Pick of the Month - January 2001
1984 Kinkade custom built

An aptly futuristic guitar for the new millennium. You won't find many of these in your local music store; it's a one-off, and my first (and only!) attempt at guitar design. It was built for me by Simon and Jonny Kinkade of Bristol, whom I'd contacted in the summer of 1984 to re-furbish a couple of my more road-wear guitars.

Among the few musical high-points that defined eighties pop was the emergence and acceptance of Texas blues, thanks to the popularity of guys like Stevie Ray Vaughan and ZZ Top. ZZ Top's sense of style appealed to me as much as their music, in particular their penchant for often outrageously-designed (though practical) matching guitars that enhanced their image no end. I had long nurtured the idea of having a guitar built to my own specifications, so set about combining all the timber and hardware requirements with an outlandish sense of vision, and drew up a plan.

The ever-spiralling prices of second-hand 1958 Les Paul Standards meant that I could never afford the guitar that produced the sound in my heart, so I examined their structural principles and worked towards creating something that might come close.

To help with sustain, my design incorporated a central neck-through-body construction with mahogany side-pieces, similar to the reverse Gibson Firebird, topped with two book-matched pieces of subtly flamed maple. Instead of a small body 2" thick, I went for 1 " thickness and spread it around, actually using more wood.

The huge body shape is in part Rickenbacker-inspired, part Guild with the large bite taken out of the lower edge. Jonny found a gorgeous piece of Macassar ebony for the fingerboard, and spent days cutting and inlaying the lovely pearl eyebrow markers I requested. Though I insisted the top be as un-cluttered as possible, I still hankered for an f-hole somewhere; I found the solution by incorporating it into the headstock!

After experimenting with a few other makes, we settled on Schaller pick-ups, from whom we sourced all the gold-plated hardware and tuners. The neck pick-up is a Golden '50 Super, the bridge a 2 In 1, with no tone circuit, wired through a selector switch. Both humbuckers are tapped, activated by a single Omni-pot volume control. The neck and body are bound in cream plastic and the top is finished in an Epiphone Royal Tan look-alike, copied by Jonny from my Riviera.

So how does it sound? Having pulled it out of moth-balls for this feature, I've just re-discovered what an amazing guitar this is, sounding closer to the '58 Gibson than my '53 gold-top, and certainly closer than any of the Les Pauls I've tried recently. The Schallers have a really excellent sound; the gold cover couldn't be fitted to the bridge unit it kept feeding back! I realise that I made the guitar a little too big; it's very difficult to play sitting down, yet comfortable and balanced on a wide strap.

Now to make that blues record...

Recording debut: Dukes Of Stratosphear - Your Gold Dress (fuzz tone; December 1984)