• The Bill Lewis custom guitar gear guide

    We all know the story about how Gilmour used a custom designed guitar to reach the high tones on the Money solo from Dark Side of the Moon and most of us has also seen the guitar in action on the studio footage from Live at Pompeii. The Bill Lewis guitar is one of the most talked about in David’s collection; still the details about its origins are rarely documented.

    Guitars

    – David pictured with the Bill Lewis guitar for the BBC Classic Albums documentary in 2003.

    David visited Bill Lewis and tried one of his guitars when Pink Floyd played in Vancouver, Canada, on October 9th 1970. Later that same month, Bill’s wife met Gilmour (and Bill) at the airport in San Fransisco where he got the guitar. The earliest footage of David using the Lewis is from Copenhagen, Denmark, November 12th 1970. It’s seen in action on several performances throughout November and December, notably on a French TV-show at ORTF-TV Studios in Paris 4. and 5. of December.The guitar made its studio debut during spring/summer 1971 when David used it to record the solo on Echoes and of course he used it to record the last part of the solo on Money in 1973. The Lewis is still in David’s possession and was last seen on the BBC Classic Albums Dark Side of the Moon documenray (2003) and at the Pink Floyd Interstellar Exhibition in Paris, France, in 2004.

    Guitars

    – The Bill Lewis guitar. It was made of mahogany and had a removable back.

    I’m very pleased to share the following article written exclusively for Gilmourish.Com by former Bill Lewis’ colleague, Mark Fornataro.

    “The Lewis custom guitar, designed by Bill Lewis of Vancouver, played a significant role in the recording of Dark Side of the Moon. David Gilmour’s Lewis, built for him in 1970, has the very rare 24 accessible frets. The fret spacing was worked out with the use of a computer, which back in the late 60s, when the guitar had its debut – was also rare. This allowed for better accuracy than usual, in terms of pitch, and of course the full 2 octaves on the high E string allowed Gilmour to reach notes unattainable on his Strat. The extra wide fingerboard which flattened out by the 24th fret is also a great advantage for bending notes.
    Jimmy Page, who has a Lewis guitar, wrote me 1992, referring to the guitar as “quite revolutionary”. Not the least of these revolutionary features were Lewis’ own humbucking pick-ups which were cast in resin using a vacuum system, the first time pick-ups were designed in such a way; they are capable of a very clean sound with great sustain (David’s guitar also had switches on each pickup for humbucker and single coil options. – Bjorn). Another first, a trade secret at the time, was the neck design through the incorporation of two parallel rectangular steel bars running the length of the neck and epoxied beneath the fretboard for stability. This allowed for a very fast neck; much thinner than guitars of its time. Gilmour’s guitar is built of a single piece of Honduras mahogany, an ebony fingerboard and Schaller heads. The snap-off back made for easy accessibility to the electronic components.”

    Guitars

    “The Lewis guitar first gained notoriety in Vancouver on August 9 1969 when Eric Clapton used one for an entire Blind Faith concert. The Vancouver Sun published a picture of him using it on August 11. After Bill Lewis started getting more orders for it luthier Mark Wilson and I were the only two working full-time handbuilding them. Wilson had suggested approaching Clapton. I started working with Lewis in October 1969 and got on the promotion bandwagon, suggesting approaching Gilmour and was thrilled to see him trying one out in the store in 1970. I remember he had his little finger hooked around the volume control, rocking it back and forth, thus producing an amazingly even vibrato. Mark Wilson died very young in the early 70s and the guitar which had always been a special labour of love, never mass-produced, went out of production. Bill Lewis, a master luthier who also made great acoustic guitars and had given a keynote address at a luthier’s convention, died in 1996 at age 61, leaving a legacy to be proud of.” (by Mark Fornataro © 2007)

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24 Responsesso far.

