RF’s first good guitar was a sunburst Gibson ES-345 with gold hardware and a Bigsby B7 which can be seen in some of the oldest photos of RF as a semi-professional player. He still has it! It is pictured and discussed in further detail here.
King Crimson, 1969-1974
In the beginning of his professional career, RF played black three-pickup Gibson Les Paul Custom electric guitars. The main workhorse and an iconic RF guitar was a 1959 guitar with the pickups covers taken off and one of the neck pickup bobbins being white. This guitar was bought in late 1968 and was used for all 70’s Crimson albums and can be seen in photos up until the 80’s Crimson. It is currently in storage at Adrian Belew’s studio.
The spare for the above is another from 1959 with white pickups rings, reportedly once owned by Steve Marriott. At one point one “newer model”, probably made after Gibson started selling Les Pauls again in the late 1960’s, was used as a spare in KC. It was replaced by the Steve Marriott Les Paul – for RF’s own words, see this diary entry, and this. This guitar is currently for sale.
Ben Crowe of Crimson Guitars has serviced these guitars, which prompted several diary entries by RF.
Later 1970s/New York
In all likelihood, the same Les Paul Customs from the King Crimson days were used during this period (in interviews and explanations of Frippertronics, RF specifically refers to his guitar as a Les Paul) with the 1959 being the primary instrument. Reviews of and eyewitness accounts from Frippertronics performances posted to Elephant Talk also refer to a black Les Paul or Les Paul Custom – and of course, there’s this League of Gentlemen photo set. The LPC also makes an appearance in a low-quality photo of RF, Eno and Bowie (with “Les Modernes” inexplicably written all over it) in this interview, a bit down on the page.
For sale is a Les Paul Custom (black) from 1957 that is stated to have been used for Exposure and US touring from mid-1978 and which has an additional volume control on the pick guard controlling the middle pickup. On this guitar the pickup covers are still in place but the tuners have been replaced with Grovers.
King Crimson, 1981-1984
For the first time the Gibsons were put on the shelf, and for this band RF used a black Roland G-303 “synth controller” – an all mahogany guitar manufactured by the famous Fujigen Gakki. The G-303 and its spiffier big brother the G-808 are very similar to several Greco and Ibanez guitar models (also built by Fujigen). It is fairly similar in appearance to the Les Paul model with the same basics (two humbuckers, volume and tone controls and a pickup selector on the upper horn but with an internal fuzz circuit). The differences lie in the slightly slimmer body with altered upper and lower horns that give this guitar a very distinct appearance somewhere between an SG and a Les Paul, and the fact that it has a hexaphonic synth pickup mounted between the bridge and the bridge pickup. Hexaphonic here meaning one small pickup for every string.
The electronics for the synth part of the guitar are mounted internally with the controls placed behind the tone/volume controls. In 1984, it had been mounted with a Kahler double locking whammy bar. This guitar can be seen in full action on the Neal And Jack And Me DVD and on photographs from the period.
For an amazing amount of information on Roland’s first ventures in guitar synthesis I highly recommend the Vintage Roland Guitar Synthesiser Resource website.
It seems that Tokai Les Paul copies were used, and specifically one customised by Red Lees in England with coil tap and phase switch as well as a Kahler whammy and a hexaphonic MIDI pickup (see this 1986 Guitar Player interview). This guitar is still used for practising as well as occasional touring and studio work. The colour of the day was still black, but the styling indicates it is a Standard model rather than Custom – construction-wise, the main difference would be a mahogany body with a maple top instead of an all mahogany body.
At the bottom of this diary page further information is provided, along with a photo:
Gear-nerd info: this is the Tokai Les Paul given to me c. 1986, modified by Ted Lees & used with Sunday All Over The World, Sylvian Fripp and The RFSQ; replaced as primary instrument by the Fernandes custom LP copies.
There is a similar paragraph to be found in this entry, except the year given is 1984 and the guitar was a gift from the UK importer.
A spare exists for this guitar – probably a Les Paul Custom clone, but of a white/cream/blonde colour. It is mentioned in a gig review from way back in 1993 on Elephant Talk (here) and I have seen a polaroid collage with the guitar on a stand made by David Sylvian. Links will arrive when I can find them.
In the early nineties with the Robert Fripp String Quintet and Sylvian/Fripp, the black Tokai was still in use. After this a couple of new guitars were purchased, and for the first time ever they were not black!
The two guitars most associated with soundscaping are the custom built Fernandes guitars. Again they are Les Paul clones, one goldtop and one red sparkle finish. For pictures of the goldtop, see almost any diary entry from the 2004 G3 tour where it was a frequent object of photography, often arranged together with some fruit. It is also frequently used for session work, such as the Microsoft Vista session and many others. The red sparkle guitar is more rarely seen, but Elephant Talk has a soundscape review here with a photo. These two guitars are built to the regular Les Paul shape which indicates that they are originally made only for the Japanese market (internationally, Fernandes sells the Monterey which has a modified Les Paul body shape).
