The BIG RED Story

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The ‘Big Red Story’

One of the first pictures showing Alvin play Big Red in November 1967

It was taken at the legendary Marquee Club in London on Friday, 10 Nov 1967. An added single coil pickup can be made out between the two original PAF Humbuckers (with the covers removed), but it is unknown if this is already the final Fender pickup. Alvin mentions trying out Hofner and DeArmond pickups as well

By April 1968 the first sticker has appeared beneath the strings

It was the emblem of the ‘Ten Years After Music Lovers Society’ (TYAMLS). Loraine, Alvin’s girlfriend, designed the motif and also created the sticker.

Towards the end of 1968 with Alvin’s afro hairstyle now grown out the most iconic sticker makes an appearance on the upper horn – the peace sign (or CND symbol) – here on white BG. Although the peace symbol will always remain on this exact spot and in the same size, it is evident in photos taken during the following years that the actual sticker is replaced at least three times as the BG alternates between white and red

The ‘Big Red Story’

Two new stickers have appeared just in time for Woodstock 1969: the ‘dancing hippy man’ on yellow circle with green edge and a round reflective sticker next to it. Ten Years After were scheduled for Sunday afternoon (17 Aug) but a delay caused by a massive rainstorm resulted in them going on stage at 8.15pm, just as it started to get dark and the lights came on – in hindsight the best spot of the day. The movie captures Alvin’s mind-blowing performance

The ‘Big Red Story’

End of 1969/early 1970 a yellow round sticker appears on the lower horn
Trans Continental Pop Festival Toronto June 27-28 1970

Photo By : Rick FitzRandolph

The ‘Big Red Story’

Big Red goes through a major change in the first months of the year 1970. Alvin ‘the Tinkerer’ Lee replaces the Bigsby with a stop tailpiece. Photo from a show at the Fillmore West in March

The ‘Big Red Story’

The removal of the Bigsby leaves a rather large empty area on the guitar. Alvin creates a new sticker, a collage of a marijuana leaf intertwined with the peace sign on rectangular yellow and red striped background (his own design and execution)

The actual Woodstock 69 Bigsby

A personal guess is that the Bigsby broke off in action, as is apparent on the photo.

The ‘Peace Leaf’ sticker has been painstakingly cut out (by Alvin) around the contours of the peace sign and marijuana leaf (early 1971). In March a smaller red-on-white peace sign appears below the top f-hole; together with a small rectangular sticker showing a crude green marijuana leaf on yellow BG which is still on the guitar. Furthermore there is a holographic red-yellow striped ball and blue text ‘Sagittarius’ on the headstock which is later moved to the body and still present on the guitar. But there is lots more going on in these months: the yellow sticker on the lower horn has been swapped for (yet another) marijuana leaf… but this is soon replaced again by the ‘Erotic Horoscope Wheel’ (also still present on the guitar)

The ‘Big Red Story’

In 1972 a disaster occurs: Alvin breaks the neck, badly. Big Red is sent off to Gibson USA for repair. They decide to replace the whole neck with headstock rather than to attempt a repair. The new neck has block inlays in the fingerboard rather than the dots on the original. The Gibson repair department puts clear varnish on the body, thus sealing the existing stickers in. The first visual footage of the new look guitar is 14 Feb 1973 but this picture taken April 4th is much clearer. It can also be seen on this photo that the Woodstock Dove sticker has been used to cover up the mirror sticker (but this was before the repair took place)

(1973) There is still room for more additions. A vaguely triangular sticker with the Chi-Rho symbol and text ‘IN THIS SIGN SHALT THOU CONQUER’ and the holographic red-yellow striped ball (briefly present on the original headstock) appear, which are all still on the current guitar

A photo from1974 shows a new rectangular black and silver decal from the ‘Tycobrahe Sound Co.’ above the pickups (since worn down)

By 1980 the smaller red-on-white peace sign has been replaced by (yet another!) marihuana leaf

The last addition is the ‘Smiling Skull’, around 1986, slightly overlapping the ‘Dancing Hippy Man’ (Photo from Guitarist’ magazine, Volume 3, number 11, April 1987)

The ‘Big Red Story’