marc bolan music
and boley played guitar

"I don't claim to be a guitarist... But I've got flaming hands and burning fingers.

I steer the guitar like a ship and sing with my eyes closed.

When I'm bopping it feels great"


 Marc Bolan's Les Paul  Marc Bolan's Fender Strat
 Marc Bolan's Flying V 

(c) Jorgen Angel / (c) Mildwild
(c) unknown / (c) Keith Morris

"My first guitar was a Suzuki acoustic costing £14, which was all I could afford at the time. My favorite is the 1947 Gibson Les Paul."

Letter from me to Disc music paper, 13th April 1974

According to Chris Townson of John's Children, Marc's first guitar with the band was "a treally stodgy old Gibson S.G. which Simon (Napier-Bell) bought from Trevor White of the A-Jaes, and he played it incredibly loudly. His first rehearsal with us was deafening, even by our nomal standards! I think the band actually got worse when Marc first joined, because all he did was stand there and make this mussy blurge. It really was a horrible noise. It was so bad, in fact, that I used to sneak round before a gig and retune his guitar to how I thought it should sound. He could never be bothered to do it properly, he seemed to think that it didn't matter. In a way, I suppose he was right..."

[John's Children by Dave Thompson, Babylon Books 1988] 

"Some of the best guitarists in the world that I’ve played with think I’m a great guitar player… so when Eric Clapton or Steve Cropper says you’re great, that’s enough for me.

OK, so I’m arrogant. But I’m like that for a reason. You challenge me on anything rock and roll, and I’ll do it better than you can. That’s ‘cos I know you can’t do it. But the people I know that can do it better than me, well, I’d never say anything like that to them.

They feel the same as I do, they just don’t come out and say it. That’s all. Hendrix was the only cat I knew who’d come out and say it, he’d tell you ‘Man, I’m the greatest guitarist in the world. Give me someone better.' Because he wanted someone better.

I’m not flash. When I play with Eric I play rhythm guitar. I don’t want to play lead guitar with him. Recently I have been playing lead ‘cos I’ve been getting better. But like, I’m only arrogant about rock and roll. I could never play jazz guitar, wouldn’t know how to.

I loved it when I first found I could bend a string on a guitar and whee – you’re Jimi Hendrix!"

There was a time... I was writing for and co-editing the Marc Bolan Appreciation Society publication Rumblings (the MBAS later became The Bolan Society) and included in an edition the following article which had been prepared for a Guitarist magazine article on Bolan, published in 1997 which for space reasons was omitted. The author, Rikky Rooksby (also see Barracuda Blue Records The Point & The Rays) kindly offered it to Rumblings, adding some explanatory material for the non-musicians amongst its readers.


The wild witch wizard of Esher was a changeling son from Mars, he learnt his songs from the cosmic throngs and played them on a Fender guitar
[from The King of the Mountain Cometh]

On the cover of the T.Rex album (1970) there’s a great photo of Bolan holding the guitar with which he is most associated, a late 50s Gibson Les Paul. The history of this guitar is only marginally less mysterious than that of Excalibur. Originally a sunburst, legend has it that Bolan had it refinished in a unique semi-opaque orange varnish, apparently because the colour reminded him of Eddie Cochran’s Gretsh. What’s odd is that the Les Paul had a cherry body but a black neck with crown inlays, presumably from a black Les Paul Standard. This is clearly visible in live footage of Bolan playing in Boston, Lincolnshire in January 1972 and in Born To Boogie. On tour in America later in 1972 he slung the guitar across the stage in a fit of rage and the neck broke, it was replaced by a Les Paul Custom neck with rectangular pearl inlays and the famous diamond headstock pattern. The guitar was eventually stolen from a van in 1977, allegedly resprayed black and auctioned to a collector who lives in France - this is a tragic fate for what was a unique instrument and one with an honourable place in rock history. Bolan played his last gigs with a new cherry-red Les Paul. His affection for the Les Paul is recorded, of course, in Spaceball Ricochet

