8 Of The Craziest Custom Guitars

Pity the poor guitarist: there’s a lot of string-slingers out there, fretboards a-heaving with flashy licks. You really have to work hard to get noticed. And even to get in the ring, you’ll be investing thousands in the proper equipment.

Perhaps that’s why many fretboarders choose to spend their gear money in a way that’s guaranteed to draw the spotlight. There are so many ways, after all, to upgrade a guitar (and upstage your singer): mould the the body to your whimsy, add another neck or four, paint it with gore or cover it with fur… Here are some of the most inventive and downright weird guitars around.

Rick Nielsen’s five-necked guitar

Probably one of the best-known, heaviest and most ludicrous-looking of custom guitars, the Quint Neck was built for Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen in 1981. “Back at shows in the late-70s and early-80s,” he told Guitar Aficionado, “I used to stack up as many as five guitars for my guitar solo. I’d play one for a little bit, then throw it away and play the one hanging underneath it.”

For a more efficient, and frankly flashier solo, Nielsen asked the manufacturer of the last guitar in the pile, Hamer, to make a beast that combined them all. “The original concept was to have a six-neck that spun like a roulette wheel, so that I could play one neck and then rotate to the next,” he said. “But then I decided to go with something more conservative – five necks in a row!”

Hamer founder Frank Untermeyer recalled the wiring job as a “huge pain”, adding, “Rick’s out of his mind, but in a wonderful way.”

Lita Ford’s Monkey Train

The results of this partnership included some double-necked numbers and, most memorably, her black steam train guitar with a tiny Lita waving from the cab, which can be seen in the video for the 1991 track Playin’ With Fire.

Bo Diddley’s Twang Machine

Bo Diddley, the riffing legend born Elias Bates, didn’t have money to spend on fancy musical equipment when he was growing up. “I wasn’t able to buy electric guitars,” he told Vintage Guitar. “So I built them, and they worked pretty good.”

The first thing the resourceful Bates crafted was a home-made diddley bow, a common early blues instrument mate often made from a cigar box. His later guitar design, using various inventive bits and bobs in its construction (its pickup, he said, was “part of a Victrola record player where the needle went in”), retained that rectangular body, and Bates’s stage name also took inspiration from his diddley bow.

The original Twang Machine was later stolen but, by that point, he’d become such a rock ‘n’ roll hero that guitar manufacturers were only too happy to help him with a replacement. In 1958, Gretsch built him a new custom Twang Machine. According to Diddley, it had a smaller body that gave him the much-needed freedom to move around onstage while performing: he said that he’d had the idea for the design after accidentally thwacking himself in the groin with a different guitar while jumping around.

Zakk Wylde’s Graveyard Disciple

One musician who was extremely taken with Diddley’s ingenious eye for design was Black Label Society founder and Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde. “I remember talking about the Bo Diddley guitar and the Bill-Bo, Billy Gibbons‘s guitar, and I was just going, ‘These guitars are so god-awful ugly!’ I just dug ’em,” he told I Heart Guitar.

The Twang Machine was such an inspiration on Wylde’s custom-built Graveyard Disciple that he nicknamed it the “Bo Deadly”: its coffin-shaped design certainly looks like a macabre take on Diddley’s 1958 axe, although Wylde originally had the idea when his merchandising company sent him a coffin full of sweets. “Inside was a bunch of lollipops from my merch company with all the song titles: Genocide Junkies, Graveyard Disciples, House of Doom, Death March written on them. I was just like, ‘Dude, you know what’d be cool? To put a guitar neck on it.’ So Epiphone went out and made it for me, and I was like, ‘Dude, this thing’s slamming.'”

Gene Simmons’s Axe Bass

Simmons‘s onstage persona with KISS is officially known as the Demon. For a bass- playing fiend, your common-or-garden mass-produced guitar is not going to cut it, and cutting was just the look Simmons went for when dreaming up his very literal axe, designed by luthier Steve Carr in 1978. For Simmons, it showed how the bass should be handled – like a weapon.

Andrew W.K.’s taco guitar

Photo: Mario Dane

Photo: Mario Dane

Few musicians have committed to big-hearted, dude-ish wackiness the way Andrew W.K. has, and as such it should probably not surprise you to learn that he is the designer of not one, but two custom guitars based on common party foodstuffs. First, in 2012, came his pizza guitar, which came with a high-end spec featuring extra-spicy garlic marinara sauce, double mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, black olives, green peppers, mushrooms and jalapeno peppers.

