Although Rory Gallagher amassed a formidable collection of guitars - he is reputed to have owned 121 - as his brother Donal explains, he was the antithesis of a guitar collector…
“Rory was attracted to cheap guitars like the Supros and Silvertones, rather than the all‑singing-and-dancing Stratocaster, because they were the poor man’s guitar of the time and were what the blues players used.
“He was prepared to put up with them being perhaps a little cumbersome and difficult to play, just to get the original feel. He never wanted to buy a guitar just because it was one of only three in the world; everything had to have a use on stage or in the studio.
“You could buy a pedal that would make the guitar sound like a sitar, but Rory would always rather get an instrument like a Coral guitar that would do the job. On A Million Miles Away and Cradle Rock, he used a Danelectro Silvertone he bought for $15 in a pawn shop, and he hated to see all these guys on stage with racks and racks of guitars.
“Because he played acoustically as well as electrically, he did need to use quite a few, but there was never anything flashy.”
Rory’s beaten-up but much loved ‘number one’ Stratocaster. Only the middle pickup is original and the controls have been modified, so that the tone control also works on the bridge pickup.
Rory’s battered 1961 Stratocaster is certainly the stuff of legend. Purchased in 1963 from Crowley’s Music Shop in Cork, only the wear and tear evidenced on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Strat compares. With little of the original finish intact, it was the classic bluesman’s instrument.
“There were people who thought that Rory was chiselling it away each night, but it certainly wasn’t the case,” Donal laughs. “Rory’s sweat was so acidic that the effect on the guitar finish was like paint stripper. After a three-hour set, it was always covered with sweat and you could just see the paint starting to bubble up. Rory was very concerned about it, it felt like premature balding!
“The sweat was such a problem that in the late 70s, he started getting terrible tuning problems with the neck. He took it to Fender, who discovered that a combination of the huge amount of moisture in it and the heat of the lights each night wasn’t allowing the wood to settle.
“Fender made him a replica neck and Rory put the original in his house in London, as little more than an ornament. Several years afterwards, Rory was putting a guitar together and as an experiment, tried the old neck again, which had by then dried out and gone back to its original form. It was quickly repatriated.”
Airline Red Supro Res-O-Glas
Rory wanted a Supro after seeing anarchic Chicago slide guitarist JB Hutto in action, and his early 60s Res-O-Glas model - the same guitar that Jack White would later make his White Stripes calling card - would probably have been originally sold through the Montgomery Ward mail-order catalogue.
Hutto’s song Too Much Alcohol became a staple of Rory’s set, sometimes played with the band, but more often as part of his solo acoustic set.
Gretsch Corvette 1963
Bought by Donal for $56 from a Los Angeles pawn shop while Rory was in the guitar shop over the road, the Corvette was a particular favourite of Rory’s and was fitted with a replacement Gibson P-90 pickup.
Donal recalls, “Rory was very fond of that guitar, because it had the big fat chunky pickup and a neck that was ideal for slide - it became the Bullfrog Blues guitar, the one he always used for that tune.”
Rory would tune the Gretsch to either G or A with 0.013 to 0.050 heavy gauge strings, and his favourite slide for electric playing was a glass Coricidin bottle.
Rory was fond of the Telecaster’s biting sound for slide, particularly on Muddy Waters-style songs.
After being damaged in transit, his 1967 white Tele was refinished in green by guitar repairer Chris Eccleshall. Rory was apparently not pleased, and only returned to using the guitar when it had been resprayed its original white.
Rory always preferred the treble pickup on his Teles, like this 1969 example, to a Stratocaster, and at one time even thought of fitting one to his famous ’61 Strat.
The Esquire, which is reputed to be a 1953, was painted black by Rory when he first bought it and in the time he used it, went through many pickup changes, including a three-pickup Strat configuration.
Rory would often tune this old Martin D-35 to DADGAD when playing tunes such as Out On The Western Plain.
This 1965 Teisco Trg-1 is a Zim Gar model complete with goldfoil pickup and built-in amplifier.
Supro Dual Tone
This beautiful white 1963 Supro Dual Tone is similar to one that David Bowie has been spotted using.