What Guitar Did Tom Petty Play? | Strings of a Legend

When it comes to iconic rock musicians, few names echo as resoundingly as Tom Petty. Known for his distinctive voice and masterful songwriting, Petty left an indelible mark on the music world.

One aspect of his career that music enthusiasts find fascinating revolves around the instruments he used to create his signature sound. Among these, Petty’s guitars hold a special place. The question that lingers is: what guitar did Tom Petty play?

Tom Petty

This article aims to unravel that mystery, delving into the various guitars Petty used throughout his illustrious career.

The Early Days: Tom Petty’s First Guitars

Before Tom Petty became a household name, he was just another young boy enchanted by the magic of music. His love for guitars began at a young age, deeply influenced by the rock and roll icons of the time.

His first encounter with the guitar was a humble one. The instrument was a cheap, off-brand acoustic guitar that served as his stepping stone into the world of music. Though not known for its quality, this guitar ignited Petty’s passion, becoming a cornerstone of his musical journey.

Petty’s first serious guitar was a Kent, a Japanese brand that produced affordable guitars. The Kent became his companion as he started to learn the nuances of guitar playing.

Though not a high-end instrument, this guitar was instrumental in Petty’s formative years, helping shape his understanding of the instrument and his emerging style.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Signature Guitars

When Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers burst onto the music scene in the 70s, their unique sound was partly due to Petty’s choice of guitars. As his career advanced, so did his taste in guitars. One of the first notable guitars during this era was the Rickenbacker 12-string.

Known for its distinctive jangly sound, this guitar played a crucial role in many Heartbreakers’ hits, including their breakout single “American Girl.”

Another guitar that became a signature instrument for Petty during his time with the Heartbreakers was the Gibson Dove acoustic guitar. Known for its rich, full-bodied sound, the Dove became a staple for Petty in both studio recordings and live performances.

Tom Petty 2013

It featured prominently in some of the band’s most well-loved songs, adding a depth and texture that became synonymous with their sound.

That’s the first part of the article. Please let me know if you need any adjustments or if you’re ready to move on to the next part.

Remember, the details included here are just an overview – a longer, more detailed article would provide even more in-depth information about each guitar, including its features, the songs it was used in, and its impact on Petty’s music.

Guitars That Defined Tom Petty’s Solo Career

Transitioning from the band dynamics to a solo career brought out a different side of Petty’s music. His solo projects offered him the chance to experiment with new sounds, often leading to unique guitar choices.

One instrument that stood out during this period was the Fender Jazzmaster. With its warmer tone and dynamic range, the Jazzmaster gave Petty’s solo work a distinctive edge.

The Gibson J-200 also emerged as a key player during Petty’s solo years. This powerhouse acoustic guitar was lauded for its bold, balanced sound and was used by Petty in crafting some of his most memorable solo hits.

Its broad tonal range offered the versatility Petty needed to explore new musical landscapes, contributing to the fresh and innovative sound of his solo projects.

Tom Petty’s Acoustic Guitars

While electric guitars often grabbed the spotlight in rock music, acoustic guitars played a crucial role in Petty’s music. The Martin HD-40, for instance, offered a blend of strength and clarity that perfectly suited Petty’s style.

Its lush, robust sound was a staple in his acoustic sets, providing the ideal counterpoint to his evocative lyrics.

The previously mentioned Gibson J-200 was another favourite in Petty’s acoustic collection. Its rich tonality and strong projection made it an excellent choice for both studio recordings and live performances.

Petty’s use of the J-200 highlighted his skill in coaxing depth and resonance from acoustic instruments, reinforcing his status as a guitar maestro.

Tom Petty’s Electric Guitars

Just as his acoustic guitars were a testament to his diverse musical influences, Petty’s choice of electric guitars also reflected his wide-ranging musical taste. The Gretsch Tennessean was one such guitar.

Its vibrant, crisp sound made it a perfect fit for the electric sections of Petty’s music, contributing to the distinctively sharp and driving sound that became synonymous with his band.

Another noteworthy instrument was the Fender Broadcaster. Known for its smooth, balanced tone and outstanding sustain, this electric guitar played a central role in crafting Petty’s iconic sound. Its versatile tonal capabilities made it a favorite of Petty’s, featuring on numerous tracks and live performances.

Tom Petty 2010 1

This concludes the second part of the article, outlining the various guitars that played a significant role in Tom Petty’s solo career and his acoustic and electric collections. Up next, we’ll delve into some unique additions to his guitar arsenal and how these influenced his songwriting process.

