108 rock star guitars book cover with red color and gold embossing
108 Rock Star Guitars

Photographed with precision and extreme passion Lisa's work gives us the opportunity to view the battle wounds that come from life on the road and hours of practicing.

17 years in the making and close to 400 pages, this beautifully crafted book includes a forward by guitar legend Les Paul, Lisa's stories behind obtaining her photographs and many extras. Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Ace Frehley, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, Slash, Bruce Springsteen, Brian May are just a few of the iconic players featured.

We met Lisa 4 years ago at a photography conference in Palm Springs. She showed some of her prints of guitar imgages and we immediately knew she had something special. We're thrilled that it became an amazing, respected and award winning fine art book. We want to thank the wonderful Lisa Johnson for taking time between her travels to answer some questions for RockWest.

rockwest exclusive interview

Lisa Johnson holding camera she uses to photograph famous guitars

RW – The book itself is beautifully crafted – Please describe the thought process when designing it and details of the book.

LJ – Well for me music is often a cosmic out of body experience so I wanted the books design to also have that cosmic feel at first glance, that also had a feeling of solid Rock! It certainly has the weight of a rock coming in at 9lbs so it is a very substantial book embossed with red leatherette with a few layers of gold and red foil to highlight the design inlays of guitar head stocks, the book title and a lotus flower. I am a practitioner and teacher of yoga and yoga philosophy so the cosmic number 108 was used in the title to lend an opportunity for me to input a spiritual message and to make it more meaningful than the usual 100 or 101 greatest.

Two versions of the book were released last Fall. The regular edition and a Deluxe edition. The Deluxe has the same book enclosed in a special hard case collectors box, is signed and numbered as editions 1-540 and also includes a very special limited edition hand made 100% silk chiffon scarf that has the book cover art printed on it. Both Deluxe and Regular edition's also come with a special 16 page booklet in the back called "The Inspiration Behind 108 Rock Star Guitars" and a collectors limited edition guitar pick. So both book editions are super luxe and gorgeous. The printing was a 8 layer process with a special varnish topcoat on each image that makes the guitars jump right off the page, plus there are 10 vellum pages with special quotes on them from the artists. The final touch is gold gilding on the paper edges. The book was recently awarded the Silver Graphis Award.

RW – This has been a 17 year journey and started with you photographing one of Les Paul's guitars - At what point did you get the idea to make a book?

LJ – I had been working for Eastman Kodak as a Technical Sales Rep in Memphis, TN at the time. I started photographing guitars in trade for a vintage mandolin I wanted to buy for my Dad. I fell in love with photographing guitars and would take my friends guitars home and photograph them just to study the idea. Soon after Kodak transferred me to New York City. I knew I wanted to keep photographing guitars and figured I may as well photograph famous ones if I was going to be in NY. So I made my way down to the Iridium Room to see if I could meet Les Paul and photograph his guitar. He got the idea right away and said yes! From that point on I felt that I really had a good idea and that I would make a book project out of it. That was in 1997 about a year after I photographed my first guitar for that mandolin that my Dad still plays today.

RW – Tough question and we're sure you don't want to pick favorites but is there a stand out moment that made you think "I can't believe I'm shooting this guitar!"

LJ – Yes! Jimmy Page's 1968 EDS 1275 Gibson SG Doubleneck. The guitar tech would not even let me touch it. Any time I needed it moved to another angle he would lovingly come over and turn it around for me. The whole time I was smiling inside and out knowing I was breathing in fumes off that guitar's historical energy. After the shoot the tech let me put the strap on and hold it. It was still smokin' after it's last run of Stairway to Heaven!!

Jimmy Page's classic Gibson SG double-neck guitar

RW – Which shoots were the hardest to gain access?

LJ – It took me a lot of rounds of requests to get a yes for Jeff Beck and also for Billy Gibbons. I started asking early in the game and I did get a lot of rejections. As the years rolled by and my list of guitars photographed got longer and more prestigious the yes's came more easily. It's a process and truthfully just keeping the faith and tenacity and drive that I was compelled to do this kept me asking again and again each time that band would come through Las Vegas or LA again.

Jeff Beck's classic white fender stratocaster
Billy Gibbons white fur guitar

RW – Working in some of the worlds most famous venues must be exciting - Please describe the most unique location.

