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Sonic Youth needed a lot of cheap guitars for their famous tuning experiments. | Photo: Natxo Rodriguez
Sonic Youth needed a lot of cheap guitars for their famous tuning experiments. | Photo: Natxo Rodriguez
Jan Hamerský -

10 Celebrities Who Play Cheap Guitars

They say it doesn’t really matter what quality instrument you play—it's the feeling that counts. And everyone’s preferences are different. There are at least ten famous musicians who proudly play cheap guitars, and if a gear expert picks on them about the quality of their strings, pickups, or technical workmanship, they’ll tell them, without any fuss, to take a walk. Who are they? See below.

1. Mike Rutheford

David Gilmour’s famous Black Strat is nothing to write home about. And it's the same story with another progressive rock legend—the guitarist and founding member of Genesis. Rutheford has taken a liking to the same instrument used by many Czech basic art schools—the Squier Bullet Stratocaster for less than 200 euros.

2. Prince

Maestro Prince commissioned some incredible mad models from guitar makers, such as the Symbol by Jerry Auerswald or the legendary "Puff" by Dave Rusan. Throughout his career, however, his companion was a surprisingly austere instrument—a Hohner Telecaster copy from Japan, on which only the pickups were changed for more powerful ones from the Stratocaster. Prince is said to have bought the leopard pickguard Tele at a gas station sometime in the late 1970s for about thirty dollars simply because he liked it.

3. Eddie van Halen

Nowadays, this Japanese oddity is rather a boutique instrument. However, in the early 70s, when young Eddie Van Halen was just learning to play it, it cost less than 300 euros. It may well be heard on the debut album Van Halen (1978).

4. Metallica

The band has been promoting the ESP brand for over thirty years. The albums Ride the Lightning (1984) and Master of Puppets (1986) were however recorded with much more modest equipment. Kirk Hammett used the Edna, Fernandez Strat copy, which he upgraded himself: he replaced the singles with the same wide humbuckers and added a Floyd Rose-type double-locking tremolo. James Hetfield, on the other hand, played a copy of Gibson’s Flying V from Electra.

5. Sonic Youth

This iconic crew of New York’s alternative scene hardly needed to define themselves against the hard rock "royalty" with whom producers of renowned labels carried favor. The band really needed a lot of guitars for their famous tuning experiments, which, with their modest financial means, meant shopping for cheap stuff in second-hand stores.

6. Tom Morello

In the late 1980s in Hollywood, this die-hard leftist scraped from one poorly job to another. With the little he saved, he had the cheapest guitar possible custom-built in a small workshop—and they still ripped him off. The “bum’s weapon” was so terrible that, over time, Morello replaced everything on it except the body. He was only satisfied when he equipped it with EMG pickups and a graphite neck.

7. Beck

It doesn’t take any special talent or instrument to plug a guitar into a tube amplifier and run a bottleneck over the strings a few times. For Beck, this idea made it, together with the Silvertone 1448, a former second-hand staple that, in the early 1990s, was worth a fraction of its current value. It cost him about 60 dollars.

8. Laura-Mary Carter

The guitarist of the British Blood Red Shoes says her no-name Teisco guitar model is definitely from the 1960s. And she’s not letting go of her instrument. For example, she wouldn’t play "An Animal" without that particular guitar simply because the song would otherwise lose its unique sound.

9. St. Vincent

Before Music Man made her a custom guitar, this musician, singer, actress, and producer used a lot of guitars that a pro wouldn’t even touch. The most famous of them is probably the 1967 Harmony Bobkat. What she appreciates most about it are its lightness and stable tremolo.

10. Angel Olsen

“What was it like to be young in the 1950s?”, Angel, as a child, asked her foster parents, several generations older than her—she was only born in 1987. It’s hard to say whether they were able to give her a satisfactory answer, but they certainly passed on her fondness for old pop. Perhaps that’s why this singer-songwriter is at her best when she’s playing vintage 1957 Silvertone 1369. She picked it up years ago at a thrift store for a little over a hundred dollars. Since then, the price has skyrocketed tenfold.

Of course, Jack White, Josh Homme, Billie Joe Armstrong, and Fat Mike from NOFX are missing. This list is neither complete nor definitive. Help expand it in the discussion below the article.

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Jan Hamerský
Born in 1988. When he was fifteen and deciding what to do next, writing was the obvious choice. At nineteen, he changed his mind. It seemed to him that it is history that writes stories. Then he found out that history is written by winners—he joined the losers. He majored in h…