The guitars most seen with King Crimson are two 48th Street Guitars: flamed maple topp Les Paul clones with Kahler whammy, Roland GK2 hexaphonic pickup with internal circuitry and a subtle sunburst paintjob. These appear to be RF’s main King Crimson guitars as they have appeared on all KC pictures with instruments and in the DVDs filmed since (deja VROOM and Eyes Wide Open). This diary entry has a couple of close-ups of one of the 48th Street guitars and also date them to 1992. It also contains a discussion on GK pickup placement/installation.
48th Street Guitars was a shop in New York that among other things served as an ESP custom shop builder, but they also did custom work under their own name.
The same guitars were used as in the late 90s – the 48th Street and Fernandes guitars. For some of the soundscaping gigs in England in autumn 2005, the black Tokai was used.
On the 10th of December 2004, in this diary entry, RF mentions having placed an order for one acoustic and two electric guitars from Eduardo Daniel Beaudoux, El Fanta, in Argentina. The electric guitars arrived in 2007 and 2008; one wine red and one black, based on the basic Les Paul concept. For a change, they have 24 fret necks and Sustainiac sustainers rather than the Fernandes version. RF has commented on these guitars:
[it] is made specifically for the NST & it is the best balanced of all my electrics. Slightly heavier to play, rather like a Strat than a Les Paul, I am developing a relationship with it. A superb instrument. (link)
For myself, the Beaudoux electric became my main performance guitar. Its areas of response are, obviously, not the same as the 48th. St. guitar – an individual guitar has its own characteristics – so I am learning on the job, and dealing with surprises. The Beaudoux is slightly harder to play than the 48th. St. but the electric sound is hotter. Actually, the hottest electric I currently use. As with any instrument made individually, it requires of its player that they invest time in developing a relationship & learning its idiosyncrasies. (link)
The black Beaudoux was used for touring with the League of Craft Guitarists in North and South America in 2007. The wine red guitar appeared to be present during both soundchecks and pre-show warmup during the 2008 Celebration Tour – see the short video clips from the tour on blip.tv (
Episode XIII [clip taken down] shows it clearly) – but on all of the performance photographs by Tony Levin and Biff the Engineer RF plays the 48th St guitar. I am curious. Were the Beadouxes not yet ready for KC-level performance?
The photos on this page shows the red guitar to be more red than wine so to speak, and also contains a discussion on midi pickup installations. Note that the Beaudoux guitars have different model Kahler bridges: the black one has the flat mount version and the red one has the stud mount version.
In 2006 there were other new developments on the guitar front: Crimson Guitars now offer two Robert Fripp Custom models, developed by RF and Ben Crowe, availiable to anyone; they have all of RF’s regular features (Roland MIDI pickup, Kahler double locking whammy, Fernandes Sustainer) and CG’s various comfort carvings on the body. The first “slimline” model was launched at the 2006 London Guitar Show and later came a “hollow” model with tone chambers inside. There are several different pages on the CG website that discuss the guitars and a series of pictures showing the first two prototypes being built. There is currently (early 2012) a completely hollow, all rosewood version in clear laquer being produced for RF.
This diary entry discusses RF’s use of Les Paul model guitars. Here are a few comments on the work Ben Crowe has done on a few of RF’s guitars, including a later model Gibson Les Paul Custom (black obviously) gifted from David Sylvian.
In July 2013 RF bought a new Vox guitar, either a Series 55 or a 33 in black. He writes, “This is the first instrument I have strung in the OST for 28 years“. The guitar can be seen briefly here in a workshop video from Crimson Guitars, being converted to RF functional standards. It seems to be used mainly for practising at home.
In early November 2013 RF visited Crimson Guitars in their new facility to have a few of his guitars set up, giving us some wonderfully clear photos via CG’s Twitter and Facebook updates:
Robert Fripp signature model #001; Black Tokai which is a special guitar (check out the headstock inlay! – and the Guitar Craft plectrum); Ben Crowe setting up the Tokai, note the hidden recessed i/o jacks; the hollow rosewood guitar; a Burny gifted by Jakko Jakczyk and then customised to RF spec by Ben. And lastly, amazingly, the next Robert Fripp signature guitar model will not be a Les Paul!
The visit was documented in RF’s diary here.
From TLev’s photos from the June rehearsals the primary guitar at this point appears to be the Fernandes Goldtop.
All photos from the performances by Sid Smith on DGM and TLev show RF playing a 48th Street Les Paul. It seems reasonably safe to assume that these are his North American guitars. On later legs of the tour he is back to playing the Fernandes Goldtop.
On 11 September 2016 we get something as rare as a New Guitar Day for RF! In the newsitem on DGMLive a quote is provided: “Robert is a happy boy! Ken Suguira of Fernandes Guitars in Japan has sent a new model of their customised goldtop. Included new hot Sustainer system.” The two photos are not high definition or taken from very close, but the guitar looks very similar to the old one.
Reverb has a June 2017 rundown of most of the Crim’s equipment in this article and while there is no major news about RF’s gear, it’s clear that the bridge pickup on the old Fernandes goldtop is a Seymour Duncan