This year, he unveiled his second course: the taco guitar, which features a beef taco on the front, and an eyeball on the back. “I started pondering, what’s another food that’s as party as pizza?,” said Andrew in a statement. “When it comes to edible celebration, tacos are partier than almost anything else. Pizza and tacos are among the partiest foods on the planet, and I realised that since I had paid musical tribute to pizza, I now had to pay musical tribute to tacos. I was destined to make a taco shaped guitar – it was inevitable.”

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If the walls of the Fender Guitars Custom Shop could talk, it would tell stories about ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons stopping by to hang out with a case of Dad’s Root Beer, or Merle Haggard scurrying to put on a sports coat to impress the “Vice President of Fender Guitars,” only to be greeted by master builder John Page in a “denim shirt and shorts.” Oh, and there was that time master builder Michael Stevens was cursing Eric Clapton‘s name when the Guitar God rejected three of his neck designs for a new signature guitar model after his famed Stratocaster, “Blackie,” wore out.

“I went ballistic. I was so mad I ready to kill Clapton,” Stevens tells Billboard. “I stormed into Dan Smith’s office and said, ‘get that SOB over here. I have never been turned down three times for anything in my life. I’m not getting the right information.  What is going on?” I was mad.”

Stevens’ determination to get the job done right made it to the proper channels and Clapton’s guitar tech, Lee Dickson, hand delivered the prototype to get the job done: THE Blackie. The Texas luthier was instructed: “this is what we want.”

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“I took it home with me, and when I brought it to Fender. It went in my office and I locked the door, and at night it was under my bed and I had my pistol under my pillow,” he says. “Nobody was getting Blackie from me without a fight. That was just too cool a guitar. One of the guitars that all of us guys in the world heard about, thought about, dreamed about, and here I’ve got it. “

Finally, Stevens came up with the right prototypes, which were eventually auctioned at Christie’s. This attention to detail and work ethos is exemplified in a new documentary, Fender Custom Shop: Founders Design 30th Anniversary Documentary, premiering today (March 1) on Fenders’ YouTube channel. The film–set inside the “dream factory,” a “nirvana for guitar geeks”– reunites eight original master builders dedicated to creating legendary instruments, including Stevens, Page, George Blanda, Fred Stuart, J.W. Black, Mark Kendrick, Alan Hamel and Gene Baker. Located in Corona, California, the builders crafted custom guitars for everyone from Clapton, Bob Dylan, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughn to Richie Sambora, Sting, Merle Haggard, Keith Richards, Courtney Love, Dwight Yoakam, Marty Stuart, Yngwie Malmsteen, Jeff Beck and Buck Owens.

Eight of the original master builders returned to the shop to design and create eight new Founders Design guitars, with only 30 units of each to be produced and released on a monthly basis throughout the remainder of 2017. Each designer was told they could create a unique design for the Custom Shop to build, each in their own style-and “the sky is the limit,” Mike Lewis, Vice President of Product Development, tells Billboard.

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On March 14, Fender will roll out a special edition Michael Stevens’ Founders Design— a single necked Esquire, an homage to the double necked white/blonde colored telecaster/stratocaster he originally created in the shop. The body is made out of one-piece sassafras instead of ash, he says.

The other guitars built include: a Double F-Hole Thinline Esquire built by Page, which he dubs the “Page-O-Caster,”a Jazzmaster –which Blanda always felt was a misunderstood instrument, and a Sparkle Telecaster created by Hamel. Stuart  went with a Herringbone Telecaster, while Black and Kendrick designed individual Stratocasters that show of their individual artistry. Each guitar will be released monthly through October.

“Each of these founding master builders came up with these amazing designs that are unmistakable in their own style. If you are a guitar fan and up on the Custom Shop history, you can look at these designs and know who designed it, just like a Monet or a Picasso… you would recognize the style,” Lewis says. “That is the level of these designers and the mark that they made on guitar history and guitar design over the last thirty years, specifically in the early days of the custom shop. That is the most exciting part-inviting them back. It was a real reunion for everybody. These are the guys that started it all for the custom Shop and cemented our image of what we do. There is no job too big or too small for us.”

The documentary tells the story of the origins of the Custom Shop, when Michael Stevens was hired by Fender CEO Bill Schultz in an effort to rescue Fender’s image from the stench of prior owner, CBS. Stevens handpicked Page, a Fender employee, to be his right hand man to carry out the vision. The story–told through archival footage–tells the story as told through photos and present day interviews with each builder.