Marc’s other main guitar was a white Fender Strat, of which he had two, one with a teardrop enamelled sticker. Both can be seen in a photo of him tuning up backstage in the October 1997 issue of Uncut. Note that Bolan favoured rosewood necks on Strats rather than the lighter coloured maple. He owned various 70s Les Pauls, including a Deluxe and a black Custom, seen on a TOTP performance of Get It On in the summer of 1971, a Tony Zemaitis Les Paul now owned by Paul McCartney, and a Gibson Flying V bought in the late summer of 1971. I can remember that when I saw T.Rex at Croydon Fairfields Hall in October 1971 Marc introduced the Flying V to the audience as a new guitar. Other electrics included a white 3-pickup Gibson SG custom, a sunburst Telecaster (pictured on the sleeve of the Electric Warrior Sessions CD), an Ovation Breadwinner, and a metal-bodied guitar by U.S. guitar maker John Velino (this may be mentioned by Marc in Chrome Guitar). He also had Antoria Super Nashville 6, Gibson, Epiphone, Aria, Eko and Hayman acoustics. For amplification he used amps and speakers by Vampower and H/H and Fender combos for practice work. His effects included wah and fuzz-wah pedals (made by Coloursound and CryBaby), a Watkins tape echo and a Rangemaster Treble Booster, the latter can be seen on the floor of the stage in the photo of Marc on page 47 of the October 1997 issue of Mojo along with a black on / off switch for the Copycat echo unit. His strings were Picato Ultra Light Guage

Live he was fond of augmenting his sound effects by scraping a tambourine against the strings of his Strat during the extended Get It On. Watching live footage it sometimes looks as though he dispensed with a pick and played with his first finger, using the nail as a substitute pick, certainly on record some of his parts were played with his fingers

MARC’S CAPOS One pretty essential bit of kit you need if you want to play most of Marc’s early songs is a capodastra, or ‘capo’ for short. This is a metal or plastic bar strapped or fixed across the guitar neck which enables the performer to change the key of a song to suit his or her voice or to make the chord shapes easier for a particular key

The following table is based on years of personal research into the way Marc played these songs. It lists all the songs released by Marc Bolan in the years specified which either use a capo or detune by a semi-tone. The only number I haven’t checked (because I don’t have a copy of it) is Demon Queen. The key shape is the chord shape you would use with the capo in position or with the guitar detuned in order to get the true key listed. Try standard open string chord shapes to work out the rest of the song in that position. Any song not listed may be understood to be in open position and at roughly standard pitch. Some songs listed either change key or are harmonically ambiguous, hence have two keys listed

This table tells us a number of things about Marc’s music up to 1972. He had a fondness for the sound of the capoed guitar and for singing in flat or very sharp keys, which ordinarily a guitarist would avoid unless using a capo because the chord shapes would be awkward. If you look down the tables Key Chord Shape column you will notice that whatever the key, the vast proportion of the songs are played with shapes derived from the Em / G open string chords. This indicates that Marc used a handful of easy chord shapes (G, A, C, D, Em) as his main resource, adding the occasional seventh and one or two exotic variants here and there by lifting a finger off or sliding a chord back a fret. By using the capo to play them in different places on the neck, he made them sound a bit different to each other

I have not investigated his possible use of the capo after The Slider, though I know that Electric Slim uses a capo at IV to play in E major. Fiddling with capos live is something guitarists don’t like doing, the capo can put the guitar slightly out of tune and moving it usually requires a check of the tuning. In the laid-back context of a folk club this might not matter, but it’s not hard to see that in the heat and flow of a rock concert that this might be a nuisance. I believe this is one reason Marc made less use of the capo once he ‘went electric’


