Bruce Springsteen is one of the most popular rock stars of all time. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. But while it’s common to see a guitar slung around his neck, many fans wonder, is Bruce Springsteen a good guitar player?
Here’s what I know from watching him play:
Bruce Springsteen is a good guitarist, but it takes a back seat to his songwriting, lyrics, and singing. He also brings 3 other guitarists on the road with him when he tours so that the performance isn’t reliant on his guitar playing. But he is credited as lead guitar on some of his most acclaimed albums.
He is known for his big personality and powerful songs exploring the lives of common, down-trodden people. Springsteen is a skilled singer, and he plays many instruments.
But let’s explore his guitar playing further and see how much he actually plays on his records, what kind of guitars he uses, and what other guitarists help him out.
— Consequence (@consequence) September 22, 2020
Does Bruce Springsteen play guitar on his records?
Bruce Springsteen does contribute both acoustic and electric guitar to his recordings in addition to at least 1 other guitarist. Springsteen is also credited with lead guitar on such notable albums as Born in the U.S.A., and Darkness on the Edge of Town, and he plays all the instruments on his acclaimed Nebraska album.
It is difficult to determine exactly which parts of his albums Springsteen is specifically responsible for.
However, an interview with Tom Morello, from Rage Against the Machine, hints at which guitar parts Springsteen played.
Morello says, “Oh, he’s a fantastic guitar player! Without a doubt. I think that the guitar playing particularly on the album Darkness on the Edge of Town is some of my favorite lead guitar playing on a record. It’s fantastic.”
However, for many of his albums, the majority of the instrumental parts were played by members of The E Street Band.
Happy 70th birthday to The Boss, Bruce Springsteen! Did you know that @springsteen came across his famed Fender Esquire in a New Jersey guitar shop shortly after signing with Columbia Records in 1972? Find out more: https://t.co/QPupiyO8u1 pic.twitter.com/PirIdlL8f1
— Fender (@Fender) September 23, 2019
What kind of guitar does Springsteen play?
Bruce Springsteen’s main guitar is a heavily modified 1950s Fender Telecaster electric guitar with an Esquire neck. The guitar was likely assembled and modified in the 1960s, and Springsteen acquired it in 1973. But Springsteen has played multiple guitars in his life.
Springsteen bought this guitar in New Jersey from a guitar shop owned by a man named Phil Petillo. This was near the time that his very first album, Greeting from Asbury Park, was released.
Of the guitar, Springsteen says, “With its wood body worn in like the piece of the cross that it was, it became the guitar that I’d play for the next 40 years. It was the best deal of my life.”
And play it he did.
The guitar has become iconic to the Springsteen brand, and any serious Springsteen fan can instantly recognize it. What’s interesting about this guitar is that, even though Springsteen played it for over 40 years, it was a pre-owned guitar.
It had been heavily used and modified before Springsteen ever got it.
He calls it a “mut guitar” because it has an Esquire neck but a Telecaster body. It was the Telecaster body that drew Springsteen to it because he had played a Telecaster when he was younger.
The guitar had to be retired but would still return to Springsteen’s hands for special occasions.
He played with the original guitar at the 2009 Super Bowl halftime show. He says he doesn’t even feel like he is playing a guitar when he straps it on.
Rather, it feels like a part of himself.
What is more badass than Bruce Springsteen, a guitar, and an American flag? pic.twitter.com/TWITpNtBoB
— Bruce Springsteen: Blog It All Night (@blogitallnight) April 17, 2018
When did Bruce Springsteen start playing guitar?
Bruce Springsteen started playing guitar when he was 13 years old after seeing The Beatles perform on television. He began to practice tirelessly for many months to become proficient.
Springsteen has said that he was not a very good student throughout his academic career. When he was young, he was much more interested in music.
However, he had to work hard to get his first guitar.
Springsteen spent a summer doing chores for neighbors, making around 50 cents an hour. Eventually, he saved up $18. He headed down to a guitar shop in Freehold, New Jersey.
He bought the cheapest guitar that they had. He described his first guitar as “junky”, but it set him on the path toward an exciting future in the world of music.
Only a year after he started to learn guitar, Springsteen joined a band called Castille.
The band was popular, and the taste of success Springsteen got from this group led him to remain in New Jersey to pursue music even when his family moved away.
Springsteen took some official guitar lessons when he was first learning, but they didn’t seem to stick for him. It seems he is mostly self-taught, but he did learn a bit from local guitarists in his area while growing up.
He also played his very first concert in Freehold at the Elks club.
About it, he says, “Your audience was a group of local teenagers. There were about five or six bands who played about a five- or six-song set, one after another.
That was the first time I strapped on my guitar in front of a crowd.”
Imagine a career playing guitar for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and playing Silvio Dante on “The Sopranos.” A happy 70th Birthday to Little Stevie Van Zant (born Steven Lento). pic.twitter.com/5YbYH6l6Eh
— Brad Porter (@bradkporter) November 22, 2020
Does Little Steven still play guitar for Bruce Springsteen?
Little Steven is still officially a member of Springsteen’s E Street Band. However, the last time Bruce Springsteen went on tour was in 2017. But Van Zandt did play on Springsteen’s 2020 release Letter to You.
Little Steven met Bruce Springsteen in a club in 1966.
They began playing together on and off. In the ’70s, Little Steven put his music career on hold and worked road construction for a couple of years to make more stable money.
Eventually, Little Steven began playing guitar consistently for Bruce Springsteen in The E Street Band. He even helped Springsteen write some of his songs.
In 1984, Little Steven decided to quit The E Street Band after they became successful.
He wanted to focus on his solo career, but he now says that quitting the band was one of the biggest mistakes he ever made in his life. He would have been far more financially stable if he had remained in the band and played for Springsteen.
In 1995, Little Steven rejoined The E Street Band and started playing guitar for Springsteen again.
Since then, he has been playing for Springsteen whenever he decides to tour, and he says he has no desire to leave the band again. Little Steven was hopeful to play for Springsteen again on tour in 2020.
However, the tour had to be put on hold due to the global pandemic.
— Meanwhile in Canada (@MeanwhileinCana) September 23, 2019
How many instruments does Bruce Springsteen play?
In addition to electric and acoustic guitar, Bruce Springsteen also plays piano, harmonica, mandolin, synthesizers, and organ.
While it isn’t clear when Springsteen first started playing piano, it seems he began playing it at a young age, just as he did with the guitar.
Springsteen wrote Born to Run, one of his most popular songs, almost entirely on the piano. He has also played the piano many times while performing live. He is probably most well known for playing For You on Piano.
It is a very emotional song about a woman who attempts suicide.
It is a unique song on his debut album because it progresses slowly and gives time to build. The song simply would not be as powerful as it is if it had been played on guitar.
Bruce Springsteen is also unique among rock stars in that he often plays the harmonica.
Some of his most popular songs feature the harmonica as an essential sound. Thunder Road is the very first song on Springsteen’s most popular album, Born to Run, and it opens with the harmonica.
However, his use of the harmonica is most famous on his ode to blue-collar workers: The River. Springsteen played a Hohner Marine Band harmonica.
For the most part, The E Street Band is responsible for the instrumentals on Bruce Springsteen’s albums. Steve Van Zandt, or Little Steven, plays the guitar for Springsteen.
Springsteen is known for playing a 1950s Fender Telecaster electric guitar with an Esquire neck. Springsteen bought the cheapest guitar he could find and started playing when he was thirteen years old.
Little Steven has played consistently for Springsteen, and he plans on playing for him again if there is ever another tour. Springsteen is known for playing the electric guitar, but he can also play the piano and the harmonica.
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