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
These web pages describe Johnny Winter's guitars and gear he has used over the years.
Most recently gear used by Johnny Winter
An extensive interview with Johnny Winter and his guitars can be found in the 1974 Magazines section.
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 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).
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.
Johnny Winter and his Guitars
The photo gallery below shows Johnny Winter and the guitars he has played during his career.
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.
Around 1992 also considered using an ESP Mirage, but returned playing his 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.