The Story Behind BB King’s Guitar: Lucille

The Origin of Lucille

The name Lucille holds a special place in the world of blues music, particularly when associated with the legendary musician BB King. Lucille is not just any ordinary guitar; it represents a powerful symbol in BB King’s life and career. This article explores the fascinating history and significance of Lucille, delving into its origin and the story behind its name.

The Incident that Inspired the Name

The story of Lucille begins in 1949, during a performance by BB King in Twist, Arkansas. On a cold winter night, a fight erupted between two patrons over a woman. In the chaos that ensued, a large kerosene drum used for heating the venue was knocked over, setting the bar ablaze. BB King managed to escape the building, but in a moment of panic, he realized he had left his guitar inside. Risking his own life, he hurried back into the burning building to retrieve his beloved instrument. It was during this harrowing experience that BB King learned the name of the woman who had sparked the fight: Lucille.

To commemorate this life-changing event and as a constant reminder of the importance of caution, BB King decided to name his guitar Lucille. The name served as a testament to the dangers he had faced and a vow to never repeat such recklessness again. From that moment on, every guitar that BB King owned would bear the name Lucille.

The Many Faces of Lucille

Lucille is not limited to a single guitar model. Over the course of his career, BB King played various guitars, all of which he affectionately named Lucille. However, one model stands out as the quintessential representation of Lucille: the black-with-gold-hardware Gibson ES-355–style guitar. BB King was particularly drawn to Gibson guitars of the semi-hollow “ES” variety, such as the ES-335 and ES-355 models. These guitars offered him the distinctive tone and versatility that became synonymous with his playing style.

The Gibson Lucille Signature Model

In recognition of BB King’s deep connection with Lucille, Gibson introduced the Gibson Lucille signature model in 1980. This iconic guitar featured a gloss black finish and a tortoiseshell scratchplate, giving it a visually striking appearance. The specifications of the Lucille signature model were carefully curated based on BB King’s preferences and playing style.

One notable feature of the Lucille signature model is the absence of f-holes. BB King often stuffed the f-holes on his guitars to minimize feedback, and the Lucille model eliminated them entirely. Additionally, the neck of the guitar was made of maple instead of the traditional mahogany found in most Gibson guitars. This choice contributed to the unique tonal characteristics of Lucille.

Other distinctive features of the Gibson Lucille signature model included stereo wiring, a Varitone switch, and a TP-6 Fine Tune tailpiece. These elements enhanced the guitar’s versatility and allowed BB King to achieve his desired sound.

The Enduring Legacy of Lucille

From 1980 until his passing in 2015, BB King played various iterations of the Gibson Lucille. His devotion to the instrument and his masterful playing style solidified Lucille’s status as an iconic symbol of blues music. The legacy of BB King and Lucille continues to inspire generations of guitarists to embrace the soulful sound and emotional depth of the blues.

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FAQs

What is the origin of the name Lucille?

The name Lucille was given by BB King to his guitars as a reminder never to engage in reckless behavior such as running into a burning building or fighting over a woman. It originated from an incident in 1949 when BB King risked his life to retrieve his guitar from a burning building during a fight in a bar. The woman involved in the dispute was named Lucille, and BB King named his guitar after her as a symbol of caution and personal safety.

What was the original Lucille guitar?

The original Lucille guitar was an inexpensive, small-bodied Gibson L-30 archtop that BB King rescued from a fire in 1949. This guitar holds great significance as it was the instrument that inspired BB King to name all his guitars Lucille.

What type of guitar is Lucille widely recognized as?



Lucille is widely recognized as a black-with-gold-hardware Gibson ES-355–style guitar. BB King had a particular affinity for Gibson guitars of the semi-hollow “ES” variety, such as the ES-335 and ES-355 models.

When was the Gibson Lucille signature model introduced?

The Gibson Lucille signature model was introduced in 1980 as a tribute to BB King’s relationship with his guitars. This model featured a gloss black finish, a tortoiseshell scratchplate, and unique specifications requested by BB King.

What were the unique features of the Gibson Lucille signature model?

The Gibson Lucille signature model incorporated several unique features. It eliminated the f-holes found on most guitars to reduce feedback. The neck of the guitar was made of maple instead of mahogany, and it included stereo wiring, a Varitone switch, and a TP-6 Fine Tune tailpiece. These features contributed to the distinct sound and versatility of Lucille.

How long did BB King play versions of the Gibson Lucille?

BB King played various versions of the Gibson Lucille from 1980 until his death in 2015. Lucille remained his primary instrument throughout his career, and he relied on its unique sound and playability to create his signature blues style.

What is the legacy of BB King and Lucille?



The legacy of BB King and Lucille is enduring and influential. BB King’s deep connection with his guitars, particularly Lucille, has inspired generations of guitarists to embrace the soulful sound and emotional depth of the blues. Lucille has become a symbol of BB King’s artistry and a testament to the power of music to transcend boundaries.

Are there other notable musicians who have played Lucille guitars?

While Lucille is synonymous with BB King, other notable musicians have also played Lucille guitars. These include blues artists such as Eric Clapton, Joe Bonamassa, and Gary Moore, who have paid homage to BB King’s legacy by playing Lucille guitars in their own performances.