Listen to Keith Richards’ guitar in The Rolling Stones song ‘Gimme Shelter’ on this isolated track
The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards is one of the most famous guitarists in the world but is often more heralded for his uncanny ability to live life on the perpetual edge than his guitar playing ability.
Yet Richards is one of the best guitar players you’ll ever hear and if you don’t believe us we’ll direct your attention to this isolated track for The Rolling Stones song ‘Gimme Shelter’.
When one thinks of the founding member of The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, it is usually his jaw-dropping rock and roll lifestyle that first comes to mind. The image of the guitarist, with a cigarette in his mouth lamenting a no drugs policy, will always be Richards’ lasting one. Followed closely by his knack for pulling out a show-stopping and chunky stadium-sized riff to wow a mass of thousands—but you’d be missing the point.
The reason Keith Richards is so great, so revered and adored by so many people is that not only can he do all of the above, but he is also a supreme guitar and rock geek. A fanboy, even. A devoted disciple of Bluesmen like Muddy Waters, and later rock and roll founder Chuck Berry, Richards is far from the slovenly drunkard he’s sometimes portrayed as.
Richards’ shows off his virtuosos ability on the 1969 Let It Bleed single, the iconic Merry Clayton and Rolling Stones’ anthem ‘Gimme Shelter’. The guitarist’s atmospheric tone presents a perfect kaleidoscopic parallel to the spiritual gospel sound of Jagger and Clayton’s vocals — Richards’ chaos to their order. It’s something that is so seamless it’s hard to catch without isolating Richards’ guitar track.
Guitar World reports that much of that tone is because Richards’ isn’t using his usual instrument of choice. Not the trusty Fender Telecaster, nor a Les Paul nor an Epiphone. It is instead a mysterious Maton EG240 Supreme. Richards picked up the axe that someone had left at his house. It’s a mystery because Richards doesn’t remember the name of the man that the guitar belonged to, despite staying with him for a while.
“He crashed out for a couple of days and suddenly left in a hurry, leaving that guitar behind,” he told Guitar World, in 2002. “You know, ‘Take care of it for me.’ I certainly did.” He kind of looked after it, “It had been all revarnished and painted out, but it sounded great,” Richards said. “It made a great record. And on the very last note of ‘Gimme Shelter’ the whole neck fell off. You can hear it on the original take.”
It’s the same guitar that Richards would use to record across many of the Let It Bleed sessions and adds a tremolo tone that set the album apart from its contemporaries when it arrived 50 years ago.
It’s the same tone that you can hear below and it’s the same tone that makes ‘Gimme Shelter’ one of the best rock and roll songs ever written.