al di meola

A dozen pro players share the story behind the first 6-string they ever had. Read about Al Di Meola’s Christmas Guild, Paul Gilbert’s Stella, the Steve Vai-signed Ibanez RG that Nita Strauss once coveted and now owns, and more.

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.

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