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From Paul McCartney to Neil Young: Five musicians who inherited their heroes’ instruments

When it comes to famous music gear, historical significance seems to be only one piece of the puzzle. Of course, a musician’s legacy contributes significantly to how their instruments are perceived, but the materialism of such a fixation seems to make more sense when you consider the various ways instruments formed a significant centrepiece in the artist’s wider vision.

For most musicians, physical instruments are more than just a commodity. They’re an integral part of the entire ensemble, entities of their own that can sometimes feel just as alive as the people playing them. A guitar, for instance, is often a cherished item and a respected musical partner, without which some would feel lost.

They’re also often intertwined with an act’s musical legacy, whether that’s a band or someone who has specifically become a guitar virtuoso, like Jimi Hendrix, who was once described by Brett Garsed as someone who “almost created a third instrument” with the ways his voice and his playing became a single force. Similarly, Jan Akkerman enjoyed the way his guitar became a real comrade where a single Stratocaster could enable him to create a distinctive sound unlike no other.

Whenever a legendary musician passes away, their instruments suddenly become highly sought-after artefacts, the last remnants of true artistry, never to grace the stage with their rightful owner ever again. They’re as good as ghosts; the value of laying eyes on something so elusive, something that generates a certain aura that almost feels mythical.

As we look at the following handful of musicians who inherited the instruments once owned by their heroes, it’s interesting to learn about how they’re choosing to continue their legacy. Whether they store the sentimental items or continue to take them on stage, each one has its own unique story to tell.

Musicians who inherited famous gear:
Neil Young and Hank Williams’ “Hank”

As the story goes, Hank Williams’ son, Hank Williams Jr, once sold his father’s 1941 Martin D-28 for some guns. The guitar then ended up in the hands of a series of musicians before being tracked down by Neil Young’s friend Grant Boatwright, who obtained it for the singer from Nashville music store owner Tut Taylor.

The guitar, which Young affectionately refers to as “Hank”, often accompanies him on the road, once finding itself in the very spot it was used with its original owner over 50 years prior. While performing in Nashville, Tennessee, Young once delivered a heartfelt tribute to the late musician, telling the audience he was “glad to see it back here” before diving into a live rendition of ‘This Old Guitar’.

Paul McCartney and Bill Black’s bass
As one of the pioneers of early rock ‘n’ roll and a loyal performer with Elvis Presley since the beginning of his career, it only seems fitting that Bill Black’s bass would land in the hands of Paul McCartney. Although the Bill Black Combo was once asked to open for The Beatles following their iconic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, McCartney continues to carry Black’s legacy by taking his main stand-up bass on the road and putting it to good use, even today.

The bass was allegedly given to the Beatle in the 1970s as a gift from Linda. If you’re looking for proof of the instrument in action, look no further than the video clip for ‘Baby’s Request’ or a special moment during the documentary In the World Tonight, showing McCartney playing the instrument while performing a rendition of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.

Kirk Hammett and Peter Green’s “Greeny”
Kirk Hammett is the proud owner of “Greeny”, the 1959 Les Paul Burst that was owned by the late, great Peter Green. Although the instrument passed through various hands before reaching Hammett, like Gary Moore and Richard Henry, Hammett became the proud owner and now takes it on the road as a worthy companion, letting it guide him like an old, wise guru whispering secrets in his ear.

Although the guitar was special for many reasons and not just because of its previous owner, Hammett could never truly ignore the endless list of talent it has fallen into the hands of, and even loves the fact that “Greeny” is just as popular as some musicians. As he once put it, “Greeny has its own fanbase, it’s amazing. And lots of people have played that guitar: Jimi Hendrix has played that guitar, Rory Gallagher, Jeff Beck, George Harrison… I mean, the list goes on and on and on.”

David Gilmour and Seymour Duncan’s Stratocaster
David Gilmour is a collector of highly sought-after items. Apparently, his first collectable was a Gibson TV, which he remembers acquiring around the same time Pink Floyd visited America in 1970. However, among his many gems, one of the biggest standouts is undeniably his possession of the #0001 Stratocaster that once belonged to Seymour Duncan.

In 1989, Gilmour explained how he happened upon the guitar, saying that it all happened thanks to Phil Taylor. The guitar had apparently originally been owned by Leo Fender, and Duncan bought it directly from him, later selling it to Taylor for around $900. While the guitar was in his possession, Gilmour played it alongside names like Paul McCartney, Bryan Ferry, Steely Dan, Jeff Baxter, and others.

Dan Auerbach and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s Gibson Trini Lopez
The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach is a massive fan of Mississippi Fred McDowell, the blues legend who played a significant role in the revival of Delta blues during the 1960s folk music revival. As a result, you can only imagine how it felt to finally be the proud owner of McDowell’s renowned instrument, the Gibson Trini Lopez.

“I used to go to the public library in Akron and rent VHS tapes of the Alan Lomax American Patchwork series with him playing,” Auerbach once told Vintage Guitar. He continued: “I’d take them home, pause and rewind, rewind and pause, watching his hands. They did good close-ups, which helped a lot as I tried to figure out the chord changes.”

The moment Auerbach was contacted by a friend in St. Louis who knew where he could obtain the instrument was one he’ll never forget. “It was crazy,” he said, reflecting on the ways he would “stare at it” in the videos he would watch. “I never forgot the little jewels glued to the headstock and upper bout,” he said. “It was just wild.”

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