Unique Guitars in Tom Petty’s Collection

Throughout his career, Petty collected an assortment of unique and interesting guitars, each with their own tale to tell. One such instrument was the 1965 Gibson SG TV Yellow, a guitar that stood out not only for its striking color but also for its crunchy, punchy tone.

The guitar’s unique timbre provided a characteristic edge to some of Petty’s harder rocking tracks, lending an individual touch to his music.

Another noteworthy piece in Petty’s collection was his 1963 Epiphone Newport bass. While not a conventional choice for a primarily guitar-playing musician, this bass made its mark in Petty’s hands.

Its solid, warm tone made it a dynamic addition to his musical toolkit, adding depth and richness to his recordings.

The Influence of Petty’s Guitars on His Songwriting

Tom Petty was known not just as an exceptional performer but also as a prolific songwriter. His guitars played an influential role in his songwriting process.

Each guitar, with its unique tonal characteristics and playability, served as a source of inspiration, shaping the sound of the songs he wrote.

For instance, the chiming tones of the Rickenbacker 12-string were integral to the sound of “American Girl,” one of Petty’s most popular tracks.

On the other hand, the rich, deep sound of the Gibson J-200 provided the sonic backdrop for many of his emotive acoustic pieces, adding an intimate, poignant touch to his lyrics.

The Legacy of Tom Petty’s Guitars

Petty’s choice of guitars and the iconic music he created with them continue to inspire musicians around the world. From the bright jangle of the Rickenbacker to the robust resonance of the Gibson J-200, each instrument associated with Petty carries a piece of his musical legacy.

Emerging artists like Lucy Dacus and seasoned performers like Jeff Tweedy of Wilco have cited Petty as a significant influence, highlighting how his guitar work has shaped their own approach to the instrument.

His wide-ranging use of guitars serves as a testament to the versatility and expressive power of the instrument, inspiring musicians to explore and push the boundaries of their own sound.

That wraps up the third section of our exploration of Tom Petty’s guitars. Up next, we’ll round off with a closer look at how these instruments have shaped and continue to impact the music industry.


In this section, we will be delving into some of the most common inquiries and curiosities that surround our topic.

What was Tom Petty’s first guitar?

Tom Petty’s first guitar was a low-cost, off-brand acoustic. His first notable guitar, the one he used as he began to delve deeper into music, was a Kent, a Japanese brand that made budget-friendly guitars.

What guitar was most commonly used by Tom Petty?

It’s challenging to single out one guitar as the most used by Petty, given his extensive collection. However, certain guitars like the Rickenbacker 12-string, the Gibson Dove, and the Fender Jazzmaster were notably significant in his career.

How did Tom Petty’s choice of guitars impact his sound and songwriting?

Each guitar Petty used brought a unique tonality that influenced his sound and songwriting. For instance, the chime-like tones of the Rickenbacker 12-string became a defining element of songs like “American Girl,” while the robust resonance of the Gibson J-200 added depth to his acoustic pieces.

Are there any unique or unusual guitars in Tom Petty’s collection?

Yes, Petty had a number of unique guitars in his collection, including the 1965 Gibson SG TV Yellow and the 1963 Epiphone Newport bass.

What is the legacy of Tom Petty’s guitars in today’s music scene?

Tom Petty’s guitar legacy continues to inspire contemporary musicians. His choice of guitars, and the music he created with them, serve as a testament to the expressive power and versatility of the instrument, encouraging musicians to explore and redefine their own sound.

Conclusion: The Indelible Bond Between Tom Petty and His Guitars

Tom Petty’s illustrious career was marked by a deeply rooted connection with his guitars. From his first humble acoustic to the broad collection he amassed over the years, each guitar played a part in shaping his sound and influencing his songwriting.

Through the strings of these instruments, Petty crafted a timeless discography that continues to resonate with audiences worldwide.

His choices underscore the profound impact that a musician’s instruments can have on their artistry, a testament to the intimate bond between a musician and their tool of expression.

Tom Petty’s guitars weren’t just tools; they were an extension of his musical identity. Each instrument, with its unique voice, helped paint the sonic landscapes that became his iconic sound.

Even after his passing, the echo of Petty’s guitars continues to reverberate, their legacy living on in the music they helped create, inspiring generations of musicians to come.

This concludes our exploration of Tom Petty’s guitar journey. Whether you’re a musician, a fan, or a casual reader, we hope this deep dive into Petty’s world of guitars has offered you some intriguing insights into this legendary musician’s artistry.

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