B.B. King remembered: A fire, a fight and a lifetime with his guitar Lucille

B.B. King and Lucille, in 2007 in Salisbury, Md. King died Thursday at his Las Vegas home at age 89.

B.B. King and Lucille, in 2007 in Salisbury, Md. King died Thursday at his Las Vegas home at age 89.

(Matthew S. Gunby / Associated Press)

To guitar aficionados and blues fans, the name Lucille evokes the sweet, piercing electric tones of B.B. King’s guitar.

It’s the name the 15-time Grammy winner, who died Thursday night at age 89 in Las Vegas, gave his beloved Gibson ES-355, one of the most famous instruments in history.

But there was more than one Lucille in King’s life. The first guitar to take the name was nothing fancy. In 1949, King rescued his $30 Gibson L-30 acoustic from a fire at a Arkansas venue that started with two men fighting over a woman named Lucille. King named the guitar after her.


PHOTOS: B.B. King | Life in Pictures

The bluesman has played many different guitars over the years (mainly Gibsons), but the instrument most associated with him is the Gibson ES-355 semi-hollow body electric he played for decades. A variation on Gibson’s ES-335 semi-acoustic, the ES-355 had been King’s instrument of choice since 1959.

His 10-minute song “Lucille,” released on a 1968 album of the same name, tells the story of the prized guitar, and also chronicles his own rise from Mississippi plantation worker to “King of the Blues.”

In 1982, King and Gibson teamed up for a special Lucille model, removing the f-holes to limit feedback. Gibson’s black B.B. King Lucille 2015, which lists for $4,199, features gold-plated hardware, mother of pearl inlays, and, of course, the “Lucille” signature on the headstock.

A 2007 Guitar Player magazine article quoted King explaining how he settled on his trademark instrument.

“Fenders, Gretsches, Silvertones — you name them, I’ve probably had one,” he told the magazine. “When I found that Gibson with the long neck, that did it. That’s like finding your wife forever.”


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