For this edition of Gear of the Gods, we're taking a detour from the usual formula. Rather than focusing on any one particular guitarist, we've decided to compile a list of some of the more weird and wonderful instruments that we've seen legendary guitarists wielding over the years.
Mindboggling and often downright bizarre, these axes are the product of the eccentricities of brilliant lunatics, mad scientists of the six-string variety.
Brace yourselves it's about to get strange...
Oh, before we forget, it probably goes without saying that there won't be a buyer's guide to accompany this edition. If you want an instrument as batshit crazy as these, you're gonna have to build it yourself.
Rick Nielsen: 1981 Hamer Five-Neck
Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen is no stranger to out-there guitars. Hamer have put together a number of weird and wonderful creations for him over the years; their five-neck creation is perhaps the most memorable.
The Hamer five-neck was a product of necessity according to Nielsen. Writing on Guitar Aficionado, he states that he used to play five different guitars during his solo spots, playing one for a bit, then throwing it away and playing the one underneath it to achieve different sounds. Initially, he wanted a "six-neck that spun like a roulette wheel, so that I could play one neck and then rotate to the next" but settled on the "more conservative" five neck design...only in Rick Nielsen's world is a five neck guitar "conservative."
Three of the necks on this beast are standard six strings, one is a fretless six string and the other is a twelve.
According to Hamer's Frank Untermeyer, the guitar is made of five Hamer Special double cutaways laminated together. He also notes that routing the wiring in the instrument was "a huge pain in the ass." To be fair, we never expected it wouldn't be.
Kirk Hammett: ESP Custom Wavecaster/Teuffel Birdfish
Like Rick Nielsen, Metallica's Kirk Hammett likes his axes flamboyant. Most of his guitars these days are adorned with vintage horror movie poster designs, which certainly make him stand out on stage.
Hammett has upped the ante on occasion though, brandishing a couple of particularly outlandish instruments.
First up is a Custom Wavecaster, built by ESP for the band's "Pour Touring Me" jaunt in 1996. Made with a Lucite body and rocking a single EMG pick-up, it's filled with the stuff you get in lava lamps, creating a groovy blue wave effect. As you'll hear in the video below, Hammett initially wanted to fill it with his own piss and "present it as some kind of weird art piece" but "couldn't figure out how to preserve the urine." We're really hoping he's joking, but given the... shall we say... eccentricities of Metallica's "Load"/"ReLoad" era, we wouldn't be surprised if his comment was legit.
And then there's the Teuffel Birdfish. Designed by German luthier Ulrich Teuffel, the instrument is constructed with the tonewoods and pick-ups in a modular fashion. The result is an instrument that looks as much like a bodged together weapon from the post apocalyptic future of Mad Max as guitar. Still, Hammett seems to like it, as do Billy Gibbons and Hans Zimmer who are champions of the bizarre looking axe.
Jack White: Airline Res-o-Glass
Some guitarists swear by vintage Fenders and Gibsons. Others work with master luthiers to construct a guitar to their demanding specifications.
Jack White, on the other and, has become synonymous with playing "hollow pieces of plastic" that were sold from department store catalogues. In his White Stripes days, Jack's instrument of choice dates from 1964. Made by Montgomery Ward, the instrument was branded with the name Airline on the headstock and is sometimes referred to as a JB Houtton model because of the blues guitarist known for using them.
The guitar's distinctive red body - looking like something out of a '50s science fiction movie - is made from two pieces of "res-o-glass" fiberglass. The 20 fret neck is anchored by a thin piece of maple running down the body, instead of a truss rod, the neck is kept sturdy with reinforced steel. While the pick-ups look like humbuckers, they are actually single coils.
White's association with the instrument has created something of a renaissance for Airline. An original model can cost you upwards of $1500 these days, while Eastwood guitars acquired the rights to the name, and have been producing their own models since 2001 (albeit with adjustable truss rod and mahogany body).
John Paul Jones: Manson Custom Triple Neck/Manson Custom Lapaphone Electric Bass
Joining Rick Nielsen in the multi-neck guitar club is Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones. From the second leg Led Zeppelin's 1977 US tour, JPJ was seen rocking Triple Neck designed by Andy Manson during the band's acoustic set.
Manson, who had done repairs for the bassist during the mid-1970s, noticed that Jonesy was forced to swap between six string guitar, 12 string guitar and a mandolin during the band's mid-set unplugged sojourn and had an idea. Designing and making a triple neck instrument, he took it the bassist's house and sold it to him for £400. Jones's response to the instrument:
"I can't wait to see Pagey's face when I walk on stage with this!"
The building of the triple neck was the start of a relationship between JPJ and Manson guitars that continues to the present day. The multi-instrumentalist now uses their guitars pretty much exclusively, and still commissions the occasional oddity that turns heads during performances.
Oddities like the Manson Custom Lapaphone Electric Bass he wielded during Them Crooked Vultures' 2009/2010 world tour.
An 8-string baritone lap steel finished in purple sparkle, the instrument is rocking a Fernandes Sustainer pickup as well as a midi screen controller. Crazy...
Bumblefoot: Swiss Cheese/Big Hand Guitar/Vigier "Flying Foot" Guitar
Last, but by no means least in this showcase of weird and wonderful guitars is former Guns N' Roses man Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal.
And boy, when it comes to bizarre guitar collections, he is way out in front.
Take for example, his "swiss cheese" guitar. Originally a 1983 Ibanez Roadstar RS135BK, Bumblefoot went through a series of routine upgrades on the instrument; adding a Floyd Vibrato, locking nut and a humbucker at the bridge. Deviating somewhat from that standard approach, he then decided that he wanted to make it look like someone had taken a big bite out of the body. As the man himself says on his official website:
"I drilled away the wood where ya rest your picking arm, and in the end it looked like shit. So I kept on drilling and eventually it looked like Swiss cheese."
Undeterred, he decided to go with it, heading into an auto paint store with a slice of swiss cheese and asking him if he could match the color. With the addition of a DiMarzio Chopper in the neck and Tone Zone in the bridge, he was good to go.
The Big Hand guitar was built by Tom Cannalonga. Bumblefoot's hand was traced on grid paper and then scaled up to the size of a guitar body. The neck uses mandolin frets and features an extension going up to the 37th fret. There is also a pinned moth under glass built into the guitar body because... reasons.
The nail polish on the fingertips was added by Bumblefoot's cousin, Valerie, when she was five.
Last, but by no means least is the Vigier "Flying Foot" guitar. 'Cause if you're gonna have a signature axe shaped like your hand, a foot is the next logical step.
This one was hand built by Vigier over the course of five months, features a yellow and black bee paint job and extendable wings (Bumble + foot - ya see what they did there...). It also has one push/pull volume knob and a 3-way toggle switch to select pickups. Once again, it features a DiMarzio Tone Zone at the bridge, Chopper at the neck.
For the last word on the Flying Foot, we'll let Bumblefoot do the talking:
"This guitar gets some funny reactions. At the airport when it goes through the X-ray machine, it's always the same confused look - you'd think airport security never saw a bag with a giant electronic foot in it."
That's it for this week's edition. We'll catch you next time for another (back to normal) Gear of the Gods.
By Alec Plowman