“I started on the floor, buffing necks in the factory. That was in the late ’70s. I went into research and development within a few months of that and became the guitar designer in my early twenties, 23, I think,” Page says. “So I had been at Fender for nine years before we actually started the custom shop. We had talked about it for many, many years, because we used to build artists’ guitars in research and development, as well.”

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While Page worked with Elliot Easton of The Cars, The Go-Go’s, and Frank Zappa, the guitar maker didn’t have a shop, “per se,” he says. Page was mentored by Freddie Tavares, who showed him how to sand a guitar, tack a piece of paper against the wood with “two lines traced on it,” and create a Stratocaster. He even took Page and other employees out to lunch with Leo Fender. It was this knowledge that earned Page his place next to Stevens in the shop — but the orders were coming in fast and furious. They needed more manpower.

“Once the popularity really hit, and not just the popularity, just the reality of business, and the numbers started to be demanded. That was tough,” Page says. “So Mike concentrated on a couple of one-offs that he was building them, and I was trying to run the semi-custom production. And that’s when I started to meet guys on the line that helped me get through it. Guys like Fred Stuart, who became one of our next master builders. Where I would do everything I could do at the wood side, get it through paint, and then take them to Freddie and let him set it up, because I had too many other things to do.”

“So, that’s how we started to find these other great talents in the Fender factory was by that demand. And it is a challenge, you know, when you’re trying to create art pieces and do production as well,” Page adds. “But that’s where the commitment of the people came in. And as the years went by, and we’re freaking out, trying to be a good business, and so we’d spend the night there. And we’d do everything we could to make sure that we made the month, financially, like we had to. That was all the commitment of the people. That’s where, you know, like when you say, ‘What makes the perfect Fender guitar?’ I circle back to that, because without that commitment of all the people that I was working with, it wouldn’t have happened. We had a crew like none other. And that kept the trueness to the art as well. So we could do the numbers and keep the art. And it was only through that team and commitment to it. So, I don’t know how to say it more than that, you know? Just the best group of guys I ever had. Wonderful people.”

Stevens — who is interviewed from his ranch in the documentary — says he hopes the short film gives viewers an idea of the camaraderie of the builders in the shop. Photographer Henry Diltz — who shot iconic album covers for The Eagles, The Doors and more — was also brought in by Fender to take pictures of the builders and their Founders Designs.

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“It was quite rewarding, with lots of good memories, funny stories. I was there a short time-four years,” he says. “It surpassed everything we were trying to do back then. We were there early, we had a good time.  I liked George’s comment in the film — it was like Animal House. It was goofy. But we were all good friends. There were pranks, but a lot of hard work, long hours and camaraderie. And the guys in the factory looked down on us and called us leisure world (laughs). That was us! ”

He added that he is impressed with the work the new builders in the shop are working on today. “It’s like watching your kid grow up,” he says. “Some of the guys they have now, I can’t do that stuff. “

“We pulled it off,” says Page. “Here it is 30 years later, and the shop’s still alive and booming, and more successful than ever. So all those early efforts paid off.”

Fans can view and order the guitars at FenderCustomShop.com.

by Taboola 

Rock Legends: Jimi Hendrix

James Marshall Hendrix

November 27th, 1942 – September 18, 1970

Widely recognized as one of the most creative and influential musicians of the 20th century, Jimi Hendrix pioneered the explosive possibilities of the electric guitar. Hendrix’s innovative style of combining fuzz, feedback and controlled distortion created a new musical form. Because he was unable to read or write music, it is nothing short of remarkable that Jimi Hendrix’s meteoric rise in the music took place in just four short years. His musical language continues to influence a host of modern musicians, from George Clinton to Miles Davis, and Steve Vai to Jonny Lang.

Jimi Hendrix, born Johnny Allen Hendrix at 10:15 a.m. on November 27, 1942, at Seattle’s King County Hospital, was later renamed James Marshall by his father, James “Al” Hendrix. Young Jimmy (as he was referred to at the time) took an interest in music, drawing influence from virtually every major artist at the time, including B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Holly, and Robert Johnson. Entirely self-taught, Jimmy’s inability to read music made him concentrate even harder on the music he heard.

