Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong turned 42 this month and during the last decade he’s matured into something of a vintage guitar aficionado. For his Gibsons, Armstrong relies on an array of Les Paul Juniors, Standards, Specials, an SG, an ES-335, his J-200s, an ES-135 and even a Custom Shop Les Paul.
It was 2000 when Armstrong bought his 1956 sunburst Gibson Les Paul Junior that he calls ‘Floyd,’ and he’s been hooked on Juniors since. In an interview with Gibson.com in 2006, Billie Joe said, “I’ve got about 20 Les Paul Juniors from the ‘50s. I got anything from Specials to the regular single dog-ear pickup to the TV-colored, and sunburst,” said Armstrong. “I pretty much got all of the ones that they made basically from 1955 to 1959-1960.”
Armstrong added: “Floyd 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.”
The Gibson Les Paul Junior was originally a so-called “student” guitar but it soon became a hit with guitarists who liked raw tone with just one pickup. “You just get to hear what the guitar sounds like,” agreed Billie Joe.
Billie Joe Armstrong’s Les Paul Juniors
Debuting in 2006, this is a close repro of BJA’s original “Floyd,’ but with modifications. Armstrong: “This is more of a ‘60s neck so it’s easier to play and get your hands around, whereas the ‘50s necks were a bit thicker.”
It features a Special H-90 Pickup, the result of a close collaboration with Billie Joe. It offers the snarl and punch of a classic, vintage P-90, but with none of the 60-cycle hum that usually plagues traditional single coil pickups. This was accomplished by simply taking two singlecoils and stacking them on top of each other, resulting in the hum cancellation effect that occurs in a regular humbucker. With a few adjustments, Gibson’s engineers secured the vintage sonic characteristics of the singlecoil.
BJA: “For years I have been looking for a guitar sound that could live up to the guitar tone I hear in my head. The first time I played my 1956 Les Paul Junior guitar, it matched that tone perfectly. Les Paul Junior guitars can reproduce the punch of power chords and the power of big open chords with perfect string definition.”
The Billie Joe Armstrong Les Paul Junior comes in two finish flavors: Sunburst and Ebony.
Billie Joe Armstrong’s Les Paul Junior Double Cut
For Green Day’s 2012-2013 trio of albums — ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré! — came Gibson’s refinement of Armstrong’s double-cut ’59 Les Paul Junior. This again has his favoured Special H-90 pickup and his preferred ‘60s style slim neck, made of solid mahogany. And it has a custom hot-stamped silver Billie Joe Armstrong ‘Adeline skull’ logo on the scratchplate. It’s only available in TV Yellow, but check out that case!
Armstrong has many notable Les Paul Juniors, from his sunburst ’56 ‘Floyd’ to the white ‘Whitey,’ to the TV Yellow '59 ‘Cornel Mustard’ and his black ‘55 ‘Blacky.’ He also has a custom-finish silver-sparkle singlecut, this one with a Seymour Duncan P-90 Antiquity pickup in the bridge.
And on Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown album, Armstrong also played a Slash Les Paul signature and a Jimmy Page Les Paul signature. Yep, “punks” sometimes feel the love for classic rock legends.
Billie Joe Armstrong’s Gibson J-180s
When he started out in Green Day, Armstrong was asked what acoustics he played. “I dunno, the one with the hole in the middle?” He was bluffing. He soon developed an affection for Gibson J-180s — it was the key guitar sound of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” Green Day’s cornerstone hit of breakthrough 1994 album Dookie.
Twenty years on, Armstrong has his own signature model, the Gibson Billie Joe Armstrong J-180. It adds a built-in Fishman VT pickup system making it a great go-to acoustic for live shows. With a hand-sprayed Ebony nitrocellulose finish/custom double tortoiseshell J-180 pickguards, graduated mother-of-pearl star inlays on its Indian Rosewood fingerboard, and a black truss-rod cover with Billie Joe Armstrong’s signature it’s a special acoustic.
And Billie Joe’s Gibson is poignant, too. The original J-180 eventually became Gibson’s Everly Brothers model. And Billie Joe Armstrong’s latest release is Foreverly, a duet album with Norah Jones paying tribute to the songs sung by Don and Phil Everly.
Watch Billie Joe and Norah Jones explain.
Billie Joe goes country? Well, “Good Riddance” became a hit on the U.S Country Charts all those years ago. Expected the unexpected — that’s as punk as punk is.
We’re pretty sure that the next time Billie Joe Armstrong records new music, it will feature many of his Gibson favorites. With his own punk twist, of course.