It’s no secret that Jimmy Page has long had a thing about dragons.
He was well known for wearing flashy black and white dragon suits and the ZOSO symbol he used to represent himself on Led Zeppelin Four comes straight from the 1972 occult text Grimoires et Rituels Magiques by Francois Ribadeau Dumas and, in specific, a chapter titled, “Dragon Rouge – The Secrets of the Scientist Artephius." But perhaps the most interesting tale about Page slaying a dragon is the one about his "Dragon Telecaster,"
In its most recognizable form, the Dragon was a 1959 Telecaster with a stripped Ash body that Page partially painted over with darts and curls of green, orange, yellow, blue and red in a pattern that formed something of a swirling, psychedelic dragon done in a vaguely Japanese style. The beast’s flaming red horns and green head rest inside the blunt upper horn, green scales run down its neck as it breaks into a colorful abstraction that could include a cracked egg near the control panel and a tail that snakes into the upper bout from the lower.
But there’s more to the Dragon Telecaster than a splashy paint job. It was first owned by Jeff Beck’s school friend and Deltones bandmate John Owen, who bought it for 107 British pounds in 1961. The precise date of the Tele’s birth is not known, but the guitar was originally painted blonde and featured a maple neck, a slab rosewood fingerboard and a top loader bridge, which was common for Telecasters produced in 1959 and 1960. Also, Fender introduced the slab rosewood fingerboard to the Tele in mid-1959 after bowing them on Jazzmaster models the previous year.
Since Beck was the lead guitarist of the Deltones and was playing a Burns “Tri-Sonic” that he felt was harder to control during solos, he convinced Owen to trade instruments with him, which worked. Briefly. “For a while Owens agreed to swap, though when confronted with the difficulties of controlling the Burns’ seemingly endless knob configurations each night, [he] soon asked for his Telecaster to be returned,” wrote Martin Power in Hot Wired Guitar: The Life of Jeff Beck.
It’s unclear how Beck eventually regained possession of the instrument following the dissolution of the Deltones, but he used the Tele as a backup to his go-to 1954 swamp ash Fender Esquire during his stint with the Yardbirds in 1965 and 1966. “The original white Bakelite pickguard and switch tip of the Telecaster crumbled off and Beck had it replaced with a homemade black pickguard,” wrote Jeff Strawman in Led Zeppelin Gear: All the Gear From Led Zeppelin.
In 1966, Beck gave the guitar to Page as a gift for helping him throughout his early career. In addition to recommending Beck for studio sessions and mentioning him to several London producers, Page endorsed Beck to fill the slot in the Yardbirds that opened up when Eric Clapton left the band. Originally, Clapton had recommended Page for the position, but at the time he was working as a successful session musician.