and buzz involved. Here are their stories, with photographs of each first guitar for added nostalgia.


Photo by Libby Knudsen

Mark Arm (Mudhoney)


Photo by Emily Rieman
A couple of my high school buddies decided to make their imaginary band real. Smitty [Editor’s note: Jo Smitty, bandmate with Mr. Epp and the Calculations] and I went halves on a guitar and amp. We bought a red Orpheus solidbody guitar from a pawnshop and a brand-new 30-watt Peavey Backstage. We discovered that turning the gain knob all the way did wonders for the noise we wanted to make. I felt like a non-playing Jimi Hendrix.

Eventually, I learned about barre chords and tuning. The Orpheus guitar came with a flatwound A string that couldn’t be changed or tuned because the machine head was broken. So, the band had to tune to that ancient unbreakable string. I added an MXR Distortion +, turned the knobs all the way up, and with the gain cranked on the Peavey, that Orpheus made this incredibly beautiful, head-shearing, room-clearing noise.


 

Courtney Barnett


Photo by Pooneh Ghana

I hassled my parents for a guitar for so long that finally a family friend loaned/gifted me an old nylon-string they had kicking around the house. The fretboard was popping off the neck so it made a constant rattle. Thankfully, my neighbor filed down the nut a little bit and re-strung it left-handed for me, and then he taught me how to play “Come As You Are.”

 



Photo by Kirk West

Duane Betts

I believe that guitar was one of four artist prototypes Paul [Reed Smith] sent out. One went to my dad and one went to Warren Haynes. I was 15 the first time I ever sat in with the Allman Bros. Band—it was in Vail.

We were staying in Denver and when it was time for bus call I was so nervous about playing onstage with them for the first time, I left my guitar in my hotel room on purpose. On the bus ride to the show my dad asked where my guitar was. I told him I had forgotten it, thinking I had gotten out of sitting in. He just said, “Aw, that’s okay. We have plenty of guitars.” The pressure was back on. I ended up sitting in and felt such relief afterward knowing I had walked through my fear.