For the majority of his career, Keith plays his 5 string Telecaster, named Micawber, which is in Open G tuning
How the guitar used to record Gimme Shelter disintegrated immediately after the song’s completion, and other incredible stories.
When playing like Keith, forget the idea of playing speedy guitar runs and focus more on capturing the vibe. Keith is a total feel player and does not ever entertain the speedier end of the guitar playing spectrum. It’s all about creating that rock and roll feeling with every lick and riff.
“That was done on some nameless Australian full-bodied acoustic [a Maton]. It looked like a copy of the Gibson model that Chuck Berry used. The thing had all been revarnished and painted out, but it just sounded great. Some guy crashed out at my pad for a couple of days, then suddenly split in a hurry and left that guitar behind, like, “take care of this for me.” I certainly did.
At the very last note of the take, the whole neck fell off. You can hear it on the original track. That guitar had just that one little quality for that specific thing. In a way, it was quite poetic that it died at the end of the track.”
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
On that song, my fingers just landed in the right place and I discovered a few things about that [five-string, open G] tuning that I’d never been aware of. I think I realized that even as I was cutting the track. And then that jam at the end – we didn’t even know they were still taping. We thought we’d finished. We were just rambling and they kept the tape rolling. It was only when we heard the playback we realized: “Oh they kept it going. Okay, fade it out there – no wait, a little bit more, a bit more…“ Basically, we realized we had two bits of music: there’s the song and there’s the jam.
Start Me Up
I was convinced that was a reggae song. Everybody else was convinced of that. “It’s reggae, man.” We did 45 takes like that. But then on a break I just played that guitar riff, not even really thinking much about it; we did a take rocking away and then went back to work and did another 15 reggae takes. Five years later, Mick discovered that one rock take in the middle of the tape and realized how good it was. The fact that I missed Start Me Up for five years is one of my disappointments. It just went straight over my head. But you can’t catch everything.
Sling your Telecaster nice and low, get rid of your low E string and lets dive into the world of Keef.
“Before They Make Me Run,” “Brown Sugar” and “Honky Tonk Women.” Those are just a few of the timeless Rolling Stones songs on which riff-master Keith Richards wielded the legendary “Micawber”, a 1950s Telecaster that is probably the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s most famous guitar.
Richards received Micawber in December 1970 on his 27th birthday from fellow Fender fan Eric Clapton. At the time, Richards and the Stones were getting ready to work on the album that would become Exile on Main Street.
“Most people used open tuning basically just for slide. Nobody used it for anything else. But I (keith Richards)
wanted to use it for rhythm guitar. And what I found was, of all the guitars, the Telecaster really lent itself well to a dry, rhythm, five-string drone thing. In a way that tuning kept me developing as a guitarist. ‘Okay, now figure out a diminished sixth on it!’ You’ve got so little to work with. And that makes you reconsider six-string concert tuning. ‘Cause if there’s so much in that little space [i.e., five-string] how much am I missing on the other? You can transfer some of that back to six-string concert tuning. You can swap knowledge between one tuning and another.”