Tuning / Key / Capo / Key Chord Shape

std Bb III G

std Eb III C

Mustang Ford
std Bb I A

Wielder of Words
std Bb III G

Frowning Athualpa
std G VII C

std A II G

Stacey Grove
std Bb III G

Wind Quartet
std Gm III Em

std C V G

Trelawney Lawn
detune ½ F# - G

std A V E

The Friends
detune B - C

Salamanda Palaganda
std Db VI G

Our Wonderful Brownskin Man
detune ½ F# - G

Oh Harley
std B IV G

Eastern Spell
std Eb III C

Travelling Tragition
std A#m VI Em

Juniper Suction
detune ½ F# - G

Pewter Suitor
std B IV G

Chariots of Silk
detune ½ F# - G

‘Pon a Hill
detune ½ D#m - Em

The Seal of Seasons
std Bb III G

The Throat of Winter
std C/Bb III A / G

She Was Born To Be My Unicorn
detune ½ F# - G

Like A White Star…
detune ½ F# - G

Warlord of the Royal Crocodiles
std B VII E

Evenings of Damask
detune ½ F# - G

The Sea Beasts
std Gm III Em

Nijinski Hind
detune ½ F# - G

The Pilgrim’s Tale
std Bb III G

The Misty Coast of Albany
std Bb III G

Do You Remember
detune ½ F# - G

Find A Little Wood
std Bb III G

Once Upon the Seas of Abyssinia
detune ½ D#m - Em

A Daye Laye
std D II C

Woodland Bop
detune ½ D#m - Em

Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart
std B IV G

Pavilions of Sun
detune ½ F# - G

By The Light of a Magical Moon
std Bb III G

Great Horse
std D II C

Dragon’s Ear
std / detune ½ Db / Eb I / - C / E

Lofty Skies
std Eb III C

detune ½ Bb / Eb - B / E

The Visit
detune ½ D# / D#m - E / Em

The Time of Love Is Now
detune ½ B / D# - C / E

Root of Star
detune ½ D#m / F# - Em / G

One Inch Rock
std Bb III G

Summer Deep
std Bb III G

detune ½ D#m - Em

Ride A White Swan
std Ab IV E

King of the Mountain Cometh
detune ½ Eb - E

Telegram Sam
std A V E

MARC’S FORMULA - In an interview Bolan once claimed he had found a formula for hit records. He told Disc and Music Echo (November 1970), ‘I’ve suddenly tuned into that mental channel which makes a record a hit, and I feel at present as though I could write Number Ones for ever. Let’s face it, the majority of pop hits that make it are a permutation on the twelve-bar blues and I’ve found one that works.’ Although Bolan never said what it was, it is possible to deduce this permutation from his songwriting, which is built on a few basic ideas:

[For those unfamiliar with music theory: each key has 7 primary chords, numbered by roman numerals. In a major key, I IV and VI are always minor, and VII is a diminished. In pop music the VII is often flattened and turned into a major chord]

> The I-VI or IV-II change in any major key. In G this would be G to Em and C to Am. Think of Metal Guru and Hot Love. These chords often are linked with a passing note G F - E or C B A. This is the ‘three note’ motif which Mark Paytress refers to in his book

> The C-Am-F-G sequence so typical of late 50s doo-wop and early 60s teen ballads as in Runaround Sue or Teenager in Love. Bolan used this on Cat Black, Dandy In The Underworld and many others. On the Electric Warrior Sessions disc Marc can be heard jokingly introducing Monolith as ‘Duke of Earl… or Duke of Monolith

> 12-bar sequences in E and A.

> 6 bar phrases using chords I and IV. Telegram Sam’s verse pattern is A…/…./D…/A…/…./…./. Get It On goes E…/A…/E…/A…/E…/…

