The Star-Studded Legacy of Gibson Double-Neck Guitars

"I got my Gibson double-neck to fit in with ‘Stairway To Heaven,’" Jimmy Page tells me, "because there were so many guitar parts. There’s the solo, there’s acoustic, and 12-string—and I thought I can’t do all this on only one of those guitars." Jimmy’s solution when it came to playing that famous Zep piece on stage in the ’70s is as good an argument for a double-neck guitar as you’ll find. One instrument; more than one application.

And as we’re talking double-necks, I want to share a 70th birthday with you before we leave the end of 2022. Not the obvious Gibson Les Paul one. No, this particular 1952 baby was born way over the other side of the country, in sunny California, and the father was Paul Bigsby.

Gibson Custom Shop Jimmy Page EDS-1275
Gibson Custom Shop Jimmy Page EDS-1275. Photo by Music Authority/Total Entertainment.

You know that name, right? Probably thanks to a wobbler on one of your lovely Gretsch guitars or similar. But Mr. Bigsby did much more than devise a vibrato. He began making guitars in his spare time in 1944, aside from racing and fixing motorcycles. The first was a solid maple double-neck electric steel for Joaquin Murphy, who played with Spade Cooley’s western swing band.

Three years later he met Merle Travis, and in 1948 their collaboration resulted in a solidbody Spanish guitar (in other words a regular non-steel instrument) that’s recognized today as a milestone in electric guitar history. But it was in 1952, having made a few more solidbody-style electrics, that Paul Bigsby built the first double-neck electric Spanish, in the process creating our birthday guitar.

He wouldn’t have found the idea of a double-neck eccentric, because by then he was also making pedal-steel guitars, where multiple necks are common. So when the time came to make this custom Spanish double-neck for the country session guitarist Grady Martin, he probably just thought: "Well, why not?"

Watch a compilation of Grady Martin playing his Bigsby Spanish double-neck.

Actually, any one of us who’s played a double-neck since can probably think of a few reasons why not. The intention of such an instrument is pretty obvious, along the lines that Jimmy mentioned at the top: here, potentially, are (at least) two different guitars or tones or tunings in one instrument. You can make an almost instant changeover from one neck to the other, saving you the trouble of swapping between separate guitars, and that’s an especially useful facility on stage.

The drawbacks are reasonably obvious, too, especially if you’ve ever had to wear one for a while. Most double-necks are quite heavy. Isn’t that right, Jimmy? "Yeah—I’ve got heavier guitars," he says of his Gibson. "But nevertheless pretty weighty."

Also, there can be an awkwardness as you reach beyond one neck, which might be in an ideal playing position, to the other, which is invariably too high or too low for comfort. Double-necks are almost always something of a compromise between convenience and comfort.

Grady Martin specified a regular six-string neck and a five-string mandolin neck when he ordered the double-neck that Paul Bigsby made for him in 1952. Meanwhile, the general idea of two necks on one body failed to catch on with many other makers through the rest of the decade.

Stratosphere Twin Doubleneck 1957
1957 Stratosphere Twin Doubleneck

One small firm—Stratosphere, based in Missouri—offered a Twin model in 1954 that combined six-string and 12-string necks. If we consider Bigsby as a custom builder, then this was the first commercially-sold electric double-neck.

Jimmy Bryant, a session man who made some great duet records alongside steel guitarist Speedy West, played his Stratosphere Twin on a few Bryant–West cuts, including the mind-boggling "Stratosphere Boogie." Nonetheless, the Stratosphere company was ahead of its time, and by 1959 it was gone.

Gibson must have noticed the Stratosphere Twin and Bigsby’s early efforts, because in ’58 the firm introduced its first two double-necks, which were thinline hollowbody models with double pointed cutaways and no f-holes.

The EDS-1275 Double 12 had a regular six-string lower neck and a 12-string upper neck, just like the Twin. The EMS-1235 Double Mandolin mixed a regular six-string neck plus a short-scale neck with six strings tuned an octave higher than a guitar, supposedly to mimic the sound of a mandolin—and not unlike the Bigsby/Grady Martin instrument. Gibson’s promo material emphasized that the new double-necks were custom-built to order only, and very few were made.

Jimmy’s Gibson was not of that type. In 1962, Gibson introduced a redesigned line of three SG-style solidbody double-necks. Like the hollowbodies, they were made only to special order, but now there were three variations.

