Here in the Bona-Realm we like to talk guitars. And many times, we’ll focus on the classics: you know what I mean – Gibson Les Pauls, Fender Stratocasters, etc. I thought it would be fun to look at a few famous guitarists and their “alternative” guitars. What do they play when they stray outside the realm of normal? What else is out there and has been used? Well, we have some answers for you here:
Jerry Garcia – Doug Irwin “Tiger” – From 1979 to 1989, Jerry Garcia put a little “Tiger” in his guitar tank. Actually he put a lot of Tiger: Tiger was his main guitar during this period. At 13.5 pounds, it’s literally quite a heavy instrument. Tiger was one of several guitars that Jerry Garcia commissioned from Sonoma, California luthier Doug Irwin. It’s known as tiger due to the tiger image inlaid on the pre-amp and battery cover. The guitars’ different layers of wood have been called “the hippie sandwich”. Whatever you call it, Tiger is responsible for some of the finest jam-rock ever produced. And speaking of jam-rock…
Trey Anastasio: Laungedoc Hollow Body – Unlike many famous guitarists who prefer to play on a Gibson or a Fender, Trey Anastasio plays Languedoc guitars. What the heck is a Languedoc you ask? That’s a fair question. Paul Languedoc is a guitar luthier who became the soundman for Phish. He created instruments for two of the band’s members, bassist Mike Gordon, and lead guitarist Anastasio. Trey’s Languedoc’s are hollow body electric guitars which Trey has said have the bite of a Strat and the meat of a hollow body. The guitar can switch from between a humbucker and single-coil sound, so that Trey can easily go from sounding like Jimmy Page to Jimi Hendrix. Of course, Trey always sounds like Trey to us, and that’s a good thing, especially when he’s wailing away on a twenty minute version of “You Enjoy Myself” or “Tweezer”.
Kurt Cobain – 1969 Fender Competition Mustang – The Fender Mustang was in production since 1965, but largely became popular as a result of its status as an “indie darling” guitar in the 1990s. Kurt Cobain was not the only alternative rocker to utilize this guitar – other notable musicians include David Byrne of the Talking Heads. Thurston Moore and Lee Ronaldo of Sonic Youth, and indie rocker Liz Phair. Kurt Cobain acquired his Lake Placid Blue ’69 Mustang during the time of the recording of Nirvana’s breakthrough album Nevermind. This guitar is probably most famous for its use in the music video of the band’s smash hit Nevermind. Cobain wound up smashing the guitar during at gig at Tree’s in Dallas, Texas that occurred in 1991. Although the body and neck joint were damaged, Cobain had the guitar repaired. And considering how many guitars this man smashed to bits, we can only recognize such an act as pure love.
Nels Cline – 1959 Fender Jazzmaster – Despite his successful career as a purveyor of fine avant-garde rock and jazz, Nels Cline had trouble deciding who he was when it came to equipment. That is, until 1995, when he discovered the Fender Jazzmaster. The guitar was a perfect fit for the member of alt-country rockers Wilco. The guitar initially belonged to one of his heroes, Mike Watt of the Minutement and fIREHOSE. The Jazzmaster, perhaps unsurprising in light of its name, was originally marketed to jazz guitarists. But then something funny happened. It began to be picked up by surf guitarists. Perhaps as a result of its association with surf rock, the guitar was often not taken seriously by musicians. But the Jazzmaster started to gain some traction with its use by art rock bands like Nels Cline collaborators Sonic Youth – specifically Youth’s guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ronaldo (there they are again). Elvis Costello was a Jazzmaster fan as well, and if there’s one thing we’ll listen to Costello about besides appealing eyewear, its appealing guitars.
Jack White – 1964 Montgomery Ward JB Hutto Airline Guitar – Jack White has almost become synonymous with his amazing 1964 Montgomery Ward JB Hutto Airline Guitar, sometimes also called the Res-O-Glass Airline guitar. The guitar was originally manufactured by the Valco Guitar and Amplifier Company and it looks as sweet as a French crepe smothered in ice cream on a hot summer day – in Paris. What’s not so shocking – if you are familiar at all with Jack White’s band The White Stripes, is the color scheme of the guitar – an extremely vibrant red and white. You see, Jack White has kind of a color scheme thing – maybe it’s an obsession. Inside his record label, Third Man, for instance, all the walls facing west are painted red and the ones that are facing east are all blue. The exterior of the building is yellow and black. This is a carryover from his upholstery shop that he owned before he was a famous rock and roll star, which also had a black and yellow color scheme. The workers at Third Man are also color coordinated. Men wear black ties and yellow shirts. Women wear black tights and yellow dresses. The White Stripes, very famously, have a red and white color scheme on basically everything they touch – clothes, album sleeves, stage setups. And, well, Jack White’s awesome vintage guitar.
Photo Credit: Eugene Zelenko