  1. ian forshaw says:

    Hi
    Your site is great, I seen david playing in manchester england on the OAI tour, I was sitting directly above him and got some great photos if you would like them just e-mail me.
    Keep up the good work
    Ian

    [Hi Ian! Glad you enjoy the site :) Yes, please! I’m very much interested in the pix! – Bjorn]

  2. Nigel from Vancouver says:

    Great stuff, Bjorn. I ordered a Bill Lewis Custom for myself back in 1969 when I was a 16 yr old. Saved up all me money from paper routes and pumping gas. All the Lewis guitars were built the same as David’s, except you could order single or double cutaway (most I saw were double) and you had your choice of wood stain. I chose Dark Amber out of about 6 available choices. I still have it, bringing it out every month or so when I tire of my acoustic. I often wondered how many were built and what they would be worth to a collector, although it would be tough to part with. Your website is the only one I know that documents this guitar in any way. I felt so proud to own one after seeing your webpage. If you want any close-up detailed photos of a Lewis, I would be happy to pass them on. It is in pristine condition in its original case. At the time of production, Bill Lewis told me the pickups were either designed or produced by a friend of his connected with the US Navy in San Diego, but it was a long time ago so who knows. I hung around that store after school and work everyday, just waiting to hear that mine was ready! They were great days and great guitars!

    [Hi Nigel! Thanks for your comment! I’m glad you enjyed the article :-) Although the Lewis was only used for a very breif periode, I think it’s considered to be a special gem among Gilmour fans. It must be very cool owning one and I can understand you’re proud! I would very much appreciate some hi-res close-ups of the pickups… if your’s are the same as on David’s. Please use my e-mail. Thanks! – Bjorn]

  3. ChrisZurada says:

    Hey You :) Just take a look http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmVNIWD8Qus .The Bill Lewis Guitar in action :) Enjoy

    [Great clip! It’s from the Dark Side BBC documentary. – Bjorn]

  4. pinkfloydfan1 says:

    i found a photo of this guitar form the intersteller exhibition ill send you it if you want may need photoshopped a bit to see it clearer

    [Please do! – Bjorn]

  5. uddin says:

    Excellent article about great guitar!
    Its been beneficial to every visitors to the site.

    [Thanks! I’ve removed your link…. please ask before promoting your own stuff. – Bjorn]

  6. Ritchie Roberts says:

    There are a few guitars out there that I think are masterworks. This is one of them. It sits beside Brian May’s guitar, Django’s guitar, and the original Gretsch Duo Jet prototype as being one of the most intriguing pieces of musical art in guitardom.

    Kills me tho that while the other guitars went on to become production models any of us could get hold of (albeit sometimes pretty darned pricey) the Bill Lewis is still made of unobtainium LOL :D

    -Ritchie

  7. Austin says:

    Hey, just readin that AHM article you said that the black strat he used couldve been a ’67-71 strat. I actually have played an all orig. late ’66 strat that looks the exact same (big logo). So it could have also been a late ’66.
    Also, I have been wondering where the best place is to get a Binson EH II, and what prices are reasonable.
    Also I am going to be getting a couple custom made guitars, and was thinking of having a replica of the BL guit. What pickups would you say could give me that sound?

    [Yes, Fender started making Strats with large headstock and the bold logo in late 66. This was the main model between 66 and early 68, when maple neck became an option. Thanks! – Bjorn]

  8. MelomaN says:

    Hi Bjorn,

    what type of the pickups does thig guitar has – singles, like P90 or humbuckers? On the film from BBC it’s difficult to see thi…

    [As it says in the article, these are custom made PUs by Bill Lewis. Humbucker type, but you can’t really compare them with regular humbuckers. – Bjorn]

  9. o says:

    Thanks,,,,sorry for all the questions but when you say heavy gauge,,what thickness is that,,, 1mm and up ?

    [No worries :-) Yes, from 1mm and up. – Bjorn]

  10. o says:

    I have never tried teardrop picks..
    Whats the difference other then the shape,,,are they easyer to play with or…?

    [The difference is the shape. How they work for you compared to “normal” picks depends on your style and taste. You just have to try them and make up your mind. I’ve always used teardrops. I find them easier to use when you play alot of picking stuff and solos. – Bjorn]

  11. o says:

    I just watched the Abby Road thing, and there was a close up of his plectrum,,,it looks very small, not like a normal one..
    Do you know what kind of pick shape he uses..?