The EDS-1275 Double 12 again mixed a six-string and a 12-string neck and the EMS-1235 Double Mandolin a six-string neck and short-scale eight-string/four-course neck, but there was also the EBSF-1250 Double Bass, which paired a regular six-string with a four-string bass neck. Remarkably, it had a Maestro Fuzz-Tone and associated controls built into the body until 1966, when the name was changed subtly to the EBS-1250.

EDS-1275 Double 12
First-run EDS-1275 Double 12

Recording "Stairway To Heaven" in the studio around the turn of 1970 into ’71, Jimmy used his Harmony Sovereign for the acoustic parts, his Fender Electric XII for the electric rhythm, and his Telecaster for the solo. He says he knew about the Grady Martin instrument, and about Joe Maphis with another ’50s guitar–mandolin combo, this time made by Mosrite. But he was prompted to check out the Gibson SG-style double-necks after seeing Charlie Whitney in Family playing one at home in England.

Charlie played an EDS-1275 six-and-12 throughout Family’s career, from well before their debut album, Music In A Doll’s House, appeared in 1968 until their split in 1973. And a sequence of Whitney’s musical partners in the band—John Weider, then John Wetton, and then Jim Cregan—used an EBS-1250 bass-and-six double-neck that seems to have belonged to the band, passed on as members came and went.

Jimmy ordered an EDS-1275 and used it for the first time on stage in March 1971. "I asked to get one from Gibson, because I knew it was the only way," he recalls. "I knew I couldn’t do 'Stairway'—but it was essential to do it. So it became iconic, didn’t it?" It certainly did. The popularity of the double-neck soared as other players saw Zep’s guitarist toting the Gibson beast. Particularly for prog-leaning players, it became something of a badge of honor to strap one on (and perhaps book some physio sessions).

Jimmy Page playing his EDS-1275 while performing "Stairway to Heaven" on stage with Led Zeppelin.

Steve Howe in Yes used a white 1964 EDS-1275—starting in the band’s Close To The Edge period and for most of the '70s—which he bought in London in ’72 specifically to use live for the song "And You And I." Steve says: "It really did work for me, a terrific idea. Of course, the disadvantage is that it’s one of the most uncomfortable guitars to use, but it’s worth putting up with."

John McLaughlin used a number of double-necks in Mahavishnu Orchestra, including a custom-made Rex Bogue Double Rainbow (later copied by Ibanez) and an EDS-1275. Alex Lifeson in Rush got a cherry EDS-1275 in the mid ‘70s, soon replaced with a white one when that was damaged. He had less trouble than some double-neck players with the relative neck heights.

"The six-string height is very comfortable," Alex tells me, "very close to the height I normally play on stage with a regular guitar. The 12-string neck is much higher than normal, but it, too, is easy for me to handle, because when I’m in the studio I usually adjust the straps on my single-neck guitars up two notches. When the instruments are higher, they’re more comfortable to use, especially after three or four hours of playing."

Custom Shop EDS-1275
Custom Shop EDS-1275

Gibson noted this trend toward the double-neck, and the company reissued the EDS-1275 Double 12 in 1975, shifting to laminated maple necks rather than the mahogany originals, and again building to order. It lasted to the early Noughties, since when a Custom Shop model has been in and out of Gibson’s catalog, residing at the time of writing in the Shop’s Modern Collection.

Gibson re-created Alex Lifeson’s double-neck in 2015, Don Felder’s "Hotel California" model in 2010, and Jimmy Page’s Double 12 in 2007. Pat Foley at Gibson worked with Jimmy on the limited-edition replica, issued as just 300 VOS versions plus 25 aged versions hand-signed and numbered by Jimmy. Despite a high list price—$11,000 for the VOS, $33,500 for the aged-and-signed—they sold fast. "That’s the power of Jimmy, his aura and mystique," Pat assured me at the time. "We wouldn’t normally have sold that many double-necks in a ten-year period."

It’s fortunate that Jimmy still has most of his guitars from back in the day. His 1275 is no exception, and it was one of the originals he used when Led Zeppelin played their one-off reunion concert at the O2 Arena in London in 2007. "Yeah, right through to the O2," Jimmy tells me with a smile. "See, that’s unusual. Most people have got other guitars that they’ll play, but no matter what, it’s the same double-neck that you see appear in 1971, and it’s the same Les Paul." When something works, you better hang on to it.

About the author: Tony Bacon writes about musical instruments, musicians, and music. His books include The SG Guitar Book and London Live, and he was the editor of Keith Shadwick’s Led Zeppelin: 1968–1980. Tony lives in Bristol, England. More info at

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