The story of Justin Hayward’s career can be told in guitars, from his iconic Gibson 335s to Telecasters to the weird and wonderful Gizmotron. Interview by Steve Bailey
Whenever you see Justin Hayward, be it on stage with pop prog trailblazers the Moody Blues or out pursuing his expansive solo projects, you can be sure his trusty red 1963 ES-335 is never far away. It’s been on every record he’s made since 1968, and his latest solo record, Spirits Of The Western Sky, is no exception.
But the guitar wasn’t his first 335. While others were still struggling with Hofners, Futuramas and any manner of budget Euro six-strings, at just 15 Justin – incredibly – was already earning enough from his prodigious guitar skills to finance the purchase of a 100 per cent genuine Gibson.
‘This would have been 1962,’ Justin recalls. ‘I was still at school in Swindon, but I was in a couple of bands. We were getting a decent amount of gigs, enough to come up to London on the train, go to Maurice Placquet’s shop and buy a decent guitar and an AC30 each. I knew that I wanted the 335.
I even rang ahead to check they had one. I think it was new, a ’62. It was red and had the standard stop tailpiece. There was the whole Chuck Berry connection, but it was all down to Joe Brown, really. His 335 was the one that I knew and kind of adored.’
A couple of years later, with his 335 in his hand, Justin headed back up to London after answering an advert for a guitarist in Melody Maker. It turned out to be for teen fave Marty Wilde’s band, and Hayward landed the job.
He toured extensively with Wilde, befriending his hero Joe Brown who was often found on the same bill; you can hear Justin’s playing on two Wilde singles, Just As Long and I Cried. Marty encouraged his young sideman to start writing his own songs and Justin’s talent was spotted by Lonnie Donegan, who signed him up to his publishing company. Several singles were released, but alas, success wasn’t immediately forthcoming.
‘When I left Marty I was really on hard times and I sold the 335,’ Justin sighs. ‘I loved it but I couldn’t afford the payments… it was as simple as that. I think it cost about £160. You’d put down £20 or something and then it was a hire purchase kind of arrangement – you were paying for ever.’
At this time West Coast-style US folk was seeping into the UK rock scene and Hayward was to be found around the clubs strumming a 12-string acoustic that was a gift from Donegan. ‘It was in his attic and it was a wreck, and he said “Oh, you can have that.” I restored the whole thing and I played it from about 1964.’
The guitar’s pedigree is something of a mystery. Justin believes it was handmade in Liverpool but the inside label has long since gone and its progeny is obscure.
‘It’s got a sort of D-shaped soundhole and I always thought it was like a Zemaitis or something,’ he says (any reader info on pre-’60s Merseyside luthiers would be much appreciated). ‘One day, I think in 1967, Lonnie decided he wanted it back. When he knew I was out he sent his guitar player around to see my girlfriend to say “Can I borrow that 12-string?” I bought it back from Lonnie’s widow about five years ago. It wasn’t in particularly good shape so I’ve had to renovate it all over again.’
In 1966 a demo of some of Justin’s songs found its way to Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues, who had just lost singer/guitarist Denny Laine. Pinder picked up the phone – and the rest is rock history.
‘When Mike called I went and got the best guitar that I could find and that I could afford in Swindon, and that was my Telecaster [bought at Kempsters on Commercial Road]. It was new to me but it was probably about a year old by then, so it would most likely be a ’65. I’ve still got it and it’s a fabulous guitar. It’s sunburst with a maple fingerboard – that was the guitar that I played on Days Of Future Passed and In Search Of A Lost Chord.’
The Moody Blues had previously been playing mostly blues-based covers but the band quickly embraced Justin’s psychedelic folk leanings and recorded Days Of Future Passed, which spawned the Hayward-penned monster hit Nights In White Satin.
These poetic, proggy musings were a little before their time – it was not until a staggering five years later that the album peaked at #3 in the US – but it did well enough upon its release to cement Hayward’s position.
