“Give me five minutes and I’ll make them all sound the same,” Keith Richards jokingly says, pertaining to his own 3000 guitar collection. There is an obvious yet hidden uniqueness about the guitar on Gimme Shelter that makes it different from the rest.
Gimme Shelter contains one of The Rolling Stones’ best-known riffs, coming from one of their most well-known and critically acclaimed albums. And with such recognition in the music industry, it has also one of the most captivating and interesting backstories in their entire music catalogue.
And what was Keith Richards using on it? Is it a Fender Telecaster? Or a Les Paul Standard? Or maybe, a sunburst Gibson ES-330TD? No, Richards was playing on a Maton EG240 Supreme.
A happy accident. The back story about the Australian Maton guitar and Keith Richards is a story of a happy accident. It ended up on his hand through accident that turns out more to be a blessing in coincidence. Keith forgets the exact name of the person who owned the instrument, the Maton guitar, but remembers how he got it. As Keith Richards remembers, the owner of the Australian Maton guitar was staying at his London flat for a while. Keith narrates and recalls the incident in his 2002 interview with Guitar World, “He crashed out for a couple of days and suddenly left in a hurry, leaving that guitar behind.” He remembers the owner words as they leave, “You know, ‘Take care of it for me.’ I certainly did.”
“It had been all revarnished and painted out, but it sounded great,” he explains. “It made a great record. And on the very last note of Gimme Shelter the whole neck fell off. You can hear it on the original take.” In the run of four albums the Stones made between 1968 and 1972—Beggars Banquet (1968), Let It Bleed (1969), Sticky Fingers (1971) and Exile On Main St (1972)—, it was considered the highest peak of their career.
Keith Richards reflects on the song in Life, his 2010 memoir, narrating the backstory, “I wrote Gimme Shelter on a stormy day, sitting in Robert Fraser’s apartment in Mount Street (in London’s exclusive Mayfair). Anita was shooting Performance at the time, not far away.
“It was just a terrible fucking day and it was storming out there. I was sitting there in Mount Street and there was this incredible storm over London, so I got into that mode, just looking out of Robert’s window and looking at all these people with their umbrellas being blown out of their grasp and running like hell. And the idea came to me. My thought was storms on other people’s minds, not mine. It just happened to hit the moment.”