Back in 2005, Billy Gibbons created his first signature model with Gretsch, an absolutely radical looking guitar with an ancient story. Indeed, the Gretsch Jupiter Thunderbird was a shape designed by the legendary Bo Diddley in 1959.
The Gretsch Brooklyn factory had only built one of these, and it was gifted to Gibbons by Diddley himself. That historical piece was kept away in Gibbons' archives for a long time, before the ZZ Top frontman finally decided to use it for a recording. He then offered Gretsch to develop a double-signature model bringing together two generations of bluesmen, hence the name Billy-Bo for Gibbons and Diddley.
The Billy Bo reproduces the original shape but the pickups are TV Jones Powertron, which are more suited to the fat modern sound preferred by ZZ Top on stage. But since Gibbons happens to be a hot rod fanatic, he had to customize the Gretsches he would take on tour, and therefore decided to heavily modify that beautiful red guitar that was part of the very first production run. He changed the pickups in favour of Dynasonics for a true vintage sound, and the knobs as well as the bridge have been switched with their vintage equivalents, salvaged from vintage Gretsches. That mod makes you feel like you're playing the original Bo Diddley guitar.
Finally, to make a beautiful guitar even cooler, this Billy Bo has been pinstriped, which is a visual modification that Gibbons is very fond of. A lasso serves as a binding for the body, and the back is decorated with a Tiki idol inspired by Polynesian culture. Gibbons has toured with that guitar from 2005 to 2009, until Billy Bos made by luthier John Bolin took over, since Gibbons has always looked for the lightest possible guitar. Once you plug that little red devil in, its sonic weight is undeniable. As fat as a taco, as big as Texas.
Group : ZZ Top
Main guitar : Gibson Les Paul Standard 1959
An absolute “must-hear” track : Just Got Paid
Billy Gibbons is the boss. The boss of guitarists with his sensual tremolo and the fat sound like a burrito he gets from his Les Paul. The boss of singers with his rocky and twangy sound. The boss of bandleaders with ZZ Top, his trio whose lineup has remained the same since 1969. The boss of engineers, with an impeccable sense of staging. And finally the boss of collectors, with several hangars filled with several thousand guitars that he has acquired over the years. Legend has it that he would have a copy from every year of every model from the major brands, and that may not be just a legend... In any case, the guitars that we know he has are enough to turn heads. From “Mistress Pearly Gates”, the famous Les Paul 59 that has always been with him, to his 54 hardtail Strat that we often hear in addition to Pearly Gates, along with his many custom hotrod guitars.
His career began in 1967 with The Moving Sidewalks, one of the few psychedelic Texas rock bands inspired by the 13th Floor Elevators. They opened for Jimi Hendrix before breaking up in 1969, when Gibbons founded ZZ Top.
The trio began with rich and traditional blues rock before going in a more electronic direction, starting with Degüello in 1979. That direction was confirmed with the Eliminator/Afterburner/Recycler trilogy. Three albums where the blend of Gibbons’ blues with the synthesisers and drum machines of the time produced a result that won over many fans, whether they came to trio’s music through singles like Gimme All Your Loving and Rough Boy, or through the band’s excellent videos that were often played on MTV. Since then, ZZ Top has reinvented its music once again with a fatter, more organic, and fuzzy sound. Gibbons has made multiple appearances as a guest star on other musicians’ albums. He has also released two albums under his own name: Perfectamundo, which explores Cuban music, and Big Bad Blues, which returns to his first loves, between Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. The circle is complete.