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April 3, 2024

zZounds' Iconic Rigs: Chuck Berry

A Rock 'n' Roll Original

While it's simple at first glance, Chuck Berry's "bipartisan" combination of Gibson Memphis guitars and Fender combo amps laid the foundation for generations of guitarists. Berry's catalog is so influential, that his hit song "Johnny B. Goode" was the only rock 'n' roll song to be included on the Voyager Golden Record, sent into space in 1977. Those big barking tones on "Maybelline" and "Johnny B. Goode" were the work of Berry’s gorgeous white 1957 ES-350 T, loaded with Gibson’s then-new PAF humbuckers. Once the ES-335 was introduced in 1958, Berry was an early adopter, and has been seen throughout most of his career rocking a red 335. The marriage of hollow-body Gibsons and high-powered Fender combo amps created one of the most iconic tones of the 20th century.

You might not have a 1957 ES-350 T at your disposal, or be able to require that a pair of Fender Showman combos be on stage at every one of your gigs -- so we sifted through our inventory and found our picks to help recreate Chuck Berry's iconic rig.

Looking to hone in on Chuck Berry's tone and get into the holiday spirit at the same time? Hit Play on this video -- then check out the zZounds Blog to see how we replicated the Berry sound.

Rock 'n' roll along with Santa Claus on Chuck Berry's classic "Run Rudolph Run":

Gibson ES-335

Gibson 2019 ES-335 Cherry

Chuck Berry had been playing other hollow-body Gibson models, like the ES-350T, up until the ES-335 was debuted in 1958 -- the same year as Berry’s classic hit "Sweet Little Sixteen." Since then, Chuck's support of the 335 has been steadfast -- his most recognized model being a gold-trimmed, red 1958 ES-335. The smooth playability and snappy tone of the 335 and other ES models became the backbone of Berry's sound.

While it can be hard to track down an original ES-335, the guitar is still in production today, and this 2019 model in Chuck's signature red should do the trick nicely.

Fender Exclusive 65 Princeton Reverb

Fender Exclusive 65 Princeton Reverb Guitar Combo Amplifier Fudge Brownie

Throughout his career, Berry has run the gamut of Fender combo amps, but has mostly favored the loud, dark tones of Showmans, Bassmans and vintage tweed amps. Rumor has it that his rider actually requires show promoters to provide a pair of Fender Showman amplifiers and a Lincoln Town Car in order for Berry to perform. With vintage-inspired cosmetics, the Fender Exclusive 65 Princeton Reverb encapsulates the Chuck Berry sound well, and sports an onboard vibrato for digging into Berry's more surfy cuts.

With 12 watts of all-tube circuitry and a single 10" Jensen P10Q speaker, this combo is ready to roll in any situation, from the den, to the studio, to the stage.

Epiphone B.B. King Lucille

Epiphone B.B. King Lucille Electric Guitar Ebony

Fit for the king of the blues and the king of rock 'n' roll, B.B. King's signature "Lucille" guitar has also been a constant in Chuck Berry's rig since the 1980s. Originally introduced by Gibson in 1980 as an homage to King's affectionately named guitars, Lucille featured a design similar to an ES-355 TD-SV, with the distinct difference being its lack of f-holes for reduced feedback. It's a no-brainer that this guitar fits perfectly into Chuck Berry's arsenal of semi-hollow bodies -- especially with its ability to rock a little harder sans f-holes.

This Epiphone version of Lucille is an affordable reincarnation of B.B. King's signature guitar with all the same features, letting you wail without the whine of semi-hollow feedback.

Fender '57 Custom Champ

Fender '57 Custom Champ Guitar Combo Amplifier (5 Watts, 1x8 in.)

A small-but-mighty tone machine, the Fender '57 Champ was released around the same time that Chuck Berry was releasing "Rock and Roll Music." Favored by studio musicians for its low wattage, the Champ was easy to overdrive in a small space without being cranked. It's no wonder that it ended up on countless records of the era, used by other influential artists like Johnny Cash and Eric Clapton.

This Fender '57 Custom Champ is built with classic construction to look and sound like a vintage 1957 Champ. With 5 watts of power, hand-wired circuitry and a single 8-inch Weber speaker, you'll be off to the races replicating Chuck Berry's rock 'n' roll tone -- without waking the neighbors.

Catalinbread Formula 5F6 Tweed Bassman Pedal

Catalinbread Formula 5F6 Tweed Bassman Pedal

If you're perfectly happy with your existing amp setup, but still want to harness the dark, Berry-style bite that only a Fender Bassman amp can deliver, look no further than the Catalinbread Formula 5F6 pedal. Engaging the 5F6 transforms your clean amp by harnessing the raw sound of a 6L6-powered vintage tweed combo pushing into its sweet spot -- a sound that's been the bedrock of Chuck Berry recordings since the 1950s. Get all the touch-sensitivity heard in Berry's solos by pushing the front end of your amp with the Formula 5F6 -- it's designed to deliver the slight breakup and sagged compression of a warmed-up Tweed Bassman.

The Catalinbread Formula 5F6 is a great way to channel vintage Fender tone without spending an arm and a leg. Thanks to its relatively flat response, the 5F6 makes a strong foundation for your pedalboard and stacks nicely with other overdrive, boost and fuzz pedals.