If you’ve never heard of, or listened to, ZZ Top, where the hell have you been? Fusing Texas Blues, Rock, a bit of Hard Rock, and more, ZZ Top are just one of those bands… and their lead guitarist and singer is Billy Gibbons.
Gibbons is known for his killer Blues inspired guitar playing, overdriven sound, and all around stellar guitar playing. Honestly, if you’re not into this guy’s playing, you’re seriously missing out.
But, how, exactly, does Billy Gibbons get all those amazing sounds out of his guitar? With a career spanning decades, Gibbons has changed things up a bit, so I’m mostly going to concentrate on his classic ZZ Top sounds.
What Kind Of Guitar Does Billy Gibbons Play?
I read that Gibbons has literally hundreds of guitars in his personal collection. Nearly 500 in fact. To that end, Gibbons has probably played just about everything.
However, the guitar he’s most known for playing is the Gibson Les Paul. Specifically, Gibbons’ “signature” guitar is a 1959 Gibson Les Paul that he’s named Miss Pearly Gates.
Miss Pearly Gates is a sunburst patterned Les Paul and is quite probably priceless at this point. 1959 was a great year for Gibson, and older guitars are often very sought after, let alone a legend like this. While I’m sure Gibbons plays Miss Pearly Gates in the privacy of his own home, from my understanding he now plays a replica built by Gibson’s custom shop.
While you may not be able to get a guitar exactly like Billy’s you can still pick yourself up a Les Paul, either a proper Gibson or an Epiphone. It won’t be a ’59, but it will still be a great instrument.
Beyond Miss Pearly Gates, Gibbons does tend to be a Gibson man.
Gibbon’s Gibson Custom Shop Pearly Gates replica is fitted Seymour Duncan Billy Gibbons signature model humbuckers. These pickups are designed to sound like the original Pearly Gates guitar.
So, if you’re looking for a guitar similar to Gibbons’ finding yourself a ’59 Les Paul will likely do the trick. Assuming you don’t have that kind of money, any Les Paul or Les Paul style guitar will get you closer. Closer still will be getting the signature humbuckers.
All in all though, the source of the sound is a Les Paul with humbuckers.
What Kind Of Amp Does Billy Gibbons Play?
Like guitars, Gibbons has played a lot of amps, but he mostly uses Marshall amplifiers.
Gibbons himself has said that, beyond his ’59 Les Paul, his sound comes from a 100-Watt 1968 Marshall Super Lead.
Again, unless you have money to burn, buying this amp is going to be out of reach. However, Marshall amps have a distinct sound to them, so, to make a start on Gibbons style, gravitate towards a Marshall that suits your price point.
Amps can be difficult, especially when trying to emulate the sound of some of the greats. The good news is that these days you can get a solid state amp that can preset to similar tones to some of those vintage amps you just can’t get anymore (without spending a ton of money).
What Effects Pedals Does Billy Gibbons Use?
I’ve read a few articles on the types of pedals that Billy Gibbons uses and has used, and they all say the same thing: we don’t know. Although Gibbons seems to be a bit of a gear head, he seems less into effects.
Early ZZ Top recordings had plenty of overdrive to them, and, given Gibbons’ love of a big Marshall amp, it’s perfectly possible.
But if you’re looking for pedals that we do know Gibbons has played in the past, once again you’ll likely be dropping some serious money on hard to find items.
Billy Gibbons And Overdrive
Overdrive has always been a big part of Gibbons’ sound and again, it’s likely he got a lot of natural overdrive out of his amps back in the day. However, we do know that Gibbons has used a Browntone Macho Man in the early 90’s. These aren’t in production anymore and are quite hard to find! The Blackstone Mosfet Overdrive is a pedal that Gibbons has used, and they still make it! From my understanding the Blackstone pedal has more crunch to it than the Macho Man, but if you’re looking to start a collection of boutique guitar pedals, the Blackstone may be a good buy!
Billy Gibbons And Fuzz
Gibbons has also been known to use fuzz in his sound, and started out with a Maestro Fuzz. And guess what, they don’t make those anymore either…
From what I’ve read, a Fuzz Face pedal will do the job here though.
Billy Gibbons And EQ
Gibbons has also played with the EQ of his sound, specifically using a treble booster: the Analog Man Beano Boost. And yes, this one is in production.
According to Analog Man, the Beano Boost is based on the British Dallas Rangemaster and designed to go well with British amps (like Marshalls) that can often be described as “dark.” So pushing some treble through the mix can be a good thing.
That being said, boosting too much treble can thin out your sound and, unless you’re using a “dark” amp like a Marshall, you may find that you don’t actually need to use the treble booster. Or you can accomplish something similar with the EQ on your amp.
And That’s Billy Gibbons’ Gear
I’ve said it before, but just remember you can’t sound like Billy Gibbons just with a bunch of expensive gear. The gear only gets you so far.
But if you like Billy Gibbons’ sound and want to approach it, get yourself a Les Paul through a Marshall amp then overdrive the hell out of it!