Bill Lewis Guitar

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.

David visited Bill Lewis and tried one of his guitars when Pink Floyd played in Vancouver, Canada, on October 7. 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 12. 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. 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. Sometime in the early 80’s, the ebony fingerboard was replaced by one slightly more concave for better playing. 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.

- (left) David pictured with the Bill Lewis guitar during the Dark Side of the Moon recording sessions as seen on the Live at Pompeii DVD. (right) David performing Us & Them for the 2003 Dark Side of the Moon BBC documentary.

This following story is 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.

Click for bigger images!
Pictures used with permission from Josh Szczepanowski.

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 (The pickups were invented and patented by Bill’s brother Jack Lewis. 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.”

“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)

A big thanks to Mark Fornataro, Josh Szczepanowski and Megan Lewis for all your help and contribution.