LJ –The most unique location would have to be photographing Roger Water's bass Directly Underneath The Wall just after sound check and just prior to the show, in Athen's, Greece inside one of the Olympic Village venues. I had actually staffed the Greek Olympics with Eastman Kodak so it was truly special that I was back there to do a shoot and with one of the best best bass players of all time, Roger Waters. Pink Floyd is one of my all time favorite bands so I was in Pig Heaven!

roger waters black bass guitar

RW – Is there a guitar that wins the "Most Worn" award?

LJ – Yea. There are a few actually but I will mention Trevor Bolder's bass is in the book, photographed just a year before he passed. It was so sad to lose him and I feel so blessed that the day I was photographing Mick Box's guitar (Uriah Heep) that he said to me, "you know, you really should photograph Trevor's bass as he is touring with us", I was thrilled at the opportunity and the next thing I know Trevor is standing at the edge of the stage handing down to me his 1971 Fender Precision Bass that has the blood, sweat, tears and super deep etched grooves all over it from years of playing with Bowie and Uriah Heep. His soul is all over that bass and it was sheer luck and honor to have photographed it. Of course that is a bass, as for a well worn guitar, that award would have to go to Ted Nugent. First of all he burns his name into the backs of all his guitars so no mofo can steal it! Second his guitars are all vintage so when you see them they are all cracked and weathered from years and years of road wear and tear, there are dents that look like they nearly cracked open the guitar, and you still see him playing these machines and they keep sounding better and better with age. They are all 1950's and early '60's Gibson Byrdland guitars that were all early shoots in the project and I used Kodak Color Infrared film on them and got super cool affects. These are some of my favorite img in the book.

trevor bolder bass guitar

RW – We know the first - what was the last guitar photographed?

LJ – Bruce Springsteen's was the last guitar photographed for the book. It was September 5th, 2012 and I was really close to the edge of not being able to include it and was super pleased when it made the deadline. I had already photographed Nils Lofgren's guitar who has supported him for so many years in The E-Street Band and I really wanted to have Bruce's guitar next to Nil's in the book. Lucky for me, Bruce's 1953 Fender Esquire Telecaster was on display at the Constitution Hall in Philadelphia and the show was about to come down so they agreed to let me photograph his guitar the day the closed the museum for the exhibit change over. This Fender has been seen on the cover of so many magazines and his own album covers it was just perfect to have access to it and take in a close breath of The Boss and his main axe.

Bruce Springstein Fender Esquire Telecaster

RW – Please describe your friendship with Les Paul.

LJ – Les Paul wrote the forward to the book just prior t his passing. He gave me my first chance and supported me all along the way. I wish he could have seen the book, but it's an homage to him now and my appreciation for what he did for the world. Electrifying the guitar and taught us how to multi-track record. His brilliance changed our world of music, his contributions were significantly great, so it is my humble honor to support his vision to help provide grants for Children in Music Education and for the Hearing Impared. 10% of all book proceeds will benefit The Les Paul Foundation.

Lisa Johnson with Les Paul

RW – We understand a softcover edition will be released soon?

LJ – Yes! Hal Leonard saw the hardcover edition of the book and loved it so much they wanted to release a Softcover version of the book that would fit with their readership of musicians. The softcover edition is absolutely gorgeous and has the same number of pages and img. They kept the tip varnish on all the img so they blacks are rich and the guitars jump off the pages again! The size is smaller and a bit lighter. This one does not have the 16 page booklet or the guitar pick... but still has a ton of Mojo and great guitar stories to read for half the price.

RW – Is there a new book in the works and what will it be called?

LJ – I continue to photograph guitars. A few recent shoots include John Mayall, Joe Perry, John 5, Merle Haggard, Chris Squire, Steve Howe, and Dick Wagner who played for years with Alice Cooper and who sadly just passed away, among many more already shot for another volume. I'm not sure yet what it will be called. I may decide to mix genres, will just have to see how it shapes up over the next year or so.

RW – Are there some guitars that come to mind that you really wanted to photograph for the first book but didn't and will they be featured in the new?

LJ – Oh yes. Many I have requested and either got a no or no response at all. I will keep trying and hope to get them for future books. I still need Angus Young, Mark Knopfler, The Edge, Hendrix, Duane Allman, Dimebag Darrell, Randy Rhoads, Pete Townshend, David Gilmour, and MORE. I have a list of about 150 more guitarists I want to get.

© 2014-2020 ROCKWEST