Pete Townshend played one. Jimmy Page famously brandished one. John McLaughlin basically started his own post-Miles Davis jazz group based around one. But the double-neck guitar played by Don Felder on The Eagles “Hotel California” may be the best known to all the children of the 1970s. The white guitar went on display in 2019 for the exhibition “Play It Loud” at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which also featured such historical instruments as the humble Martin acoustic that Elvis Presley played on the Sun Sessions, to Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstein guitar. (And in a bit of DADA sculpture, the Met also displayed the remains of a drum set that Keith Moon destroyed during a live gig.)
As part of the exhibit’s promotional tour, Don Felder, long since out of the Eagles and with a lawsuit behind him, picked up the guitar for a few minutes on CBS This Morning and played both the intro acoustic picking part and the famous solo from “Hotel California.’ Even though he isn’t mic’d up, you can still hear him singing along. He gives a cheekily satisfied laugh at the end.
“Hotel California”, the music at least, is all Don Felder. It began life as one of many demos and sketches he’d record while living in a Malibu rental and looking after his one-year-old daughter. This one was given the shorthand title “Mexican Reggae” as it combined a little bit of each. Don Henley and Glenn Frey spotted its potential immediately, and wrote some of their best lyrics, both very specific (“Her mind is Tiffany twisted” is about Henley’s jewelry designer ex-girlfriend) and universal—-California, the state of mind, the fame machine, is the Isle of the Lotus Eaters, seductive and destructive.
The demo and the studio recording did not use the Gibson EDS-1275, but Felder purchased the guitar to use on tour.
“When I got to the soundstage to rehearse how we were going to go out and play the ‘Hotel California’ tour, I said, ‘How am I going to play all these guitars with different sounds?’ So I sent a guitar tech out to a music store and said, ‘Just buy a double neck with a 12-string and a six-string on it, I’ll see if I can make it work. So he brought it back, he brought back this white guitar, and I said, ‘Why did you get a white one? Why didn’t you get a black one or a red one? Why so girly looking?’. He said, ‘That’s all they had.’ So I took a drill, drilled a hole at the top of it, wired it, so it was really two separate guitars,”
“Girly” or not—-sigh, Mr. Felder, sighhh—-that guitar still sounds pretty damn good.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.