Tradition and the world of guitar are funny things. Innovation can breed new classics for future generations. Then we have the guitars on this list. Yes, this is certainly a case where tradition wins the mighty battle. I applaud companies for coming up with new designs, and all companies must if they want to survive. I also love new ideas. Here, we can see that the road to progress is paved with models we either happily forgot about or wished more people knew about. This isn’t a list of bad guitar models, however. I would seriously rock several of these. This is my list of some bad ideas thrown in with a few good ones that just didn’t catch on. I picked guitars that were actually in production at some point, and left the one-offs for another list. We finish up the list with a few technologies that really never took off.
10. Fender Custom
Fender had a lot of interesting ideas in the 1970’s. This was one of them. Take something resembling a Jaguar body that got into a fight with a band saw, and marry it to a 12-string neck, but only install 6 strings. It used pickups that came from a Fender 12-string too, and the entire design meeting must have consisted of walking into a storage area and pointing at boxes of unused parts. To be fair, these were student models that didn’t go for much money, and these weren’t terrible instruments. But they were pretty strange.
9. Vox Phantom
In the mid-1960’s, Fender was taking over the rock & roll landscape, and Vox wanted to offer something different than the hot rod-inspired Strats of the day. The Vox Phantom was seen being used in black & white photos of the Rolling Stones, and Britpop-influenced bands of the 1970’s. The pentagonal shape made it impossible to sit down and play, but who cares about sitting when you look so good in your skinny tie next to your Vespa scooter. Some Phantoms included an onboard E tuner, which played an E note through your amp. In addition to tuning, it provided a nice drone to get all hurdy gurdy with it.
8. Gibson Firebird X
Looking a little like a bowling ball, the Firebird X was the concept car of the Gibson line. It contained an onboard robotic tuners that eventually trickled down to the regular Les Paul line. Knobs of different sizes and colors littered the face of the instrument, while the digital switching system and built-in effects can provide over 2000 different sounds. It was sold with a briefcase that contained a few pedals and several rechargeable lithium batteries. There is a rumor that if you set the knobs right, you can play a convincing game of Asteroids too. Yes, the design is over-the-top, but I applaud them for interesting ideas like this one, the Dusk Tiger and Dark Fire. You can’t just produce the same Les Paul year after year, right?
7. Dean SplitTail
It is a V. It is an SG. When you combine two things, it makes it twice as good right? The initial run of these were custom guitars, so they weren’t cheap. To me, the strange thing about this design is the combination of the curves and straight lines. In person, it is actually smaller than it appears in pictures (the V part is smaller than a regular Flying V), and surprisingly it balances well with the large headstock. I know some Dean fanatics really love this design, but to me it always resembled a prehistoric fish. I’m cool with dinosaurs and all, but don’t want my guitars to look like one.
6. Kramer Gorky Park
Gorky Park was a band from the 1980’s in Russia that dressed up in traditional Russian clothing while playing hard rock. They had a few videos on MTV during the Gorbachev era, and I remember reading about them in music magazines in my teens. This guitar is shaped like a balalaika, and was a pretty inexpensive guitar. I remember going to my local music super store and seeing 20 of these in a row. With the Soviet and US flags, painted signatures, and rather uncomfortable body, Kramer must have thought that this new Gorky Park trend was really taking off. Problem was, it didn’t. I remember the same stores blowing these out at ridiculously cheap prices, but still no one bought them.
5. Gibson Reverse V
I remember when the first pictures of this guitar appeared online, and I can’t remember one guitarist who just had to have it. It takes everything that makes a V rock and reverses it. So, we can then deduce that if a regular Flying V does indeed rock, then a reverse V certainly Does Not Rock. It is not only strange, but my heart hurts if I stare at it too long. Collectors may have bought these, but let’s hope they don’t appear on stages anytime soon.
4. Indy Custom FlyCaster
A catastro-V of epic proportions, it proves that it is harder than it looks to create a platypus. Only 100 or so were made, which was good, because we can’t let things like this get more widespread. In reality, it is an inexpensive novelty instrument which combines the radical V with the most traditional of electrics, the Telecaster. Combining the two shapes is bound to appeal to fans of both guitars, right? Nope.
3. Teuffel Tesla
Ulrich Teuffel’s designs certainly do not appeal to everyone, and that is the point. An industrial engineer, Teuffel creates ergonomic and functional pieces of art that just happen to sound really great. While a headless design isn’t new, he added a few new twists to the Tesla. The three circles below the strings are momentary switches. One is a killswitch. Another interrupts the signal and inserts the buzzing of a bad ground connection intentionally. The third switch also kills the guitar signal, but replaces it with squealing microphonic feedback. No wonder sonic innovators like David Torn use these things. I would too, if I could afford one. Strange, indeed.
2. Roland G-707
Guitar synths have come a long way since the early 1970’s. Back in the mid-1980’s, the union between a guitar and a synthesizer was a little over 10 years old. Guitar synths still didn’t produce sounds like pianos or strings, and they needed proprietary guitars with special pickups. These guitars used special 24-pin cables to route the hex pickup to the controller pedal, and the entire thing was so bulky and expensive that they didn’t sell many. The bar connecting the body and the neck was supposed to reduce resonances that caused mis-tracking of the synth notes. None other than Jimmy Page appeared in some of the ads, and he used one of these in some of his soundtrack work. How did it sound? Here is an absolutely awesome video showcasing how cool you could look and sound if you had one.
While the Roland above can also be used as a normal guitar, the SynthAxe cannot. The thought behind the SynthAxe was simple: What if you didn’t need to access normal guitar sounds while playing guitar synth? Would you need a guitar to look like an actual guitar? SynthAxe solved that by have a set of strings to pick, and a separate strings for the neck. They made the neck at a better angle, and spaced the frets apart so it didn’t get crowded. The SynthAxe also had several buttons that could trigger the strings like a keyboard. The idea was to send a midi signal from this guitar and pedal combination to the synthesizer of your choice. It was also insanely expensive in the mid-80’s. The SynthAxe also broke down a lot due to the complex maze of wires and PC boards inside. One of the only users of this instrument was the great Allan Holdsworth, who recorded several albums with his. He eventually gave up trying to keep his working.
Do you play any strange guitars? What is the strangest guitar you’ve tried?