Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin, "Stairway to Heaven"
Among all the questions we hear when giving guitar lessons, one of most asked is, "How did he get that sound?" And of all the guitar sounds out there, one of the ones that comes up most in guitar lessons is the rock classic "Stairway to Heaven."
Jimmy Page's Electric Guitars
When we think of Jimmy Page we usually think of him from concert videos -- a long-haired wild man, back-lit, playing guitar with a violin bow and creating amazing sounds in brand new ways. The guitar we usually see is a Gibson – a double-neck, with six strings on one neck and twelve on the other. That model is called an EDS 1275, and it is still available today, although you often have to order it or have your local Guitar Center search it out from inventory at another store.
But the electric guitar Jimmy played in the studio on that song was a Fender Telecaster – a special one nicknamed "The Dragon." It was given to Page by his friend Jeff Beck, and it got its name from the wild paint scheme which graces its surface. It's a 1958 model – and if you've priced that vintage lately, you know you can't touch one under $10,000.
But don't be discouraged – the only way a guitar becomes a famous vintage model is if today's young guitarist uses it, becomes a star, and keeps it. That axe in your hands right now might someday be "The Dragon" of your generation.
Jimmy Page's Acoustic Guitar
Perhaps one reason "Stairway" has remained so popular is the mixing of different guitar sounds throughout the record. It's a rich guitar tapestry. The acoustic you hear in the opening is a stock Martin D28, which Jimmy bought new in 1971. Nice to know you can make a huge hit record with a guitar that isn't "pre-war" and which, at the time, cost under $400. He bought it off the floor of a music store. Nothing custom, nothing fancy – and that exact model is still available today. Here's the guitar lesson I take away from that: it's not the guitar – it's the person playing it.
Jimmy Page's Amps
Jimmy Page is a Marshall guy – over and out. In studio or on stage, he played Marshall amps. "Stairway" was recorded with a model SLP-1959 which was modified with KT-88 tubes to boost its output.
Jimmy Page's Effects
Jimmy had a cool effects rig in the 1970's – selective, not too complicated, and within reach of the average player. Compare its simplicity with last week's rig – the maxed out pedal board used by Mike Einzinger of Incubus.
Jimmy used a Roger Mayer tonebender fuzz box, a Vox Crybaby Wah; a Maestro Echoplex; and an MXR Phase 90. Who knows if he were playing today if he would have used one of the many digital delays available – but I still like the sound of that old Echoplex!
What's the Guitar Lesson Here?
Before you spend a fortune on effects, remember that some old-school players got all their sound from very simple setups. Clapton got his famous "woman tone" by turning his Marshall up to ten and turning all the treble off the tone pots on his guitar. In fact, Distortion and Overdrive effects were developed simply to get that "turn it up to ten" sound at lower volumes. And that's a guitar lesson we can all use to remember!