Guitar Heroes

Albert King

Posted: 25 October 2022

A fundamental pioneer of blues music, we explore the deep dramatic sound of Albert King, the American blues guitarist who made a name for himself in the early sixties.

Read time: 4 mins


Born in 1923 as Albert Nelson, Albert was raised surrounded by blues music having been born on a cotton plantation in Mississippi. In his youth he sang in his family’s gospel group where his father played the guitar. It’s said that this inspired him to make his first guitar out of a cigar box and broom wire.

In 1953, Albert moved north to Gary in Indiana. This was where he briefly played drums in Jimmy Reed’s band but more notably also recorded his first single “Bad Luck Blues”.

A few years later, Albert moved to Brooklyn, Illinois and formed a new band. It was in this period that Albert King started to become very popular in the nightclub scene and was soon discovered and signed to Little Milton’s Bobbins label. Being a part of Little Milton Bobbins’ label caught the eye of another record label which went on to release the record “Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong” in November 1961 - this song was included in his first album “The Big Blues” in 1962.

Albert King later moved to Memphis and signed to label Stax Records where he produced many songs, such as “Crosscut Saw” and “As the Years Go Passing By”. In 1967 while still at Stax, King released an album labelled “Born Under a Bad Sign”. The title track of the album became Albert King’s best-known song and has been covered by many, including Cream and Jimi Hendrix.

gear used

Albert exclusively played Gibson Flying V’s and had 3 different guitars within his career: a 1959 Gibson V, a bespoke made Gibson V and a mid-1960s V type. In a 1982 interview Albert said that he chose the V for its feel and playability rather than its tone, using a V type also added to his onstage look with its unique design.

Albert has been officially credited to have used 3 different amps within his career: a Roland JC – 120, Model 260 Acoustic Head and a 1969 Fender Dual Showman. As well as amps and guitars, Albert also relied on other equipment to help him create his sound and has been known to use an MXR Phase 90 pedal, this contributed massively towards creating his iconic Albert King tone that can be heard through his singles and albums.

playing style

Albert King had a very distinctive tone that can be instantly recognised within his playing. Albert King was left-handed but mainly played right-handed and learned to play the guitar upside down. This meant that he was able to bend the strings down rather than up, which helped to create his distinctive tone and signature bends.

The only exception to this is when Albert King was given his bespoke Gibson V guitar, which was built as a left-handed guitar. Despite this, Albert swapped the strings so that they were the wrong way as this was what he was used to, by doing this also allowed him to continue to have that unique tone in his playing.