Billy Gibbons Guitars

Billy Gibbons – The Bearded Maestro and His Guitars

Billy Gibbons, the legendary guitarist, singer, and songwriter best known as the frontman of the iconic Texas blues-rock band ZZ Top, has been wowing fans with his exceptional guitar skills for over five decades. With a career that has seen him play alongside legends like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, Gibbons has solidified his place in the pantheon of guitar greats.

Let’s delve into the life, the career of Billy Gibbons, his guitars, and his gear throughout the years.

Table of Contents

Early Life and Career

William Frederick Gibbons was born on September 16, 1949, in Tanglewood, a suburb of Houston, Texas. Billy grew up in a wealthy family that enjoyed classical and country music. His father, a concert pianist, and orchestra conductor encouraged Billy’s musical interests.

Billy began playing percussion before transitioning to the guitar. But after seeing Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show, Billy Gibbons became interested in rock and roll. Other early rockers such as Little Richard and Jimmy Reed also caught his attention.

For Christmas 1963, Billy received his first guitar, a Gibson Melody Maker with a Fender Champ amplifier. The first timbres that he extracted from this instrument were the songs of his idols.

At the age of 14, Billy formed his first band The Saints, which broke up within a few months. Billy then joined a rock band called The Coachmen, which primarily focused on psychedelic music inspired by the likes of Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix. This can be found out later on ZZ Top.

The group changed its name to Moving Sidewalks. In 1967, they released their first single, “99th Floor,” and a year later, their first album, Flash.
In 1968, the group toured with Jimi Hendrix. Jimi then gave an interview where he said that of the new generation of guitarists, Billy was one of his favorites. In 1969, Moving Sidewalks disbanded.

Billy began his search for a purer blues-boogie style. He found two other Texans, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Byrd, two outstanding blues musicians, and ZZ Top was created. The trio would go on to become one of the most enduring and successful rock bands in history, with Gibbons’ distinctive guitar sound and style becoming a signature element of their music.

The name ZZ Top comes from blues legend B.B. King. The group first wanted to be called Z.Z. King, but this evoked too much resemblance to their hero.

The strength of the band is the deposit of a solid base on which Billy with strong guitar riffs can build.

Or as Billy himself once said:

“They put a nice rug in front of me where I can enjoy dancing it.”

Many guitarists have embraced the technique of Billy. La Grange is a good example where the style and technique of Gibbons is well recognized.

ZZ Top have been together for over 40 years and are still touring successfully. Billy Gibbons performs solo concerts from time to time. So he ended up at a music fair in the USA as a guest of NAMM 2008 at the Fender booth. Here he played the Z Esquire Tele Masterbuilt, in a performance with Cindy Cashdollar, Jimmy Vaughn, and G.E. Smith.

Billy Gibbons’ Guitars

Gibbons’ guitar collection is extensive and includes almost every famous brand and model. He plays a variety of models in the studio, but when performing he favors the Gretsch G6199 Jupiter Thunderbird and Gibson Les Paul Sunburst.

Here, we take a closer look at some of his most notable instruments:

1. 1959 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst “Pearly Gates”

Arguably Gibbons’ most famous guitar, the “Pearly Gates” is a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard with a sunburst finish. This guitar has been his go-to instrument for most of ZZ Top’s recordings and is responsible for many of the band’s classic riffs. The Les Paul Sunburst is still Billy’s favorite instrument.

2. 1961 Fender Stratocaster “The Wife”

Gibbons acquired this custom pink Fender Stratocaster as a gift from ZZ Top’s tour manager. Named “The Wife” because of the guitar’s pink color, it has been used on stage by Gibbons since the early 1980s.

3. Gretsch G6199 Billy-Bo Jupiter Thunderbird

The G6199 Jupiter Thunderbird is a 1958 design created by boogie and blues virtuoso Bo Diddley. Billy received the original model as a gift from Bo. Together with Bo, they made some changes and in 2005 a new version appeared on the market – G6199 Billy-Bo. The guitar has a solid mahogany body and neck, a laminated maple top, and is equipped with two custom-made Seymour Duncan pickups. Gibbons has used this guitar extensively since its creation.

4. Chiquita Travel Guitar

A wonderful little guitar from Billy’s collection – the Chiquita Travel Guitar. It is the product of cousins Mark and Dan Erlewine. Mark Erlewine repaired guitars and other stringed instruments and founded a guitar company in Austin, Texas, in 1970 with his cousin Dan. In the late seventies, he met Billy, who was looking for a handy little guitar so he could still play on the plane while the band was touring.

Thus the Erlewine cousins developed Chiquita. This is a small tool with a total length of 27 inches. This format with 23 frets is a bit tricky to play and after the 12th fret is tight for guitarists with thick fingers. It has a single double coil humbucker, and despite its small body, this instrument has good resonance.

Gibbons’ Equipment

In addition to his impressive collection of guitars, Billy Gibbons is known for his use of various amps and effects. Some of his most notable gear includes:

Marshall amplifiers

Gibbons has been a longtime user of Marshall amplifiers. The base amplifier for the sound is a Marshall Super Lead 1968.

Along with the Super Leads, Billy used various Marshall products, including The JCM 900 Dual Reverb, Bluesbreaker, JTM45, Major, and Lead 12.

His rack also contains a JMP-1 preamp, combined with amplifiers such as the Marshall Valvestate 120 and 9200.

These amps have helped shape his signature sound, providing the perfect balance of clean and overdriven tones.


Magnatone Amps In recent years, Gibbons has also incorporated Magnatone amplifiers into his rig, using the Magnatone Super Fifty-Nine M80 model. These amps are known for their lush, vintage tones, which Gibbons uses to add depth and warmth to his sound.

Effects Pedals

Throughout his career, Gibbons has utilized a variety of effects pedals to enhance his guitar sound. Some of his favorites include the MXR Phase 90, Dunlop Cry Baby Wah, and the Fulltone Tube Tape Echo.


From his early days in The Moving Sidewalks to his decades-long tenure with ZZ Top, Billy Gibbons has consistently showcased his prowess on the six-string, making him a true guitar hero. Billy Gibbons’ unique playing style, characterized by a combination of blues, rock, and psychedelic influences, has cemented his status as one of the all-time greats.

With a continued passion for his craft and a seemingly endless arsenal of guitars and gear, it’s certain that Gibbons will continue to captivate audiences and influence musicians for many years to come.