In 1977 NASA launched a special spacecraft into space containing a selection of music, chosen by experts, that was representative of music created throughout history on planet Earth. Among the compilation were pieces by Bach, Beethoven, and Chuck Berry, and many more. The legendary American comedy show Saturday Night Live performed a skit on what would be the only proof of intelligent life on Earth beyond the solar system. In the skit Steve Martin comes out telling the audience that NASA had received an extraterrestrial answer on the affair. The answer was blunt, just four words: Send more Chuck Berry.
Yes indeed, that would be quite an intelligent answer. We are talking about the father of rock and roll and for us, guitarists, the founding father of the rock guitar sound...and that speaks volumes. Until Chuck Berry came along, rock guitars, and R&B guitars from the 40’s and 50s sounded like jazz, like blues and white styles more similar to country and rockabilly. After Chuck showed up, the panorama would all sound like Chuck Berry, an influence that is still with us today.
To create that sound, unrepeatable by the way (everyone in the world plays Chuck Berry songs, yet nobody makes it sound like him), he got his hands on a Gibson ES-350T, from 1956 or 1957. This is the guitar we hear on most of his first big hits. It’s most likely that the pickups we hear of the guitar are the famous PAF, just introduced at that time. It’s also true that we’ve seen photos of him playing this model with P-90s but his sound makes us believe that the humbuckers ended up being his favourites.
In fact the most legendary photos of this St. Louis artist in the following years show him with other mythic models with a double pickup fixture: the Gibson ES-335, and especially the Gibson ES-355. Two guitars that would be by his side for his entire career. His flirting with models outside these two were very seldom, but to mention one, we know that at one point in his career he used a black Gibson Les Paul Custom.
As far as amps go, for decades he only used a pair of Fender Dual Showmans onstage...well, the amps and his band to accompany him, or at least that’s what the legend says. It’s hard to say which amp he used in those first classics, but it was probably one of the Fender Tweed models of the time.
To finish up, as you can imagine, he never used any kind of pedal. He didn’t need one; he had composed the most famous and covered riff in rock and roll in history, he needed just a Gibson in his hands. The extraterrestrial aliens will be grateful if one day they find that spacecraft with information about our planet’s music and we all know what the intelligent answer will be.