Adrian Vandenberg: "At 16 you think if you’ve got a good guitar and a good amp, you’re going to sound like Jimi Hendrix!”

Adrian Vandenberg
(Image credit: Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty Images)

What was the first serious guitar you bought with your own money?

“It was a Fender Telecaster and it was probably in the mid-'70s. I couldn’t afford a Stratocaster at the time, but I did have a Marshall amp. But with the Telecaster, even though I could put a distortion unit between the guitar and the amp, it didn’t sound anything like what I was hearing from Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and all the great players, but I got along with it. 

"At the time - I was about 16 or 17 - I didn’t have the experience to get a good sound out of it, because at that age you kinda think if you’ve got a good guitar through a good amp, you’re going to sound like Jimi Hendrix.”

What was the last guitar you bought and why?

“The last guitar I bought was a Gibson Les Paul. In 2009 Gibson released the ‘Gold Book’ series, a celebration of the holy grail of Les Pauls, the ’59, and, if I’m not mistaken, they released 250 in Darkburst and 250 in Cherry Sunburst. 

(L-R) Adrian Vandenberg and Rudy Sarzo, former guitarist and bassist of Whitesnake

(Image credit: Ross Marino/Getty Images)

"I found a 2009 Sunburst with an unusual grain in that, between the pickups, it looked like there was a little fire going on and it’s pretty regular tiger-striped, too. It was in showroom condition; the guy just played it at home or something. So I called him up. 

"He lived a two-hour drive away, so I drove up to see him and, as every guitar player knows, if you check a guitar without plugging it in, that’s when you hear the real quality of it. It sounded amazing unplugged - very resonant, great tone. So I took it home and when I plugged it in it sounded even more amazing. I’m the lucky owner of an original 1958 Les Paul and it sounded as good but slightly different, of course.”

What’s the most incredible find or bargain you’ve had when buying a guitar?

These parts are ridiculously expensive. I mean, the pickup rings for a guitar like this are around $1,000

“The 1958 Les Paul in original Sunburst. It was a relative bargain, because at the time I think I bought it for $10,000 and I bought it in 1990. But parts of it weren’t original: the tuning pegs, the case isn’t original, the pickup rings aren’t original, nor are the knobs. 

"As you probably know, these parts are ridiculously expensive... it’s a joke. I mean, the pickup rings for a guitar like this are around $1,000 - a little piece of shitty plastic, y’know?

"So I never bothered to change it, but it was a bargain because, right now, it would cost a fortune.”

Gibson '59 Les Paul

(Image credit: Future)

What’s the strongest case of buyer’s remorse you’ve had after buying a piece of kit?

“Selling an original Marshall Plexi in order to buy a Marshall first series Master Volume amp. I thought, ‘Oh great, I can get more gain out of it...’ and I sold an original 100-watt Plexi. 

"Those Marshall Master Volume amps were all right for their time, but at the time I wasn’t experienced enough to judge the tone. So, yeah. Remorse. 

"I also had an original Plexi 50-watt when I was about 18 and I thought that 100 watts was better than a 50-watt - what did I know at that age? - so I sold the original Plexi in order to buy a [Marshall] 100-watt JCM. And the 50-watt looked like new. Man, I could cry...”

Have you ever sold a guitar that you now intensely regret letting go of?

If you go to a collector, you’ll pay six or seven thousand and my experience is there’s only a few of them that do sound really, really good for the money

“Oh yeah... a few. The guitar I probably regret the most would be an SG. I bought a Gibson SG, it was a Les Paul SG - early 60s - and it looked like it was new. But finally I bought a '70s Tobacco Sunburst Les Paul, and in the '70s Gibson quality was awful and it sounded completely dead. 

"I had to sell the SG in order to buy it. It was a great SG and I even recorded with it at the time - that SG into the 100-watt Plexi just sounded amazing.”

What’s your best guitar-buying tip?

“If you’re lucky, you can pick up a good regular Les Paul, if you know what you want to hear... If you have the opportunity to compare about 10 of them, there’s always going to be at least one really good-sounding one. And you can buy it for £1,900 or something. 

"If you go to a collector, you’ll pay six or seven thousand and my experience is there’s only a few of them that do sound really, really good for the money.”

Adrian Vandenberg

(Image credit: Stefan Schipper)

When was the last time you stopped to stare in a guitar shop window and what were you looking at?

“I was in Denmark Street about two years ago. Dutch National TV made a documentary about my career so far, and the documentary maker was a music lover who knew about the history of all the stuff we love, like Clapton and all those other heroes. 

"We went to Denmark Street just to talk about those early days and stuff - The Marquee Club and all the history - and we went by a couple of those shops and in one of them there was this beautiful Gibson Les Paul with the perfect flame and the perfect shade of sunburst, and I said, ‘Oh, man, I want to buy that sucker...’

"It was pure Gear Acquisition Syndrome where you have more than enough stuff but you still get excited when you see a perfect Marshall Plexi or a Les Paul.”

If forced to make a choice, would you rather buy a really good guitar and a cheap amp or a cheap guitar and a really expensive amp?

“The expensive guitar. I think that’s more important, because cheap amps these days are not that bad and if you put a cheap amp on a clean setting, there are so many great distortion units these days that you can use. The guitar is the first part of the chain.”

Cheap amps these days are not that bad and if you put a cheap amp on a clean setting, there are so many great distortion units these days that you can use

If you could choose humbuckers or single coils for the rest of your career, which one would you choose and why? (And we think we know the answer to this one!)

“And I think you’re right [laughs]! Yeah, it’s got to be the humbucker. Even though I love a single coil on a Strat - every once in a while I have the urge to play my Strat for a couple of days and try to throw around some Stevie Ray Vaughan or Hendrix licks - I always keep going back to my Les Paul. 

"It has everything to do with my early heroes. Hendrix is a huge hero and still is my main guy, but the majority of the other guys - Page, Clapton, Kossoff and all those guys - they all had Les Pauls. So it’s the quantity of those guys versus a couple who made a Strat sound heavenly, you know?”

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David Mead

With over 30 years’ experience writing for guitar magazines, including at one time occupying the role of editor for Guitarist and Guitar Techniques, David is also the best-selling author of a number of guitar books for Sanctuary Publishing, Music Sales, Mel Bay and Hal Leonard. As a player he has performed with blues sax legend Dick Heckstall-Smith, played rock ’n’ roll in Marty Wilde’s band, duetted with Martin Taylor and taken part in charity gigs backing Gary Moore, Bernie Marsden and Robbie McIntosh, among others. An avid composer of acoustic guitar instrumentals, he has released two acclaimed albums, Nocturnal and Arboretum.