Whether as “the Chief” of Oasis or fronting Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Gallagher undoubtedly has a way with a tune. He sees himself primarily as a songwriter, but he’s also a total guitarhead. Gibson and Epiphone models have been his key machines. Here are the some brief details, and some strange stories…
The Early Years
On Oasis’s 1994 debut, Definitely Maybe, Gallagher and rhythm guitarist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs mainly relied on Epiphones – Rivieras and Les Paul Standards. It was simply a question of cost, as most of the band was unemployed before they scored a record deal.
You can see Noel’s cherry sunburst Epiphone LP in the video to debut hit, “Supersonic.”
Noel and Bonehead’s Epiphone Rivieras were, Noel told The Guitar Magazine in 1994, “Late ’70s models and they sounded brilliant.” Smashed through a wall of Marshall amps on Definitely Maybe, the tonal quality is possibly hard to pinpoint. Noel’s favorite Riviera had a deep-colored Red Wine hue… so much so, it looked brown. Anyone own a ’70s Epiphone Riviera? Are they special?
But there was another key guitar on Definitely Maybe – a 1960 sunburst Gibson Les Paul lent to Noel by ex-Smith Johnny Marr, who was something of a mentor of Oasis. Marr had bought the 1960 ’Burst from The Who’s Pete Townshend. When Noel received the guitar from Marr, he told this author, “‘Slide Away’ came out… it seemed to write itself.” Gallagher acknowledged the debt to both The Smiths and Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer” when writing “Slide Away.” “Live Forever” also was written and played on this 1960 Gibson Les Paul.
It was a brief victory. The 1960 Gibson Les Paul was soon broken when Gallagher confronted a stage-invading fan at a ’94 Oasis gig in Newcastle. Noel hit the “fan” with the vintage Les Paul, and snapped the neck. Marr then – generously – gave Noel yet another vintage (black) Gibson Les Paul so Oasis could carry on touring.
The Glory Years
By the time of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? In 1995, Gallagher could afford his own guitars. He wrote a lot of that breakthrough album – and all Oasis albums – on his Epiphone EJ-200. It was his main songwriting guitar in Oasis’s early years. For “Wonderwall”, for example, it was simply close-miked. And Gallagher maybe still owed Johnny Marr a debt. The underlying chord progression of “Wonderwall” is simple and “classic”… E minor / G / D / A7sus4 … plus a C and Asus4. Yet there is some subtlety at work. Gallagher arranged the song to be played with a capo at the second fret, taking the song into F#m. Play “Wonderwall” without a capo at the second fret and it won’t sound right at all. The second fret capo was likely inspired by Marr again, whose early Smiths tracks were largely recorded the same way. A good songwriter tip always is: put a capo on the second fret.
By the time Oasis were a massive success, Gallagher could play whatever he wanted. He took an Epiphone Sheraton and had it refinished with the “Union Jack,” the U.K’s national flag. Noel’s original “Union Jack” Sheraton had a frequensator tailpiece and mini-humbuckers.
He was also honored with his own signature model – the Epiphone Supernova. The Supernova originally came in the color Manchester City blue, after Noel’s favourite soccer team Manchester City FC. Now City are 2012 champions of England’s Premier League – they were certainly nowhere near in 1997 – maybe the Pelham Blue-alike color will be back in vogue? Both were essentially modified/tweaked Epiphone Sheratons. But note that Gallagher’s modded/original “Union Jack” Sheraton had that frequensator tailpiece and mini-humbuckers: his now-rare signature has a regular Tune-o-matic tailpiece and full-size Epiphone ’buckers, like later stock Sheratons.
Gallagher also relied on Gibson Les Pauls, including quite a few ’bursts. For the Be Here Now years he also played an opulent Gibson “Silver Florentine,” a Les Paul with an f-hole chambered body and a bling silver sparkle finish. It was a stage guitar, if ever there was one.
Noel also had a black ’60s Gibson Flying V – see it on the “D’You Know What I Mean” video. It wasn’t used much for recording, and he later sold it to a U.K. collector. Reverse Gibson Firebirds were also used… Noel later gave one of his to 2000s Oasis guitarist “Gem” Archer who used it regularly live from 2000-08.
The Later Years
As time went on, Gallagher played more classic models. Vintage red Gibson ES-345s and ES-355s became favorites. For his current solo career, his ’60s ES-355 with Bigsby remains a keeper.
“My 1960s Gibson 355 – that’s the basis for everything,” he told Total Guitar in 2011. “I’ve got so many guitars, and people just throw things at me. It depends. If I’ve got a definite idea for something and I cannot be swayed, then that’s the end of it. The guitars I bring on tour are either 355s or 345s. Those are what I play.
“I’ve found out that the more stuff you have, the more confusing it can get. Just bring three or four guitars and three or four amps, and that’s the end of it. If you need something to sound like a ’60s Vox [amp] and you haven’t got one, just work on it. You’ll get there.”
Gallagher has gone through numerous guitars. He has a rare 1960s Gibson Trini Lopez, but recently said: “I haven’t used the Trini Lopez on a track since [Oasis album] Don’t Believe the Truth.” His Epiphone Sheratons have also been largely unused since …Morning Glory. A ’60s SG Gibson SG was used on Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. As for Gallagher’s FX and amps, don’t even go there – it’s another feature in itself.
Gibson J-200s are now his regular squeeze for writing, but he also has a J-45 and his faithful EJ-200 (and replacements). Ever heard the stories about guitars sounding better being recorded in bathrooms? Noel and his Gibson J-200 go literal below – natural tile-aided reverb!
When it comes to his knack for songwriting, Gallagher remains a man of simple words.
“A great single? It’s all down to the melody. Basically, ‘D’you Know What I Mean’ is the same as ‘Wonderwall’… but it’s got a different tune. That’s the thing. It’s not about how well it’s produced, or if the lyrics are good, or who can play the best guitar – if it touches people, it’s a good song.”
Gallagher has a knack. Oasis’s Bonehead has said that Gallagher’s way of working was a little odd: he’d just arrive only a week before Oasis recording was to commence with a tape cassette of his songs and say: “learn these.” Gallagher’s solo demos – as anyone who has heard a bootleg will know – are pretty similar to what is actually released. Which is possibly why, with minimal back-up, he can still deliver the songs.
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