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Led Vault: Jimmy Page Talks First Three Led Zeppelin Albums, Gibson and Harmony Guitars and More

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This is an excerpt from the July 2014 issue of Guitar World. For the rest of this story, plus features on Ace Frehley, Albert Lee, "The Album that Changed My Life," the history of Taylor Guitars, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, columns, tabs and reviews of new gear from Fender, ESP/LTD, Vox, Boss, Sterling by Music Man and more, check out the June 2014 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

GUITAR WORLD: The first three albums fuse elements of blues, progressive acoustic folk, hard rock and world music. What was the end game?

You have all these colors on your pallet and now you can blend them to introduce new colors and textures people have not heard before. For example, playing something like “Black Mountain Side” with a tabla drummer had never been done. “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” from the first album is another example. I had heard Joan Baez’s version, but if you compare ours to hers, most people would say, “How the hell did you come up with that?” They don’t really sound anything alike. The reason they are different is because we were able to fuse her acoustic approach with heavy guitars, which was something that hadn’t been done. Additionally, I was able to incorporate a flamenco-style guitar solo, as well.

On the photo shoot for this issue, you specifically brought two acoustic guitars with you. Could you explain the significance of each?

The Harmony guitar is quite special to me. It is what I used to write all the acoustic songs and many of the electric songs on the first three albums. I also used it to record all the acoustic tracks on the third album, and it’s the guitar I played on “Stairway to Heaven.” I pretty much used it until I started playing a Martin on Houses of the Holy.

The second guitar is a mid-Sixties Gibson J-200, similar to the one I used to record all the acoustic parts on the first album. The J-200 used on Led Zeppelin I belonged to Mickey Most, the producer of the Yardbirds, and it was an amazing-sounding instrument. He graciously let me use it for the first album but didn’t let me use it for the second album, because, I think, by then he knew he wasn’t going to be the producer. [laughs]

Mickey owned the acoustic and a great Fifties Strat with a maple neck, and he kept them in his studio. Unfortunately, many years later, someone stole them—they just took a walk. He told me, and I said, “Mickey, I’m so desperately sorry to hear that.” They were his instruments, man! That’s terrible.

So, anyway, I thought it was fair to bring the Harmony and a J-200 to the shoot. The Gibson is, of course, not the original—I wasn’t the one who stole it! But I was talking with guitar collector Perry Margouleff about Mickey’s guitar and we were able to determine the model, because the one I played had a Tune-o-matic bridge, and there weren’t many of those made. Now that I’ve said that, they’ll probably triple in price! Perry recently found one and gave it to me for my 70th birthday, and I really thank him for that.

The Harmony is a rather ordinary guitar. What did you like about it?

What did I like about it? It helped me come up with all these amazing songs! [laughs] It encouraged me. It didn’t fight back, and it didn’t go out of tune. It would say to me, “Go on, man, give me more! C’mon!”

The Paris show has some of the flashiest and fastest playing of your entire recorded career. But as your career went on, it seemed you became more concerned with note choice than raw speed. Was that conscious?

I think I just got better. My playing and writing grew in leaps and bounds around that period. If you compare the initial attempt at the solo in “Heartbreaker” on the companion disc to how I’m playing it on the live Paris show, you’ll see why I had to go back and re-record it.

I thought the bow solo on the live version of “Dazed” was beautiful—really quite different than the studio version.

I was all right. Every night, I was trying to seek out something I never did before. I’d find new things and discard others until I arrived at something like the bow solo you hear on the live version on Song Remains the Same, which really holds up.

Photo: Ross Halfin

This is an excerpt from the July 2014 issue of Guitar World. For the rest of this story, plus features on Ace Frehley, Albert Lee, "The Album that Changed My Life," the history of Taylor Guitars, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, columns, tabs and reviews of new gear from Fender, ESP/LTD, Vox, Boss, Sterling by Music Man and more, check out the June 2014 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

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