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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Billie Joe Armstrong's New Signature Guitar Is an Attempt to Rewrite Green Day History

Posted By on Tue, Apr 12, 2011 at 11:40 AM

The offending axe.
  • The offending axe.
click to enlarge Billie Joe, say it ain't so!
  • Billie Joe, say it ain't so!
Other than the Les Paul -- an iconic six-string now far more famous than its namesake -- signature model guitars are generally an exercise in cynical maneuvering and kitschy accessories, put out by instrument companies aiming to capitalize on the longshot dreams of twentysomethings ignorant of the ways of credit cards, or the guilty regrets of parents looking to purchase goodwill from their neglected teenagers. Real musicians can't afford them, and those who can would rather put their own mark on a less gaudy slab of wood and wire than get sloppy seconds on someone else's Lucille.

Yet somehow, with its new Billie Joe Armstrong signature model, the respected Gibson guitar company actually did worse than the standard commercial imitation of an artist's well-worn road axe. Reprehensibly, Gibson actually tries to rewrite Green Day history with the new model.

First, the surface uglies: The new Billie Joe Armstrong J-180 costs $3,868 (not a rare price for a Gibson, but certainly an un-punk-rock one). This Green Day signature guitar is an acoustic (but have you heard its last two records?). Furthermore, it's not pretty (star inlays and a heinously large pickguard -- really?).

But it's this line of marketing copy that really offends us:

The acoustic guitar propelled Green Day's international megahit "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," and was a cornerstone of the band's epic 2004 release American Idiot. Through it all, Armstrong's instrument of choice has been a Gibson. [Emphasis ours.]
Except that no, actually, it hasn't. Before Green Day was the marching band for the preteen mallrats of the late '00s, the three East Bay boys rocked such notorious musical salons as Berkeley's 924 Gilman, eventually skyrocketing to fame on the strength of "Longview" and Dookie.

In those days, Billie Joe did not play a $3,000 Gibson. In fact, he played a sky-colored, sticker-laden Fernandes imitation Stratocaster. This guitar, which he named Blue, is so thoroughly associated with him that it elicited giant howls from the older members of the hometown crowd when Armstrong raised it above his head like some lost relic at last summer's Shoreline Amphitheater show. It was this Strat that Billie Joe played at Woodstock '94 (the muddy one, not the burning-shit one). It was this guitar that Billie Joe played in the "Basketcase" video. It's this Strat that he still brings on tour and pulls out for the O.G. part of the band's set.

We don't care that Gibson is trying to capitalize on the fact that Billie Joe now plays lots of Gibsons. And if anyone wants to drop $4k on a guitar that looks sorta like the one he plays in the video for that one song you hear at all graduations, good for them.

But with the band's post-American Idiot second coming, it seems a lot of people are content to forget -- or rewrite -- Green Day's first years, when they were young and careless and snotty and played fucked-up instruments that they'd abused since childhood. Billie Joe's blue Strat will always stand as a symbol of the band's salad days, when they just were extremely talented Bay Area punk kids who caught a big break. So don't try to tell us what guitars Billie Joe has played "through it all," Gibson. We remember -- though apparently you'd rather forget.

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Ian S. Port


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