Just what kind of impact ZZ Top had on the evolution of rock music has been known for a while now. Their sound and style is one of the most unique, even today.
One person who is largely responsible for the way ZZ Top turned out is Billy Gibbons. His mastery of tone is impressive, to say the least.
To many, ZZ Top’s music doesn’t sound complicated, both in terms of technique and tone. However, once you take a closer look at just how finely tuned everything is, you will form a very different opinion.
His personal guitar rig is truly something to behold. As you will find out further down in this article, Billy Gibbons goes outside the norm on the regular.
Some of his solutions are pretty unusual, which only adds to the conclusion that his skill goes beyond what is apparent at first. With that said, let’s do a quick rundown of Billy Gibbons’ guitar rig and setup.
Nothing beats a finely tuned bluesy tone, that is for sure. It’s not an easy thing to achieve, but once you get there, you have a really good foundation to work with.
If there’s a single person in this world who knows how to dial this type of tone, it’s Billy Gibbons. In order to find out just how he gets this done, we need to look at the equipment and instrument he likes to use. Let’s start with his guitars.
No matter how many different guitars Gibbons has been seen using, at the end of the day, it all comes down to two specific models. The first one is his 1959 Gibson Les Paul, which goes by the name ‘Pearly Gates’, while the other is his unusual Bo Diddley Gretsch.
Here’s Billy playing Miss Pearly Gates…
The Les Paul we have just mentioned is his favourite guitar and the one he likes to use the most. Even though there are numerous Les Pauls made in 1959, Gibbons claims that none come even close to his ‘Pearly Gates.’
Apparently, this specific Les Paul was best from its batch and performs significantly better than any other Les Paul from 1959, let alone from later years.
The Bo Diddley guitar was made by Gretsch specifically for this legendary guitarist.
Back in 1959, Bo Diddley approached Gretsch and asked them to make him a guitar that had rather unusual curves. What they came up with as the Billy Bo Jupiter Thunderbolt.
Bo Diddley loved the guitar and went on to play it for a long time.
At one point, he decided to give that Jupiter Thunderbolt to Gibbons, who was incredibly flattered by this act.
Ever since then, Gibbons has kept this Gretsch in his collection and pulls it out from time to time.
Aside from these two very special guitars, Billy Gibbons has a large collection of Gibsons, which include some several more Les Pauls and some Explorers as well. He also owns some Fenders, namely Strats and Telecasters.
For the most part, Gibbons was always a fan of Marshall. His main rig these days consists of several power amps and two Marshall JCM900 2100 amp heads.
This setup then leads to a set of cabinets which consist of three Marshall 4×12 1969AX and three Marshall 4×12 1960BX cabs.
One thing Gibbons is adamant about are his 25 Watt Greenback speakers.
In all honesty, his rig is not that complicated if you strictly look at amps and guitars. It’s all more or less tame compared what some of the guitar players like to run these days.
However, when we move on to his effects pedals, things get a bit weird.
If we look at his gear setup for 2003, we will see no less than six Bixonic Expandora overdrive pedals.
That’s right, six overdrive pedals, all of which are turned on all the time. For an average guitar player, this probably sounds like a complete mess. However, Billy Gibbons has a way of harnessing this unusual setup in a way which makes it practical. The whole deal with using six overdrive pedals is to tune each one a little differently.
Gibbons managed to get a very nice edge this way, although he also said that the noise produced by all of these pedals sometimes creates a unique effect of its own.
Check out this video demo right here of the Bixonic Expandora overdrive pedal to get a sense why Billy likes to have a flotilla of these bad boys on hand.
Since 2003, his pedalboard configuration hasn’t changed all that much. Some things are different, but the six Bixonic Expandora overdrives are still there.
One more aspect of his setup which is kind of strange are the accessories he uses. One of the most notable things is his Peso pick.
The reason behind using Mexican currency as a guitar pick is the effect it has on the strings.
Gibbons discovered that the edges of the coin create a very unusual metallic effect, which plays well with the rest of his tone configuration.
Additionally, his choice of strings may seem somewhat unusual. Most of his guitars are fitted with light gauge strings, .008 to be more specific.
Gibbons was a hard believer in heavy gauge strings until B.B. King changed his mind.
The way he puts it, lighter gauge strings give you much better playing comfort, while the heavy sound can be achieved by other means.
Speaking of the blues, here’s Billy Gibbons tearing it up.
Billy Gibbons has a very unusual approach to his guitar setup. The tone he managed to achieve is a product of his ability to step out of the box and look at things from a different angle.
A lot of people are capable of dialling a driving bluesy guitar tone, but Billy Gibbons took that to a whole different level. The combination of odd signal chain, using a coin for a pick, and other weird elements, has proven to be a success.