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For many musicians their instrument is an extension of who they are as an artist. So much in fact that some performers develop an almost personal relationship with their equipment; often bestowing upon them endearing names and even refusing to go onstage unless they have that special item in hand. Most notable names are Willie Nelson’s “Trigger”, Eric Clapton’s “Blackie”, and of course BB King’s “Lucille”.

Some instruments help the owner to further develop their onstage persona, making the artist more recognizable and easier to remember as they begin to establish themselves in the public eye. While other instruments take on a life of their own, establishing an individual identity in such a way that they become easily recognizable even apart from the entertainer.

This article examines 10 musical instruments so unique that they have achieved icon status in American pop-culture.

10. Jimmy’s Flute ~ This one is a literal example of an instrument that shines on its own. Talk about an item having personality? In this case we mean it! Freddy the (magical) Flute first appeared in the 1969 children’s television series H.R. Pufnstuf produced by Sid and Marty Krofft ~ which tells the story of Freddy the Flute, his best friend Jimmy and their adventures on the enchanted Living Island.


9. Liberace’s Piano – The city of Las Vegas loved showman Liberace so much that after his passing they erected a museum in his honor; featuring items collected during his years as a casino headliner. His flamboyant lifestyle boasted garish homes, cars, outfits, and jewelry ~ so it was to be expected that his stage-show would celebrate his personal life. Although Liberace owned several mirrored piano’s valued at tens of thousands of dollars, it is his Baldwin grand piano adorned with mirrors and rhinestones that we identify with the artist.

8. Rick Nielson’s Guitar – Cheap Trick lead guitarist and song writer Rick Nielson is said to own over 2000 guitars; but the most outlandish is the 5-neck “Quint” guitar which was dreamed-up by Nielsen and created by Hamer customs.


Tommy Lee upside-down drum kit

7. Tommy Lee’s Drums – He’s upside down. Tommy
Lee – IS DRUMMING – UPSIDE DOWN!!! In the late eighties Motley Crue was looking to take their stage show to the next level and drummer Tommy Lee had a vision ~ a rotating drum platform!

With each year of touring the band has moved the technology dial, reaching astounding heights of creativity including a breathtaking drum cage that rotates a full 360 degrees while Tommy Lee delivers some of the most rocking drum solos you will ever experience, all while he hangs UPSIDE DOWN!

6. Eddie Van Halen’s Guitar – The “Frankenstrat” is a Fender Stratocaster body with the neck and pick-ups pulled from other brands. The guitar was created by Van Halen lead guitarist and primary song writer Eddie Van Halen. The guitar, with its initial white body/black stripes incarnation appeared on the cover of Van Halen’s 1978 debut album; but was repainted in early 1979 by Eddie who adding the dominant red paint to create the iconic design now recognized and emulated by artists around the world; including local musician and Bedlam/Peace guitarist Tommy Thew.

5. Gene Simmons’s Axe – The brainchild of KISS bass-player and vocalist Gene Simmons and designed by Steve Carr, the Axe bass guitar is easily identified with Simmons’s “Demon” stage-persona and exactly what you’d expect a blood spitting maniac to jam with (although Adventure Time character Marceline the Vampire Queen has her own version of the Axe guitar which she swings with cartoonish cuteness).


4. Herbie Hancock’s Keytar – Although jazz-fusion artist Herbie Hancock did not invent the keytar (the electric keyboard held like a guitar) he most definitely brought it into the mainstream. So much in fact that Hancock’s Yamaha KX1 is on display at the Smithsonian. Quick bit of trivia ~ did you know Hancock composed the music or the Fat Albert cartoon series? Hey, Hey, Hey…


3/2. Prince’s Guitars – Prince makes the chart with two extraordinary designs of his own ~ the 1984 “Cloud” guitar custom made by Dave Rusan for his movie Purple Rain, and his sui generis “Symbol” guitar made by Bellignham luthier Andy Beech.


  1. Paul McCartney’s Bass – Recognized around the world for the past 55 years, McCartney’s 1961 Höfner 500/1 Violin Bass was purchased during the Beatles first tour of Germany several years before they found fame in the United States and then around the world. According to author Terry Burrows, McCartney, who is lefthanded, was drawn to the Höfner because he felt that its symmetrical shape would mean that playing it left-handed would not look as awkward as using a cutaway guitar designed for a right-handed player. (Ted Burrows: 1001 Guitars to Dream of Playing)

One Comment

  • Jeep Jeep says:

    No Clapton’s “Fool”
    No Jimmy Page doubleneck
    Herbie Hancock’s keytar? Wtf? His headset microphone is what’s associated with him more.
    You list Freddy the Flute and only mention “Trigger”?
    Waylon Jennings’s hand tooled leather Telecaster®
    Elton John’s clear plexiglass piano on Soul Train
    Kudos for Prince (except you should’ve also included his Hohner Madcap telecaster)
    And kudos for Paul’s Hofner, Van Halen’s “Frankenstein”
    Where is Jaco Pastorius’s fretless Jazz Bass®
    Bootsy Collins’s “Star Bass”.
    Where the hell is DIZZY GILLESPIE’S TRUMPET for God’s sake!!!
    Woody Guthrie’s “This Machine Kills Fascists” guitar
    And on and on and on.
    Nice try, but I totally disagree with a lot of your choices.
    My 2¢

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