For the Red Rocker, Gibson Still Rocks!
Sammy Hagar is American rock royalty. The rock vocalist, guitarist, songwriter and musician started with the hard rock band Montrose in the 70’s and is still rocking strong. Today, Hagar brings his scorching vocals and Gibson-fueled riffs to the super-group Chickenfoot comprised of Joe Satriani on lead guitar, Michael Anthony of Van Halen on bass, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on drums and Hagar on guitar and vocals.
After his early days with Montrose, Hagar launched a successful solo career, then moved on to become lead singer for Van Halen from ‘85 to ’96; went solo for about 7 years, and rejoined Van Halen again in 2003-2005. Currently the lead singer of the group, Chickenfoot, Hagar also plays with Los Tres Gusanos alongside drummer David Lauser and Van Halen bassist, Michael Anthony. Musician Robert Berry stood in for Michael Anthony in ’96 and ’98 while the bass player toured with Van Halen.
But through all his career changes. one thing has remained the same for Hagar. His love of his Gibson guitars. Apparently it’s true what they say — we never get over our first love. Hagar’s first guitar was a Gibson Les Paul. And yes, there have been other guitars along the way, but Les Paul is still his #1. Hagar has said that 90% of his songs were written and played on a Gibson Les Paul, and a few on an Explorer. He currently owns about 25 Les Pauls, including ‘67 and ’77 vintage Gibson guitars – the later bought in a Denver music store when his other one got smashed! He also owns 3 Explorers and what he describes as a “gorgeous 1953 Lapslide”.
So what is it that makes the Les Paul the choice of the Red Rocker? Why have vintage Gibson guitars overwhelmingly been the instruments that shaped the legend’s hard rock sound? “They lend themselves to bashing,” says Hagar. He loves the weight of them, the big fat neck, the old fashioned, old school hard-bodied rock and roll sound. He loves what he calls “the baseball bat neck”, and the fact that “it’s great when you’re vibrating”. Back in 2004 during the Reunion Tour with Van Halen, just about every guitar maker out there made a guitar for his tour – Yamaha, Fender, etc. One of the many vying for Hagar’s endorsement was his already much-loved Gibson. The company created a handmade model in Nashville and drove it out to him. By Hagar’s account, he tried them all out on stage and when he played the Les Paul, Eddie Van Halen comment was, “That one!” Eddie was clear about which guitar he favored, but according to Hagar’s 2011 book “Red”, Van Halen allegedly wasn’t clear about much else. The 2004 Reunion Tour provided ample ammunition for Hagar’s scathing comments about his 20 years of madness and mayhem with Van Halen.
Today, Sammy has his own signature Red Rocker Gibson Les Paul, but is quick to point out that he loved his Gibsons long before he and the company did business together. “I’ve always played Les Paul. It’s always been my axe.” The signature Sammy Hagar Red Rocker Les Paul has legendary appointments along with a hot new look designed by Sammy himself. In classic Les Paul style, Hagar’s signature model carries a pair of Gibson’s most popular PAF-style “zebra coil” humbucking pickups – a ’57 classic in the neck and a hotter BurstBucker 3 in the bridge – along with the famous combination of Tune-o-matic bridge and stop-bar tailpiece, traditional Les Paul neck and body. A highly figured, bookmatched two-piece Grade AA maple top with rich Cabernet finish on a mahogany body and white Hagar-certified logo on the headstock face and Red Rocker “R” on the truss-rod cover.
Most recently, Hagar collaborated with Gibson to develop his Signature Explorer. Crafted in the image of the original 1958 Explorer, Hagar’s signature model blends Sammy’s Red Rocker and Chickenfoot styling and is equipped for tonal diversity that drives from searing to sublime. Like every great Gibson electric guitar, the Sammy Hagar Explorer is built on a foundation of supreme tonewoods. It’s designed in solid mahogany with a cream binding, in high gloss “Red Rocker” finish. Look carefully and you’ll notice a secret “ghost image” of the Chickenfoot logo on the back that’s only visible from a particular angle in the right lighting. A quarter-sawn mahagony neck is glued-in – in tradional Explorer style for best upper-fret access and carved to a slim, fast profile. The rosewood fingerboard is bound in cream and the classic “drooped” six-in-line Explorer headstock carries a truss-rod cover with Red Rocker “R”. A pair of the finest pickups – the zebra-coil ’57 Classic in the neck position – carries a smooth Alnico II magnet and is wound to the specs of a vintage PAF pickup for “creamy, rich tones with plenty of articulaton and bite”. What’s more, “a zebra-coil Burst Bucker 3 in the bridge position carries a few more turns of wire to emulate the tone of a PAF at the hotter end of te vintage spectrum and is made with an unpolished Alnico II magnet like the originals” for plenty of grand and sting when pushed through a cranked amp. Like Hagar himself, the Sammy Hagar Explorer :takes you from subtle ballad to screaming rocker with ease.”
Clearly, for Hagar, Gibson rules. But what were some of the other now vintage guitars that shaped Hagar’s trademark sound? In the early ‘80’s, Sammy was one of the many Dean Guitars endorsers. The red floyded ML was one of the Red Rockers most profiled instruments. The guitar is shown on the cover of Hagar’s VOA album, and even appeared in his “I Can Drive 55” video. Specs of the Dean Baby ML include pearl red, gold hardware, block inlays, matching headstock, ebony fret board, and most likely Mahogany versus the Alder used in other Baby’s.
Hagar owned other notable vintage guitars including a Kramer Star back in the early 80’s, and a Washburn MG810 Mercury that was referred to as a Cabo Wabo. Sammy also collaborated with Washburn Guitars on a signature guitar named Washburn RR150 which featured Seymour Duncan pickups and a piezo pickup incorporated into the bridge.
Today, along with his Gibson signature Red Rocker Les Paul, and his Signature Explorer, Hagar also endorses Yamaha Guitars which are currently producing a line of Hagar signature guitars named the Yamaha AES620 SH. This model is based on Yamaha’s AES620 and features a number of modifications requested by Hagar. The signature model features a Seymour Duncan JB pickup in the bridge position, a “Cabo Wabo” inlay at the 12th fret and custom translucent red finish. Along with this signature model, Hagar also plays a handmade AES920 solid body guitar.
He’s come a long way from his first Gibson Les Paul. But to this legend, Gibson still rocks. And his Sammy Hagar Signature Les Paul and Signature Explorer prove it!