The Dragon Telecaster of Jimmy Page’s Past

Last week, Fender exploded the internet when they leaked a trailer video promising a Jimmy Page Signature Telecaster in 2019. Wait, wasn’t Page a Les Paul player through-and-through? Not exactly. To understand his future with Fender, we’ll need to look deep in the pre-Zeppelin, even, pre-Page past of this vintage Telecaster.

Before this fabled Telecaster found its way into the hands of the young Page, it belonged to Jeff Beck’s buddy and bandmate, John Owen. Owen and Beck played in a band called the Deltones—not to be confused with one of my modern rock faves, the Deftones. The design of the guitar was arguably basic but included features that would make this model a workhorse of the Fender catalogue for decades to come. It had a blonde paintjob, a maple neck topped with a slab rosewood board, and a top-loader bridge. While the exact date of the guitar is technically unknown, this configuration and design features suggest it was a model produced in 1959-1960.

As the Deltones developed and then disbanded, the guitar became Beck’s and hung about in his backline of gear until the mid-1960s into his days with the Yardbirds. After his stint with the Yardbirds, Beck decided to give the Telecaster to Page out of gratitude for his experience and support. Tele, meet Page. The intersection of two icons.

In the early years of ownership, Page’s Telecaster underwent some serious cosmetic evolution. By 1967, the Tele turned up with eight flashy mirrors on its body to capture and disseminate light while on stage. In this same year, Page stripped its body bare and painted it with a design that came to define its style and image. Creeping up the tail of the guitar and lurking around the pickguard was vibrant and multi-colored dragon. Ever since, the guitar’s been known as the “Dragon Tele.”

By 1969, the Dragon Tele began to experience some technical hiccups, but not enough to keep it from roaring in the recorded solo of “Stairway to Heaven” (1970). As Led Zeppelin went on tour in America, Page left the guitar behind in favor of a road ready 1959 Gibson Les Paul. Upon his return, however, the guitar received an unexpected and unwanted makeover that ultimately rendered it a relic. Apparently, a friend of Page’s refinished the guitar with a paintjob of his own in hopes of offering it as a surprise gift. It turns out, it was a surprise. Not only was Page displeased at the uninvited artistic intervention of one of his go-to guitars, the electronics were nearly completely ruined in the rebuild.

The Dragon Tele, now in disrepair, remains in Page’s personal collection of gear yet didn’t factor into his writing or performing with Led Zeppelin. With the news of Fenders re-release of both Custom Shop and production line models in 2019, hopefully this dragon will awake from its smoldering slumber and spark the creativity of a new generation of players.

Curious to know more? So am I. For now, we’ll have to count the days until the New Year with only hints of Page’s words in the latest Fender video.

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