    [It’s Gibson heavy gauge teardrops. – Bjorn]

  12. pinkfloydfan1 says:

    i have found a few pictures of the bill lewis guitar close up ill email them to you later on today

    regards
    liam

    [Great! I have a couple of b/w shots from Copenhagen and the one that’s posted in the Atom Heart Mother article. Please send me what you got. – Bjorn]

  13. Ryan says:

    i always though that the “meddle” echoes solo was done on a slide, the last bit of it…..it sounds slidish haha oops

    [Hmmm… – listening to the song – no it doesn’t sound like a slide to me… – Bjorn]

  14. Sylvain says:

    You’re right, I wasn’t paying attention…but we don’t really know if is this one that he used, maybe he used a Les Paul or a guitar with more than 21 frets ?
    Thanks,
    Bye

    [I have an interview with David where he mentions it laying around… I’ll see if I can find it. – Bjorn]

  15. Sylvain says:

    I didn’t know he played the “Echoes” solo with this one…you’re talking about the first distorted solo ?
    A+

    [The main solo yes… I don’t know if he used it on the whole song, but listen to those high notes just at the end of the solo… You can’t do that on a Strat. – Bjorn]

  16. ChrisZurada says:

    Ow, I didnt specified that my thinking was conected with The Money song. I really thought that he plays using some extra bending on 21 fret.

  17. ChrisZurada says:

    At the beginning I was thinking “Whait a minute. Gilmour uses only Fender, doesn’t he?” But then I found this side and now I am cleveler ;). Thank you Bjorn for this article.

    [David has one of the world’s biggest guitar collections, including some extremely rare pieces. He’s played Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, Hofner, Steinberger, Charvel, Ovation to name a few… – Bjorn]

  18. pinkfloydfan1 says:

    just noticed u should put this info on the bill lewis guitar page

    [I’m working on it… – Bjorn]

  19. Alex says:

    Hi Bjorn,

    Another great article. Here is an interesting video of Gilmour using the Lewis on a track that i do not know.

    Cheers!

    Alex

    [Thanks Alex! The clip is from French TV recorded December 4. 1970. Floyd had just done a couple of concerts for the Roland Petit Ballett. – Bjorn]

  20. Jeff from Wisconsin says:

    Great article, great guitar!

    Was this guitar used after Dark side? I don’t believe he toured with it at all.

    [As far as I know, David only used it live in November/December 1970. There’s no indication of him using it on the Dark Side tour. – Bjorn]

  21. Ernest Peske says:

    Great guitar!
    I also did see the DVD making Dark side of the Moon and this guitar is still in very good condition! I wonder how many Lewis were made…
    Nice article Bjorn,
    Ernest

  22. Leandro says:

    Wow! I didn´t know most of things that Mark said. It´s an awesome article Bjorn! The Lewis Custom guitar has always been one of my favorites of Gilmour´s arsenal.

    Seriously, what a great article! you´re full of surprises man, hehe

    Thanks to you and Mark Fornataro!

    Leandro

    Ps: A Gibson Les Paul double cutaway would be a nice option replacing a 24 fret Lewis, don´t you think?

    [Thanks! A Gibson is close, but the Lewis had custom made pickups with a distincly different sound than humbuckers. – Bjorn]

  23. Yaniv says:

    Great article Bjorn! Very interesting! I didn’t knew a lot of things about this guitar until I read this article… No the only missing thing in the guitars section is probably the telecaster and the acoustics!

    Thank you for your work, Bjorn, and of course a big thank to Mark Fornataro for writing this article!

    [I’m always working on new stuff… New articles will be posted throughout the spring months. – Bjorn]

  24. Don Lacey says:

    That picture of David with the guitat looks Photoshopped — like the guitar was put in place of another one.

    [Nope… It’s just a screenshot from the Dark Side of the Moon Classic Albums DVD. – Bjorn]