The Johnny Winter Story

Guitars and Gear

The basic gear used by Johnny Winter during decades The Gibson Firebird mainly used for slide-guitar work, the Lazer guitar, the Chorus pedal and the Musicman amplifier

Johnny Winter basis gear: Musicman Amplifier, Gibson Firebird, Lazer guitar, Chorus pedal


These web pages describe Johnny Winter's guitars and gear he has used over the years.

Johnny Winter AND Live (1970)

This album "Johnny Winter AND Live" was first released on vinyl LP, due to the audio length constraints of the LP, several of the had to be cut. Today these unedited tracks of Johnny Winter's performance including the guitar solos performed by Rick Derringer are available Youtube.





Most recently gear used by Johnny Winter

  • Guitars: Erlewine Lazer, Gibson Firebird for slide work.
  • Amplifier: 2 x Music Man, 200 watts, 4x10". The Music Man amps Johnny uses are designated "one-thirty". ( that is the model name and the power rating ) They employ 4 EL34 power tubes and 1 12AX7 as a splitter/driver. The preamp stage is solid state. In addtion to the 2 amps that have 4 10' speakers (one is a stand-by, "on" but not used unless problems occur) there is usually a 2 12' "one-thirty" on stage in case it sounds better in the venue.
  • Effects: MXR phase 90s , Boss C-E2 chorus The Chorus pedal used by Johnny Winter (setttings), Tube Screamer - only used during slide work on the Firebird.
  • Strings: Dean Markley strings, .009, with an unwound G, also D'Addario .010, .013, .017, .026, .036 and .046.

    < Johnny Winter AD for Dan Markley Guitar Strings

  • Guitar strap: PR gimmick from No.1 Guitars in Hamburg, Germany (best shop in Europe, I swear), a little flexible number that you can pull down right to your knees.
  • Cables: ??
  • Thumbpicks / picks: Gibson Thumbpicks

An extensive interview with Johnny Winter and his guitars can be found in the 1974 Magazines section.

Johnny Winter Guitar Picks

Playing Technique

Johnny doesn't use a flatpick. Instead he prefers to attack the strings with a thumbpick and his fingers. Sometimes he'll grasp the thumbpick like a regular flatpick. "I'll do that if I'm doing backstrokes (upstrokes) to keep the thing from falling off my thumb."

Johnny keeps his right hand wrist fairly straight and his fingers barely move when he strums chords.

When playing slide however, he rotates his forearm slightly and mutes the idle strings with his right-hand palm and finger tips.

Winter's left-hand posture also varies. When bending strings, Johnny generally hooks his thumb over the top of the neck for anchorage and uses his 2nd and 3rd fingers to push the string.

When playing anything that requires a wide finger stretch, Winter rotates his thumb behind the neck.

Johnny Winter Poster for D'Addario Guitar Strings

Johnny Winter D'Addario Strings




When playing slide, he mutes the strings behind the slide with his first three fingers. If he uses fingers for fretting, he keeps the slide a fair distance from the neck to avoid accidentally coming in contact with the strings.

Before I learned how to bend strings, I heard people do that on records, but I didn't know how they were doing it" he said. "I was just using heavy Gibson Sonomatic strings, which were almost impossible to move. In those days they weren't making lighter gauge strings. I found out later that a lot of blues guitarists were switching strings around. Some would replace the G string with a second B string. Others would substitute a high G banjo string or a high A pedal steel string for the high E and then move everything else down, putting the high E where the B normally is and the B where the G normally is, and so forth.

"After everyone figured out what was going on, the lighter gauges cam out. At first, I tried to pull on those big, fat Gibson strings with a Bigsby tremolo because that's how I thought they were doing those bends." Nowadays Johnny uses slightly heavier gauge strings and tunes each string down a whole step (Lowest to highest: D, G, C, F, A and D).

Guitars used

Johnny's first real guitar was a Gibson ES-125, without a cutaway and with a single pickup. Afterwards he used a Strat for a while, followed by a Les Paul Custom and a Gibson SG.

Early Johnny Winter playing a white Gibson SG

Johnny Winter and his Guitars

The photo gallery below shows Johnny Winter and the guitars he has played during his career.

  After the Fender Mustang used on the Johnny Winter CBS album, Johnny used a gold-top Gibson Les Paul which he gave later on to Tommy Shannon

The back of the album cover for Saints and Sinners has a distorted/"fisheye lens" picture of Johnny holding a Gibson double-neck SG with two 6-string necks.

In the end of 70´s Johnny used also a metallic (but with hollow body so very light) electric guitar made by James Trussaurt from France.