Al took notice of Jimmy’s interest in the guitar, recalling, “I used to have Jimmy clean up the bedroom all the time while I was gone, and when I would come home I would find a lot of broom straws around the foot of the bed. I’d say to him, `Well didn’t you sweep up the floor?’ and he’d say, `Oh yeah,’ he did. But I’d find out later that he used to be sitting at the end of the bed there and strumming the broom like he was playing a guitar.” Al found an old one-string ukulele, which he gave to Jimmy to play a huge improvement over the broom.
By the summer of 1958, Al had purchased Jimmy a five-dollar, second-hand acoustic guitar from one of his friends. Shortly thereafter, Jimmy joined his first band, The Velvetones. After a three-month stint with the group, Jimmy left to pursue his own interests. The following summer, Al purchased Jimmy his first electric guitar, a Supro Ozark 1560S; Jimi used it when he joined The Rocking Kings.

In 1961, Jimmy left home to enlist in the United States Army and in November 1962 earned the right to wear the “Screaming Eagles” patch for the paratroop division. While stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Jimmy formed The King Casuals with bassist Billy Cox. After being discharged due to an injury he received during a parachute jump, Jimmy began working as a session guitarist under the name Jimmy James. By the end of 1965, Jimmy had played with several marquee acts, including Ike and Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, the Isley Brothers, and Little Richard. Jimmy parted ways with Little Richard to form his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, shedding the role of back-line guitarist for the spotlight of lead guitar.

Throughout the latter half of 1965, and into the first part of 1966, Jimmy played the rounds of smaller venues throughout Greenwich Village, catching up with Animals’ bassist Chas Chandler during a July performance at Caf‚ Wha? Chandler was impressed with Jimmy’s performance and returned again in September 1966 to sign Hendrix to an agreement that would have him move to London to form a new band.

Switching gears from bass player to manager, Chandler’s first task was to change Hendrix’s name to “Jimi.” Featuring drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding, the newly formed Jimi Hendrix Experience quickly became the talk of London in the fall of 1966.

The Experience’s first single, “Hey Joe,” spent ten weeks on the UK charts, topping out at spot No. 6 in early 1967. The debut single was quickly followed by the release of a full-length album Are You Experienced, a psychedelic musical compilation featuring anthems of a generation. Are You Experienced has remained one of the most popular rock albums of all time, featuring tracks like “Purple Haze,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Foxey Lady,” “Fire,” and “Are You Experienced?”

Although Hendrix experienced overwhelming success in Britain, it wasn’t until he returned to America in June 1967 that he ignited the crowd at the Monterey International Pop Festival with his incendiary performance of “Wild Thing.” Literally overnight, The Jimi Hendrix Experience became one of most popular and highest grossing touring acts in the world.

Hendrix followed Are You Experienced with Axis: Bold As Love. By 1968, Hendrix had taken greater control over the direction of his music; he spent considerable time working the consoles in the studio, with each turn of a knob or flick of the switch bringing clarity to his vision.

Back in America, Jimi Hendrix built his own recording studio, Electric Lady Studios in New York City. The name of this project became the basis for his most demanding musical release, a two LP collection, Electric Ladyland. Throughout 1968, the demands of touring and studio work took its toll on the group and in 1969 the Experience disbanded.

The summer of 1969 brought emotional and musical growth to Jimi Hendrix. In playing the Woodstock Music & Art Fair in August 1969, Jimi joined forces with an eclectic ensemble called Gypsy Sun & Rainbows featuring Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell, Billy Cox, Juma Sultan, and Jerry Velez. The Woodstock performance was highlighted by the renegade version of “Star Spangled Banner,” which brought the mud-soaked audience to a frenzy.
Nineteen sixty-nine also brought about a new and defining collaboration featuring Jimi Hendrix on guitar, bassist Billy Cox and Electric Flag drummer Buddy Miles. Performing as the Band of Gypsys, this trio launched a series of four New Year’s performances on December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970. Highlights from these performances were compiled and later released on the quintessential Band of Gypsys album in mid-1970 and the expanded Hendrix: Live At The Fillmore East in 1999.

As 1970 progressed, Jimi brought back drummer Mitch Mitchell to the group and together with Billy Cox on bass, this new trio once again formed The Jimi Hendrix Experience. In the studio, the group recorded several tracks for another two LP set, tentatively titled First Rays Of The New Rising Sun. Unfortunately, Hendrix was unable to see this musical vision through to completion due to his hectic worldwide touring schedules, then tragic death on September 18, 1970. Fortunately, the recordings Hendrix slated for release on the album were finally issued through the support of his family and original studio engineer Eddie Kramer on the 1997 release First Rays Of The New Rising Sun.

From demo recordings to finished masters, Jimi Hendrix generated an amazing collection of songs over the course of his short career. The music of Jimi Hendrix embraced the influences of blues, ballads, rock, R&B, and jazz a collection of styles that continue to make Hendrix one of the most popular figures in the history of rock music.