Marc Bolan: Top of the Guitar Parade
Steve Turner, Beat Instrumental, June 1972
BEHIND EVERY success story there’s a team of guitars. Marc Bolan decided to give his chosen few a taste of the publicity he’s been getting and brought them all down to his London office to be photographed.
The man who was handling them as they were set up for the photographer was Marc’s roadie, Mike O’Halloran. He’s been with T. Rex for 2 1/2 years now along with Mike Gray, who’s served 9 months and Steve Little, a recent addition who joined only 3 months ago. Whilst Marc wondered around the room, obviously very tired from the recording session the night before, Mike began introducing me to the guitars.
The first one was a Gibson Flying Arrow in white which had a large Electric Warrior sticker stuck firmly to it. (The publicity never stops!) Then came a guitar which was especially made for Marc to his own specifications by A. C. Zematis of London. The front is silver plated and has the maker’s name engraved on it with the year 1972.
Next came a 1948 Gibson Les Paul. This guitar was soon to be having a new neck fitted as the original neck had been broken by a fall. As a result, Marc took it to be refitted but unfortunately neglected to take it back to its makers – Gibson. Because of this, the new neck which was put in by a small firm began twisting and he’s now been forced to take it back to Gibsons to have it refitted in the correct manner. As far as Marc knows, it’s the only one of its particular model in the country.
Standing next to the Les Paul ’48 was a Les Paul Special 1961 and a 1958 Fender Stratocaster. Besides the Stratocaster he has a Fender Custom Telecaster which he’s fitted with a Gibson pick up. This model was bought the year it came out – 1968. Mike pointed out that normally Marc goes for older models because they’re already well worn in.
Marc has two Japanese acoustic guitars, one an Aria and the other an Astoria. Lastly he has a Gibson Special and a 1969 Epiphone.
Mike explained to me that Marc takes nearly every one of these guitars to all of his gigs! During a performance he has them standing along the side of the stage and often swaps guitars after a number. To transport all of T. Rex’s equipment they hire a five-ton Avis truck, or in the case of the huge Wembley concerts, seven-ton Avis. After each gig ittakes the roadies approximately five hours to clear away the gear.
“We use custom-built Vampower amps for the bass with 16 12-inch speakers” explained Mike. “Marc has custom built cabinet as well as two H & H amps. He has two spare Vamps and a Vox Supreme. For the P.A. we use Kelsey & Morris – again custom built. We use 2,000 watts normally – 3,000 Wembley or stadiums that size. Bill has a Hayman double bass drum kit and there’s six congas for Mickey.
“For practice amps we use Vamp or we’ve also got two Fender Champ amps and a Vox AC 30 tune-up amp.” On top of all this there’s the PA and a 12-channel mixing unit. Mike was careful to add at the end of his list the fact they use a lift with the van!
© Steve Turner, 1972
Since this piece in 1972 Marc’s collection and our knowledge of it grew. Here is some more that helps put the meat on the bones, as it were.
Marc’s favourite, and most widely used, guitar was a late 50’s Gibson Les Paul Standard which Marc acquired in 1970. During the time Marc owned the guitar it went through a few modifications – including being re-finished in a transluscent orange colour dubbed “Bolan Chablis”, similar to his hero Eddie Cochran’s Gretsch guitar, and having three neck replacements/repairs when the original neck was broken in 1971. The guitar was eventually stolen in late 1976 or early 1977 from outside a rehearsal studio.
Another of Marc’s ‘go-to’ guitars was the black, tremequipped, Gibson Flying V bought in the late summer of 1971. Playing Croydon Fairfields Hall in October 1971 Marc introduced the Flying V to the audience as his new guitar.
Marc’s other main guitar was a white Fender Strat, of which he had two, a late sixties Olympic white Fender Stratocaster one with a teardrop enamelled sticker (1962?) Both can be seen in a photo of him tuning up backstage in the October 1997 issue of Uncut.
N.B. Bolan favoured rosewood necks on his Stratocasters rather than the lighter coloured maple.
Veleno Aluminum Axe – a highly regarded series of aluminium guitars built by metal craftsman John Veleno in very limited numbers. The first guitars were built in 1972. Veleno guitars are known for their unique sound quality. As well as Marc, Eric Clapton, Lou Reed, Greg Allman and Johny Winter have all owned one.
Marc was also a proud owner of at least one “Burns Flyte.” still favouring the rosewood fretboard which he typically pumped through The Vamp or the Vox, Orange or Marshall amps.
Marc also owned several other electric guitars; not least \ Fender Jaguar, Gibson SG Custom, Gibson Hummingbird…
He also boasted a nice selection of acoustic guitars, among which were an Antoria Super Nashville 6, at least one Gibson, with Epiphone, Aria, Eko and Hayman makes completing the set.
And just to try to finish off, enjoy this little lot of Marc’s guitars.