Billy Gibbons’ guitar collection is almost as legendary as his beard. He can lay claim to classics like “Pearly Gates,” his ’59 Les Paul sunburst to the white carpeted “Furry One” he sported in ZZ Top’s MTV days. But Saturday night at BB King Blues Club and Grill in Manhattan, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Famers unveiled one of his most forward-thinking custom-guitars yet: a Telecaster-inspired instrument custom enhanced with a built-in iPad Mini.
The occasion was the first show in 44 years from his pre-ZZ Top psychedelic rock band, the Moving Sidewalks. Gibbons said his idea was to find a way to mimic the liquid–projection effects psychedelic rock bands used to show behind them in the sixties without using screens that would distract the audience.
“I thought, what would make this a psychedelic moment?” Gibbons said in an interview Sunday morning from his hotel room at the Waldorf Astoria. “We’re not a blues band, although we’ll play some blues. And few, if any, of the audience will be on LSD. My idea was to provide a visual association that went with the band and the show without asking the audience to look somewhere else. On the iPad, they saw a lot of weird, curling smoke inside of water. Thanks to the iPad, I got to bring back the old tried-and-true light show.”
For the project, Gibbons went to his go-to luthier, John Bolin of Bolin Guitars. Based in Boise, Idaho, Bolin has prepared custom guitars for Gibbons for more than 35 years, while also working on projects for Jimmy Page, Steve Miller, Albert King, Bo Didley, and the Rolling Stones’s Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood.
“I called John and told him I’d measured the iPad Mini and that there’s just enough room between the neck and the pickup to slam an iPad in there,” Gibbons says. “John said, ‘Uh oh. When’s the show?’ I said, ‘ten days.’ He said, ‘Does that include time for FedEx delivery? It got here just in time.'”
The guitar’s next appearance is slated for April 28, when the Moving Sidewalks headline slot on the Sixth Annual Austin Psych Fest, a three-day music festival curated by Austin’s the Black Angels.
Photograph by Sandrine Lee