Now, with a regular income, it was clearly time for the young guitarist to to reignite his love affair with the 335. He first set eyes on his now famed 335 when he hired it in from Selmer’s in London in 1967 during the tail-end of the sessions for the In Search Of A Lost Chord album. ‘I was still craving a 335 and I just fell in love with it.
I didn’t want to give it back. Well, they insisted as they were earning a fortune out of it as a rental guitar, and they sent a big heavy round to Decca studio No.1 to claim it. I went to the shop two or three times begging them to let me buy it! In the end I came to a deal with them. They said “Listen, if you want it you’re gonna have to pay the new price,” so I paid £168.’
During recording sessions for the 1970 album A Question Of Balance, some mesmerising jangle was needed. With Lonnie’s 12-string still AWOL a new guitar was required, especially for what would become the chart-topping single Question. ‘That was a Gibson 12-string acoustic that I bought real cheap in Selmer’s again,’ Justin explains. ‘Towards the end of the ’60s they were going out of fashion a little bit as things got more and more electric, and electric 12-strings were really coming along.
The song was really popular but you couldn’t play an acoustic guitar on stage back then, not with the great big Ludwig drum kit that Graham had! PA’s that could handle that didn’t really come along until the 1990s. So I resurrected the Telecaster. I put whacking great big strings on it and put it in an open C tuning [the tuning on the record]. It had a .o60" for the bottom string! It was really being pulled but it did the job, and I used it like that right up until the late ’80s.’
Justin did for a while own the holy grail of 335 lovers – a mint blond late ’50s model – but it could never oust his ’63 and in the end the pangs of guilt that plagued his conscience about such a beautiful guitar never being played forced him to move it on.
His ’63 still turns up at every gig, although these days if conditions are too harsh at an outdoor show, a 1992 sunburst reissue stands in. It’s quite possible that a signature model 335 could emerge at some point too.
‘Gibson want to take my guitar and analyse it inside and out and then reconstruct another one from that. They have this kind of MRI scanner for guitars! They took me to the Custom Shop where they make the guitars look old. There’s only two guys but they’ve got all sorts of tools for bashing and scraping guitars, odd kind of bits of wire and stuff… quite disturbing, but I love the way they look.’
In the ’70s Gibson invited Justin to design his ultimate guitar, but the project wasn’t a huge success. ‘I came up with a sort of solid version of the 335. When they proudly delivered it to me it weighed a ton… it was ridiculous. Not one of my better ideas! I perhaps should have gone and worked with them at the factory instead of doing it on the back of a fag packet. Unfortunately it was broken in transit a couple of years ago, but I’ve still got it and I’m not going to part with it.’
Around the same time Gibson also crafted a one-off custom blue ES-335 for Justin and presented it to him on stage as a surprise. ‘They had heard the Blue Guitar single and the Moody Blues’ artist Phil Travis had done this painting of a blue 335 for the sleeve. It was a fantastic gesture and it’s a very decent guitar – exactly as you would expect a late ’70s 335 to be. I used it as a spare for a while because I couldn’t think what on earth to do with it.
I always just reach for my “real” 335, you see. The blue one just doesn’t have anything that that one doesn’t have. The only guitar that I found that does have something extra is my Tom Anderson, a stunning recording guitar. If you’d had it in the 1960s you’d have been king… it almost doesn’t matter what you put it through, it always has this sweet ring to it.’
The Tom Anderson shares main duties on Justin’s new album with his 335. Custom built, it’s T-shaped but has three pickups. ‘Tom really liked my 335. Some guys came and measured it and they made the neck of the Anderson exactly like the 335’s. It’s the right width, thickness, spacing… it feels identical.’
Nothing, however, could replace the ’63 335. It’s been a 46-year love affair that’s never faltered. ‘It’s on every Moodies record since 1967 and every solo record,’ Justin marvels. ‘I often look at that guitar when it’s on its stand on stage and think, that’s a sonic masterpiece… perfection!
‘Guitars are works of art and that’s why we want to own them. It’s a tough guitar. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t go on forever… that 335 will outlive us all.’