Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tools of the Trade: 'Torn and Frayed' Keith Richards 1953 Blackguard Telecaster 'Micawber'

 
One of the most recognizable and iconic instruments in rock and roll history is Keith Richards 1953 butterscotch 'Blackguard' Fender Telecaster. Named 'Micawber' after a Charles Dickens character, the worn and battle scarred guitar is the most famous of the reportedly over 3,000 guitars that Richards owns! Richards first received the instrument in 1971 during the Stones recording of Exile On Main Street, the instrument given to Richards by one Eric Clapton for a birthday gift. The guitar has undergone some changes over the intervening years, but has always been played hard and hot propagating some of the most incendiary licks in rock history. Richards is fortunate to still have the guitar because shortly after he received it in October 1971 a host of thieves made off with many of his most cherished instruments from the Stones French exile of Nelcotte. Thankfully most of the guitars were found, 'Micawber' one of them.

Gear freaks have long ruminated and debated about the internal workings and wiring of the guitar. While the innards of the guitar may never be available for inspection, what is known is that there is a 1950's era Gibson Humbucker pickup in the neck position. There is also a 1940's era Champion lap steel pickup in the guitar's bridge position. There is a stock three way switch outfitted on the guitar. The guitar does not have a visible serial number and the hardware has undergone various replacements and refits over the instruments long stage career. One of the guitars most intriguing details is the wear pattern from Richards aggressive playing found above the bridge pickup. His decades of riffing can be traced like an ancient scroll marked across the woody flesh of the guitar. Similarly to Willie Nelson's acoustic guitar 'Trigger', the nicks and dings are part of the guitars mystique and road warrior aesthetic.
While the electronics are vital to the guitars performance and sound, the instruments famous tone is due to its legendary operator. Reference Richards famous quote, Five strings, two notes, two fingers, one asshole'. Richards plays the guitar like a jagged electric banjo, emanating a big brassy drone. Richards outfitted 'Micawber' with a brass bridge, its sixth string saddle removed for his five string open tuning approach. Richards usually plays this guitar through a pair of rare Fender Tweed Twins. You cannot get anymore vintage than these amazing classic amplifiers. All of the aforementioned factors are a defining element in the Richards/Stones sound. Obviously Richards gear is in constant flux, he says himself that its a continuous experimentation in tone. But the fundamental foundation of his sound is to be witnessed in the aforementioned components.
As recognizable as a fingerprint, 'Micawber's' sound combined with Richards' Chuck Berry riffing and clangorous chords are the hallmark to the Stones bluesy strut. 'Micawber' is the guitar most associated with Richards and due to its influence and use, has to be considered his favorite stage guitar. Richards can also be seen playing a banged up 54' Telecaster named 'Malcolm',that looks very similar to 'Micawber' but contains a natural grain and noticeable hardware differences. 66' and 75' Telecasters are also favored by Richards on the stage and in the studio in addition to a plethora of late era models . I have included a video below that shows an intimate glimpse of a few of Richards guitars right off of the rack. But the standard remains, the special honey blond 53..... as dependable as the sun rising and setting everyday.
Tracks like' Brown Sugar', 'Start Me Up', 'Happy' and 'Tumblin Dice' are some of the more recognizable recipients of  'Micawber' internal components and external sonic expressions on the stage. Footage from the famed 1972 tour show 'Micawber' used stunningly on a number of classic tracks. It's thick honey can be felt all over the Exile LP. At this current point in the Stones and Richards career, certain guitars are tuned and prepared for certain tunes at certain points in the performance. 'Micawber' is still a standard and as irreplaceable as its handler but many other soldiers in Richards guitar army of 3,000 have to get their turn in the spotlight. Any number of classic Gibson's also make nightly appearances side by side with his favorite Fender's, its whatever instrumental personality fits the tale of the song. 'Micawber's' personality is etched in stone, an extension of Richards musicality and reflection of his musical aura, as inseparable from Richards as his own being.

Keef's Guitars

Richards On the Telecaster

All Down the Line 1972

Happy 1972

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