> The I-bIII change, E-G, as in Children of the Revolution

One of his favourite ploys was to juxtapose a 12 or 6 pattern with C-Am-F-G or a similar pop variation. This features in songs like Is It Love?, Jewel, The Motivator, Telegram Sam, Rabbit Fighter, Children of the Revolution, Solid Gold Easy Action and Teenage Dream. Teenage Dream was hyped by Bolan as something incredibly new, a re-invention of T.Rex, when in fact it was the C-Am-F-G chord sequence of Cat Black with an added E but decked out with a heavily layered arrangement. This indicated that there was little growth in the underlying structure of his music, all he did was present the same basic ideas in different arrangements. Part of my (now infamous) lack of enthusiasm for the later T.Rex is that often Marc was merely creating pastiches of whatever style he claimed he was into that year (i.e. soul!). The underlying music is the same; only the arrangements change, and often the musical ideas are not strong enough to take the weight. He lacked the music sophistication to be Marvin Gaye or Bessie Smith or Holland-Dozier-Holland. The tragedy of this is that he stopped doing the thing he was best at – i.e. writing the electric boogie songs that only Marc Bolan could write

Many of the Tyrannosaurus Rex songs do not use the pop-verse-chorus-middle eight structure, instead repeating a verse which contains the hook. Only very rarely did Bolan use key changes. The songs Dragon’s Ear from Beard Of Stars is a notable exception, with sections that contrast by key and tempo, and Sunken Rags and The Time Of Love Is Now have some interesting chord changes in them. It is not uncommon to find him contrasting E major with G major as in Children of the Revolution and Elemental Child. One of the things that makes Raw Ramp satisfying is that section 1 (There Was A Time) is in C / Em, section 2 (Raw Ramp) is in G, and section 3 (Electric Boogie) is in E. This is a nice contrast of keys

Rikky Rooksby © 1998

Marc, what guitars do you have?

"Lots, I've about ten. Five Gibsons, a Stratocaster, a Flying Arrow, four gold Gibson Les Pauls. But I love them, I mean, it's not like 'I buy guitars, kid' you know, each has an individual sound. I mean that one there, which has an amazing sound, costs £35. It's a cheap Japanese guitar, which is a copy of a Gibson guitar, which sounds just like a Gibson guitar, so I bougt that. A Gibson costs £300".

1972 int. from the book Voxpop, int. by Michael Wale

This is a link to an interesting piece about amps and pedals Bolan was using during 1970 - 1972, with some great photos too:


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If you have any information, articles, opinions etc. on Bolan's guitars or guitaring, please get in touch.

Marc playing his John Velino on this US promo video, 1972

Marc playing his Les Paul (from Born To Boogie, 1972) - for you guitarists, this just features Marc's guitar!

Video from Scoff44

Marc plays awesome guitar! 1973

So Marc, who taught you to boogie?

"There are so many to choose from - 'My Baby Left Me' by Elvis Presley was the first rock and roll record that really influenced me. I love the intro, and the guitar sound really inspired me...." "'Suzie Q' was another big one for me. That was done by Dale Hawkins, and James Burton was on there..." "'Disreali Gears' by Cream was a tremendous album. It influenced me guitar sound-wise, as did 'Are You Experienced' by Hendrix. They both had a certain feel, a definite sound. Eric (Clapton) and Jimi 'live' obviously influenced me too, as did Pete Townsend..."

NME 'Bolan - The Cats Who Taught Him To Boogie' [Tony Norman, 23.12.72]

Blues Jam found on the Master tape of the Dreamy Lady session
Marc Bolan & T.Rex - Blues Jam (Dreamy Lady Session) by marcjarscott

To honor Bolan's legacy, Gibson Custom introduces the Marc Bolan Les Paul as a Limited Edition - click on the image to visit the Gibson site and read more about this... don't forget to come back!

 Gibsons 2010 Marc Bolan remake

here's a couple of pix from my local guitar emporium of the above guitar

yes.. £5899.

here's a sweet video from spain - about unpacking the above new guitar...

some Bolan 'wing-dang-doodling' at home, credited as 'demos for Electric Warrior'
Marc Bolan - Guitar Piece #5 by marcbolan

an interesting video about Bolan's Les Paul/s

Herbie Flowers: "Marc could play just one long note throughout a solo and it was really clever. Another guy could play 700 notes in a solo and it would mean nothing"! 



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