Lister's Guitar was a musical instrument owned by David Lister and one of his most prized possessions. The truth was that Lister was an awful guitarist, and his crewmates aboard Red Dwarf hated his guitar playing, but Lister managed to convince himself that he was a virtuoso.
Lister actually owned a number of guitars - a white acoustic one (pilot episode), a black electric one ("Balance of Power"), and one made out a colander ("Siliconia") - as seen in various episodes, although his black electric "authentic copy" Gibson Les Paul was his favourite, which he called "Les".
David Lister had been "taught" to play the guitar at a young age by the man he called his stepfather; his adopted dad in Liverpool on Earth. The first song he learned was "She's Out of My Life" by Michael Jackson. He obtained his first, "authentic copy" Gibson Les Paul (a classic electric guitar) when he was sixteen. ("Marooned")
Lister owned, in fact, more than one guitar. One was a white acoustic guitar that he strummed in his sleeping quarters. His bunkmate Arnold Rimmer once tried to snap it in half during a fit of anger because Lister was annoying him, as Lister told Officer Todhunter. Rimmer later threatened to remove the E-string and garotte Lister when Lister went for the guitar in their bunkroom after they had watched George McIntyre's funeral. ("The End")
Three million years later, the hologram Rimmer once walked in on Lister playing guitar, with a horrified look on his face. Lister was listening to Rastabilly Skank and trying to play along. Rimmer warned Lister it came with a public health warning, and Lister told Rimmer not to pay attention to that. ("Balance of Power", Series I)
When Lister entered his own digital fantasy, he played "roof attack" for the Zero Gravity Football team the London Jets (a position in the real world filled by his idol Jim Bexley Speed). Lister also played his guitar as the fifth member of the "Fab Five". ("Better Than Life" deleted scenes, Series II)
Lister's Gibson Les Paul was decorated with stickers, one of which said "Cruise with me for a while". By the time Starbug crashed on a snowbound planet, the guitar only had five strings, and three of them were G-strings. Lister described it as his only lifeline to his old life, and the only thing that had never walked out on him. Rimmer told him to burn it to survive the cold, and Lister agreed, but only if he could play one last song, "She's Out of My Life" by Michael Jackson. Rimmer agreed, but went for along walk out into the frozen wilderness as Lister played, since Rimmer could not stand Lister's playing. While he was away, Lister made a guitar-shaped piece of wood from Rimmer's prized camphor wood chest by tracing round his guitar, and burnt that instead. When Rimmer discovered this after they had been rescued, he ordered Kryten to fetch a hacksaw and make Lister into a eunuch. ("Marooned", Series III)
Eventually, The Dwarfers told Lister that if he wanted to play his guitar, he had to put on a spacesuit and do it in outer space. When he was revived from Deep Sleep and lost his memories, he picked up his guitar and mangled a few chords. Kryten tried to tell him it was fantastic, but Lister was not convinced. Once his memory returned, he was again convinced of his rock legend status. When a Psiren came aboard and tried to fool The Dwarfers into believing it was the real Lister, they insisted he play the guitar. When the Psiren displayed phenomenal talent, he was shot repeatedly by Kryten and the Cat, who realised that the telepathic Psiren was copying how Lister perceived his musical skills. Lister said that he resented them saving his life in that way. ("Psirens", Series VI)
Legion included a new guitar in Lister's cell aboard the Legion Station. It was a beautiful instrument that was completely out of key. Due to Lister's poor musical talent, he believed it to be perfectly tuned. ("Legion", Series VI)
When Starbug crashed into a swamp and most of their belongings were destroyed, Lister's guitar survived - for a while. The Cat smashed it in anger and Kryten claimed it had not managed to remain in one piece. It was later repaired. ("Emohawk" Series VI)
Kristine Kochanski wakes one morning, telling Lister that she had an unbearable dream about a monkey being stretched across a tennis court, then asks him if he had been practicing guitar again. ("Blue", Series VII)
Lister admitted that he has mastered a second chord. ("Blue" deleted scenes, Series VII)
Later, after Lister had lost his right arm to Epideme, Lister was unable to play his guitar without help. Kryten worked the pick for him, while Lister changed notes. Lister conceded he was actually a bad guitarist, claiming now that this made him only "half crap". ("Nanarchy", Series VII)
When the original crew members of Red Dwarf were resurrected by the nanobots, the regular characters found themselves committed to the ship prison, The Tank ("Back in the Red") Soon after, Lister's old drinking buddy Olaf Petersen found the guitar in the wreckage of Lister's crashed Starbug, and sent the guitar to Lister's cell. Lister was dismayed (and Rimmer elated) to discover the prison authorities had removed the strings, in order to prevent either of them from hanging themselves. After a successful appeal, Lister was allowed a set of strings because he had no history of depression or violence. ("Krytie TV". Series VIII)
