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Exclusive: Don Felder Discusses His Signature Gibsons and Upcoming Tour

Anne Erickson
|
03.17.2014
Don Felder by Michael Helms

The Eagles’ 1970s classic "Hotel California" is one of the all-time greatest rock ‘n’ roll jams, and it also features one of the most recognizable guitar solos of all time.

With the guitar action in “Hotel California,” it was an easy choice to create a pair of signature Felder signature models: the "Hotel California" 1959 Les Paul and the "Hotel California" EDS-1275.

Felder says it’s always an honor to work with the Gibson brand.

“Gibson has been wonderful to me my entire career. I love their products,” Felder told Gibson.com. “I do everything I can for them. I recently had the honor of jamming with Henry (Juszkiewicz) at the Beverly Hills showroom and really getting a chance to thank him for all the years of support.”

Felder checked in with Gibson.com to dish on his two signature “Hotel California” models, his upcoming tour with Styx and Foreigner and the re-release of his solo album, “Road to Forever: Extended Edition,” due out March 25.

You’re going on the road with Styx and Foreigner for the 2014 Soundtrack of Summer tour. What makes this tour a good fit for you?

A lot of the audiences that know Foreigner records from the ‘70s and ‘80s and the Styx audience are also very familiar with the Eagles. It’s a huge catalog between all three bands of famous hits. It’ll be a fun evening for everybody in the audience and everyone on the stage. This is a really good group of people with no overzealous egos or drama queens, so we’re really looking forward to getting out there.

What are you most excited about when it comes to this tour?

I think it’s being on the road with a large group, or a family, from all the people that are musicians in the bands to the crews. This will entail well over 100 people, and we’ll all become part of this traveling family. Many of us like to play golf, so on our days off, we’ll play golf together. We’ll have backstage meals together for the bands. It’s really a friendly, family feeling as opposed to the days touring with the Eagles, where we never quite had that feeling. With the Eagles, it was more of a business approach to working with very little of a friendly atmosphere. So, this will be fun. It will be work, but if you’re doing what you love in life, which is playing music, it’s a pleasure and not work.

You released Forever in 2012, and you’re re-releasing the album with four new songs on March 25 as Road to Forever: Extended Edition.

Yes, when I made the record, there were four other songs I wanted to complete it, but they were left off the original release. I finished them, and they were used as exclusives on iTunes and in different countries. I felt after listing to those songs again that it would be a good idea to put all of this material on the CDs. So, the new release will have all 16 songs, and the album’s latest single, “You Don’t Have Me,” is going to be my new single for this spring.

It was great doing this album, because I worked with a lot of special guests, everyone from Tommy Shaw to Randy Jackson, who’s a great bass player, to David Crosby and Graham Nash. It was a really fun process to put this together.

Don Felder by Myriam Santos

Let’s switch gears to guitars. What was the first Gibson you owned, and how did you get it?

I played one in one of my very early bands. The guitar player that was in the band couldn’t really play, but his dad owned a furniture store, so he was wealthy, and he had a very early Les Paul Jr. I had salivated over that guitar for years, so finally, when I got a job working at a music store, I brought that same guitar right off the showroom floor. I had to work there at the store either cleaning guitars or demonstrating guitars or teaching lessons, and in exchange for them paying me, they would give me store credit. When I finally had enough credit, I bought it, and it was a red Les Paul Jr.

You have two great Don Felder signature guitars: the "Hotel California" 1959 Les Paul and the "Hotel California" EDS-1275. How did you get started with the design of these signature models?

The head of the custom shop contacted me and said that Gibson would be interested in releasing a Don Felder “Hotel California” model guitar, and I said, “That’s a great idea, but which one do you want to do?” I said, “There are two: My favorite ‘59 Les Paul Sunburst that I use in the studio and my double-neck 1275 that I use on the road.” He said, “We should do both of them!” They wound up taking my white 1275, which is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and going over it with a computerized scan, and they absolutely replicated it. They did the same thing with my ‘59 Les Paul. They would send me this artist proof, and when I got the first artist proof, I put it side by side with my original, and if I hadn’t known which was the original or reissue, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. They sounded the same; felt the same. They did a great job.

What Gibsons will you have on the road with you on tour?

People will definitely see me playing my 1275 reissue, since the original one is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’ll be playing my Don Felder “Hotel California” 12-string, my Don Felder “Hotel California” Sunburst Les Paul, my Goldtop that’s a replica of my ‘57 Goldtop. I’ll also have my Gibson acoustic J-200.

You lived it up with the Eagles in the ‘70s, living the rock star lifestyle and partying. Looking back, does it seem preposterous, or was it juts good fun?

I think growing up and flourishing during the music of the ‘60s and the peace, love and Woodstock era, it was a natural progression to continue that lifestyle in the ‘70s. It was a notorious lifestyle that involved partying, drinking, drug use, sex—that total rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Not sure where, how and who was responsible for starting that, but it was part of the image and lifestyle of living on the road. We did it all. I lived that lifestyle until it stopped in 1981, when Eagles hit the hold button. I got sober, and I stopped using drugs. I took off that wardrobe. I looked at it like being an actor: You put on your costume, you put on your makeup, you go on stage and you do your art. Then, you walk off the stage, you take off the wardrobe, you take off the makeup and you have to be a person in the world. So, when the Eagles stopped, I stopped that lifestyle and made a change that I thought was a healthier and more honest lifestyle. When you’re living in that image that someone else invented, you’re not living your own life. You’re living a fake image.

What makes Gibsons stand out above other brands?

First of all, the fit and finish and the intense focus they put into detail with wood selection, color, neck angle. The workmanship on every instrument is meticulous. I’ve never seen a blemished guitar, and that’s probably because they have such a high quality control. They make musical instruments. Gibson has a unique way of managing their quality control and maintaining the highest quality of musical instruments.

Guitar photo by Michael Helms

Non-guitar photo by Myriam Santos

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