Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong: ‘Gibsons are the Perfect Rock Guitars’
Billie Joe Armstrong, guitarist for Berkley-based punk-pop band Green Day, has a simple philosophy when it comes to the group’s fiery, breakneck-velocity punk tradition:
“Our main goal is to write great songs, and that comes before genre,” he told Time. “The thing about punk is that there are purists. Once you start going outside of that, they don’t think what you’re doing is punk rock. My range of favorite songwriters goes anywhere from the Sex Pistols all the way to Lennon and McCartney. So that’s what Green Day is – there are no rules.”
Green Day have been transporting punk fans since the late ’80s, but the band became heroes all over again with 2004’s commercially successful American Idiot. The album not only sold 14 million copies worldwide, but it scored Green Day a Grammy for Best Rock Album and spawned an entire Broadway musical.
Much of Green Day’s sound is set in Armstrong’s three-chord punk creations, and it’s no secret that those songs originate on a Gibson guitars. In the following choice quotes, the Les Paul Jr. and J-180 player chats about his favorite guitars and explains why solid-body Gibsons are the “perfect rock guitars!”
On the introduction of his Billie Joe Armstrong Les Paul Jr. as told on Gibson.com in 2006:
Together with Gibson over the past couple of years, we’ve been putting together this guitar. [We’ve taken] my favorite guitar, which is a Les Paul Jr. vintage mid-’50s, and we’ve recreated it with a special kind of neck on it to really get that nice, punchy, mid-rangy, rock and roll, ’50s sound to it. So, you can crank it. Lots of distortion.
On the difference between Armstrong’s favorite guitar – his original 1956 Les Paul Junior, which he affectionately calls “Floyd” – and his signature Les Paul Jr., as told to Gibson.com in 2006:
It’s exactly like “Floyd” the guitar I use … in the studio and onstage, except for the neck. The neck is more of a ’60s neck, so it’s a bit easier to play and get your hands around, whereas the ’50s necks were a bit thicker. It’s based on the P-90 pickup, but it uses hum canceling.
On his Gibson collection, as told Gibson.com in 2005:
“Floyd” [’56 Sunburst Les Paul Jr.] is still my favorite, but I recently bought a ’56 Les Paul Custom “Black Beauty” and it’s a close second. I have about 30 vintage Les Pauls now and I love them all.
On whether or not Green Day will ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as told to Spinner in 2009:
I saw Lars [Ulrich] from Metallica the other day, and they just got inducted. We’re really starting to see people [get inducted] that were maybe not in the same generation per se, but the gap is starting to get closer and closer. It’s weird; I’ve been in this band since I was 16, so I’ll be eligible when I’m like, 42, or something. We’ll see what happens.
On the first time he picked up a Les Paul Jr., as told to Gibson.com in 2006:
For me, I think that Les Paul Juniors have more of a rock and roll sound, because it’s the true sound of a guitar. The sound I go for is that really punchy, midrange kind of sound, and the first time I ever picked up a Les Paul Jr. – the one which was my guitar which I call “Floyd” – I plugged it in and the sound that was in my head for so many years, it exactly fit that, and even more.
On his personal songwriting process, as told to Guitar World in 2009:
I’ll get a melody in my head. Then I have to wait around for a lyric to hit me… there are all different ways. I don’t have any formula in the way I do it. I learned how to play piano and I use that to write sometimes, whereas a song like “Know Your Enemy” was a guitar riff first. And then there’s a song like “¡Viva La Gloria!” which was definitely getting the melody first and putting chords to that, rather than putting a melody to chords.
On American Idiot‘s transition to the theater, as told to NPR in 2010:
I think some people walk away from a Green Day concert with the emotions you would get from some kind of theater performance where the crowd feels involved – where it’s not just about the singe. It’s not just about the band.
On working with Butch Vig on 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown, as told to Guitar World in 2009:
When we brought in Butch I think we were at the point where we were driving ourselves crazy. We’d done some writing and we’d reached the point where we said, “Okay, now it’s time to bring in an outside perspective.” When Butch came in, I just started throwing around ideas of how I wanted the record to be. And he threw in a couple of ideas. One thing we came up with was the phrase “rebel songs,” because, looking at the material, there are a lot of rebel songs. So things like that helped to start defining the album a little.
On staying humble amid swelling success, as told to Spin in 2010:
Being in a band, you have to be a fan first. So when you meet people who have something to say about how some song affected them, those are the people I connect with. I still am that person myself.
On why he simply loves playing Gibsons, as told to Gibson.com in 2005:
They sound great. I love Les Paul Juniors. Dog-ear ’50s P-90s are the punchiest pickup ever made. It is perfect for my style of playing. They’re dirty but have great string definition. Solid-body Gibsons are the perfect rock guitars.”
Photo credit: Anne Erickson