In the deleted scenes of the episode, Rimmer said that Lister's goldfish winced when Lister played his guitar, and hid under the plants when they heard Lister tuning up. ("Krytie TV" deleted scenes)
Loss and Recovery
In order to give himself some tough love fatherly advice, Lister once got drunk and left a series of messages for himself which he would not remember until he watched them. He told himself that unless he bucked up his ideas, enrolled in an engineering course and found Krissy, that the guitar would be flushed into space. When Lister ignored the message, he went over to pick his guitar up, only to find that it was made of rubber. Lister Sr. told him to look at the dot floating in space was his real guitar. Lister Jr. then shouted and bawled at the video message, claiming that he hated his father in a very teenager-like manner. ("Fathers & Suns", Series X)
When the boys went down to the BEGG moon to try get Lister out of the Groinal Exploder, they tried to fob the BEGGs off with the "fabled Spoon of Destiny" that was contained in Lister's (now empty) guitar case. ("Entangled", Series X)
When the Dwarfers explored the Evil Rehabilitation Base, Lister had a discussion with a supposedly "rehabilitated", cloned Adolf Hitler. They began to bond over such things as the fact they had both been thrown out of Art School. Still, Lister was hesitant and reticent to develop a further friendship with the former dictator. When Hitler suggested that they play on guitars, Lister said that he would not. Hitler was sad at this, but convinced Lister to have a "jam" when Hitler got out some of his own guitars. The duo ended up flamboyantly playing "The Happy Wanderer" together. ("Cured", Series XII)
A year after losing his own guitar, "Les" - almost to the day - Red Dwarf passed by the same region of Deep Space as where Lister had lost it. Lister was tired of using a makeshift "Les Col" made from a colander. When Kryten detected the guitar on a recently fixed D Deck scanner, the Dwarfers went out in a Starbug to fetch it, much to the protest of Rimmer and the Cat. Lister used a "grabber" lowered from the underbelly of the 'bug to catch onto the guitar, noting that he was good at it and had once won a watch from a fair - that didn't work - in a grabber claw game. Unfortunately, the guitar was being watched by the renegade mechanoids of the stealthily cloaked ship SS Vespasian, and they grabbed up Starbug with a giant grabber claw of their own. ("Siliconia", Series XII)
After their experiences aboard the SS Vespasian, Rimmer and the Cat found that the mechanoid programming they had been forced to endure had a lasting effect on them, meaning that they could not disobey any orders. Lister took advantage of this, ordering Rimmer and the Cat to dance and sing along to "Hey Baby, Don't Be Ovulating Tonight" as he played it on his newly recovered guitar. ("Siliconia" deleted scenes)
After encountering SS Enconium, a ship where criticism was illegal, Lister noted how ridiculous the concept was - after all, it was "constructive criticism" from his shipmates that had enabled him to get better on the guitar and finally master three chords. ("Timewave")
When Rimmer used a Quantum Skipper to explore The Multiverse, in one of the dimensions he beamed into there was a version of Red Dwarf which was seemingly inhabited by multiple clones of Lister. Accordingly, the ship was filled with Lister's guitar playing and Rastabilly Skank, and so Rimmer beamed back out of there as quick as he could. ("Skipper")
Lister's attitude to his guitar skills was inconsistent. He admitted in "Marooned" that he wasn't a wizard on it. Then he became convinced of his supreme axemanship in "Psirens". He then admitted in "Nanarchy " that he was only half crap since he lost an arm, before becoming once more a self-proclaimed expert in "Krytie TV".
His crewmates' views of his prowess were much more clear. They consistently described him as abysmally poor.
- (The original hologramatic) Rimmer, after hearing that Rogue Simulants keep large stockpiles of food to prolong the torment of their torture victims and hearing from Kryten that they kept some alive for years "in a state of perpetual agony", he said that if they wanted that, they'd let Lister play his guitar. ("Rimmerworld")
- Rimmer was worried that he would be tempted to commit suicide if Lister was allowed guitar strings, describing the guitar as an "irritating lump of wood" and mentioning that he had once tried to insert it into Lister, although Lister added that he'd be more successful, if he used the neck end. ("Krytie TV")
- The Cat made him practice in outer space and even tried to destroy the guitar. ("Psirens", "Emohawk")
- Kryten described Lister as " A ten thumbed, tone deaf, talentless noise polluter". ("Psirens")
- Kryten told Lister that he had been "criticized, belittled, decried, vilified, panned and slammed your whole life" about his skill as a guitarist and that even after that, he still sucks, according to Kryten. Lister countered that having mastered three chords means he is improving. ("Timewave")
Behind the Scenes
Craig Charles can actually play the guitar to a modest standard, but had to play badly as Lister. When they needed a virtuoso to play fantastic guitar music for "Psirens", they approached Brian May of Queen. When he proved unavailable, they employed Phil Manzanera from the Roxy Music. Manzanera knelt behind Craig Charles and put his hands under Craig's arms.