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(Credit: David Gilmour)

Music

The life and times of David Gilmour told through his guitars

@TylerGolsen

What more can be said about David Gilmour‘s guitar playing that hasn’t already been said? Fluid, bluesy, and consistently hitting soaring high notes, his melodic lines and solos throughout the Pink Floyd catalogue have given the band a delicate touch and some distinctive muscle through more than four decades.

Most prog rock guitarists would be guilty of noodling, but Gilmour is different. A craftsman in the truest sense, every note played is purposeful, and Gilmour has learned that economy and restraint are just as powerful as bombastic displays of six-string prowess. The structure of solos like ‘Money’ and ‘Comfortably Numb’ have made him a legend, but equally impressive are his riff-conjuring abilities in ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ or his aggressive attack on ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’.

More important than just his approach to the instrument is his adaptability to any circumstance. The swelling seagull calls of ‘Echoes’, the slinky funk of ‘Have a Cigar’, the disco-infused strut of ‘Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2’, and the pastoral folk of ‘Fat Old Sun’ are all at complete opposite ends of the musical spectrum, and yet Gilmour can assimilate to all of them perfectly. No matter what new genre he’s playing, his guitar parts are always classic Gilmour.

Forever associated with his signature Black Stratocaster, Gilmour has actually utilised a number of different guitars over the years. Some are variations on his favourite guitar, and some are purposefully different. In order to get the bigger picture about what makes Gilmour tick as a guitar player, it’s helpful to take a tour through his equipment and discover what guitars were used for which classic cuts. These are some of Gilmour’s greatest stories, as told through six of his most notable guitars.

1967: White Fender Telecaster

On March 6th, 1967, on David Gilmour’s 21st birthday, he received a gift from his parents that would change his life forever: a white Fender Telecaster. Telecasters were traditionally thought of as country guitars, but it would be through their association with figures like Jimmy Page and George Harrison that the Telecaster became rock and roll royalty.

The fact that Gilmour obtained that specific model, in that specific colour, would be an omen for his future. It was the same kind of guitar that his friend Syd Barrett was using in his on-the-rise band, Pink Floyd. Only a few months after obtaining the Tele, Gilmour was offered a spot in the Floyd, ostensibly to cover for Barrett’s erratic behaviour, but Gilmour soon replaced Barrett completely. Almost is by fate, the white Tele was lost by an airline not long after Barrett’s official departure, forcing Gilmour to find his own signature sound.

1968: White Fender Stratocaster

Even though it was probably necessary for him to move on as Barrett’s full replacement, Gilmour was still very upset over the loss of his first real guitar. His bandmates saw how torn up Gilmour was over losing the guitar and bought him a new one: a White Fender Stratocaster.

Gilmour would use the guitar as Pink Floyd were finding their own voice after Barrett’s departure. Through the experimental recording sessions of Ummagumma, Gilmour used the white Strat to try and find his own identifiable style. He wouldn’t get it with this particular guitar, but he evidently liked the Strat enough to favour it when he acquired his next, and most famous, guitar.

1970: The Black Strat

Manny’s Music was a legendary guitar shop in Midtown Manhattan where musicians of all levels could find some of the greatest guitars in the world. Everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Bob Dylan walked through the shop’s doors, and when Gilmour entered the store in 1970 during Pink Floyd’s tour in support of Atom Heart Mother, he spied a 1969 black Fender Stratocaster that spoke to him.

Everything about the guitar, minus its signature body, would be modified by Gilmour over the years. Necks, pickups, circuits, tuners, bridges: you name it, it’s been replaced. And yet, the guitar remains one of the most singular and easily identifiable in the world. Gilmour mostly retired the Black Strat after The Final Cut, bringing it back only briefly four tours in the 2000s before auctioning off his most famous instrument in 2019. It sold for an eye-watering figure of $4 million.

1971: Bill Lewis 24-fret Custom

When Pink Floyd entered the studio in 1971 to work on their LP Meddle, Gilmour was finally making enough money to begin splashing it on some more equipment. While on the same tour that he acquired the Black Strat, Gilmour visited luthier Bill Lewis’ shop in Canada where he was shown a custom 24 fret guitar that impressed him.

The soaring high notes that Gilmour could produce from the guitar would come in handy while recording the solo for ‘Echoes’. But its greatest use would come two years later when Gilmour milked those extra frets for all their worth during the solo for ‘Money’. Gilmour remains fond of the guitar, and it is one of the few that he refused to place up for auction in 2019.

1975: Martin D-35

Gilmour used a smattering of acoustic guitars during Pink Floyd’s early years, but he yearned to have a classic Martin guitar after the band blew up with Dark Side of the Moon. Since he had found success at Manny’s Music with the Black Strat, Gilmour took a walk over to the shop in order to find another great guitar.

But he never made it in the door. Instead, an amateur musician recognised Gilmour before he got to the shop. Gilmour explained he was looking for an acoustic, and the musical offered him the guitar he was carrying, a Martin D-35. Gilmour spent a grand total of two minutes playing it on the street before handing over the money. Gilmour frequently composed on the acoustic, and he broke it out for the opening solo on ‘Wish You Were Here’.

1979: The 0001 Fender Stratocaster

Disco was ever-present at the back end of the 1970s, and one of the genre’s secret weapons for ear-catching funk was the scratchy guitar lines that added additional rhythms to the already groovy arrangements. The king of this style was Chic’s Nile Rodgers, known for his use of a white Fender Stratocaster to produce some of disco’s greatest guitar lines.

Gilmour wasn’t terribly interested in the genre, but when ‘Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2’ was beginning to take shape in its funky form, Gilmour decided to break out one of the most legendary guitars of all time: the 0001 Strat. It might be the first Strat ever made, but it was personally crafted by Leo Fender himself, gifted to Gilmour by fellow guitar pioneer Rex Gallion. The 0001 Strat proves that, as Gilmour says: “There’s really been no improvement on the Stratocaster, and on the electric guitar.”