Johnny Winter playing Gibson Firebird White

Around 1992 also considered using an ESP Mirage, but returned playing his Lazer.

Johnny Winter playing ESP Mirage

Another great photo of Johnny in action on the old Epiphone WilshireJohnny Winter Epiphone Wilshire

During his "And Live" period, he played the Firebird into 3 stacked Fender Twin Reverbs with JBL speakers. The Gibson Firebirds were followed by the Erlewine Lazer Johnny Winter with Erlewine Lazer

For slide Johnny uses his old '63 Gibson Firebird.

On some of the tracks of the album "Hey where's your brother", Johnny plays an: It's an old Super 400 Gibson! The truss rod cover being on backwards is supposed to be funny. It's harder to indentify because of the pickguard missing.

The Super 400 was the top of the line rich man's guitar and is 18" wide. You can always tell a 400 from the lower models because of the split block inlays. Up until they came out with the Le Grand, no other Gibson had those except for a special model of the Les Paul that you almost never see. Even in the rough shape that this one appears to be in, they are still worth a large amount of money.

Fender's 69 Mustang Fender Mustang - Fender's premiere sound and quality live on in these classic models that were the heart of the 50's, 60's and 70's electric guitar movement. Johnny actually used the Fender Telecast

Fender Telecaster I'm not sure whether Johnny actually used the Fender Telecaster, but he is playing it on the inner sleeve photos of "The Johnny Winter Story".

The classic '50's and '60's Telecasters conjure up images of early Rock & Roll and Country music. The '50's Tele has an ash body, vintage '50's pickups and optional gold hardware, The '60's Telecaster Custom has a alder body, bound top and back, Texas Tele pickups, plus gold hardware and custom color options. These models will honk and talk with the best of them.

National Steel Standard Johnny's favourite guitar for slide/bottleneck work, first shown on the "Progressive Blues Experiment".

Judging from the covers of his albums he played a National tricone model on The Progressive Blues Experiment and Nothin' But The Blues and a National (Duolian?) single cone model on Third Degree.

Some comments by guests of this site:

As a former pro who loves to play National guitars, I'd like to comment on the references to Johhny's Nationals in the biol. On Progressive Blues Experiment, despite the beautiful cover picture of the Style 1 Tricone, he's probably playing a single-cone Duolian (or maybe a very well-set-up Style O), and likely plays it on most of his acoustic slide recordings. The single-cone guitar has a less complex, more direct sound, than the Tricone, and is better for Blues slide. In addition, other National players I know have had the same impression from hearing his acoustic slide work. An interesting aside to this is that he may be using a blend of a pickup and a microphone when recording with his National - it's hard to believe that just a microphone could get the present, "in-your-face" sound he gets with that guitar. Almost lastly, I believe that there is a poster circulating out there with either the Duolian or Style O Johnny plays on his records - I seem to recall seeing it somewhere, sometime over the last 10 years. I think it was part of a promotion for one of his later albums.

Ricone Roundneck and Squareneck Metalbody guitars, 1927-1942. German silver body (solid nickel alloy with nickel plating), three or "tri" resonator cones with two cones on the bass side, one cone on the treble side, T-shaped bridge cover and handrest, grid pattern soundholes on upper body, Hawaiian squareneck or Spanish roundneck styles, 12 frets clear of the body, flat fingerboard radius, mahogany neck on Spanish model, metal neck with mahagony headstock on Hawaiian model, bound single layer ebony fingerboard, slotted peghead.

Some very nice pictures of the "National 938 Model 97 Tricone Squareneck" can be found at MANDOLIN BROTHERS

Gibson Firebird Gibson Firebird - In the 1980's Johnny is using this guitar.

Gibson has more "classic" designs than any other manufacturer and the Firebird V is another great example. Nothing else looks like a Firebird V. Nothing else sounds like a Firebird V. Nothing else feels like a Firebird V.


Erlewine Lazer used by Johnny since the 1990's

Actually Johnny's first Lazer was not made by Mark Erlewine. It was a korean made Lazer by IMC/Hondo. He used this guitar at least in Guitar Slinger and Serious Business (in the cover). He made a couple modifications though. At least pickups were changed and propably the bridge too.

Steve Foster on Johnny Winter's Guitar tunings

Steve Foster and his band are one of the earliest Johnny Winter cover bands On this page Steve Foster gives some guidelines on the guitar tunings used by Johnny Winter.

Johnny Winter 2003 Contractual Show Requirements

This page is a transcript of the contractual show requirements of Johnny Winter and his band. It describes the technical requirements such as amplifiers, PA's, monitors and alse catering requirements.

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Last Modified: 24-Mar-2018 15:20