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10 Best Guitar Origin Stories

Andrew Burton, Getty Images

Throughout the history of rock and metal, certain artists have risen to the top to become legends. Many of these artists started out with a favorite guitar, or they developed something new to suit their ever-expanding needs as a musician. Many of these guitars became iconic symbols on their own.

From James Hetfield‘s bolt-on neck Flying V copy to Steve Vai‘s first 7-string Ibanez, these guitars have come to have as much influence over budding shredders as the artists themselves. Some of these stories involve young, broke, hungry metalheads who hadn’t yet made it to the top and had to scrimp and save to get a cheap axe. Others involve guitarists who were innovative and industrious enough to build or modify their own guitars to get exactly what they wanted. And other guitars just look damn cool. Every guitar has a history and here we look at several iconic guitars and give you the 10 Best Guitar Origin Stories.


The First Ibanez 7-String

Steve Vai
 
 

Steve Vai was already known as a shredding beast when he and Steve Lasner created the first 7-string guitar. But they had no idea how important this new idea would end up becoming in the world of metal. After Korn's first album came out in 1994, people finally began taking notice of this innovation. Lasner said in an interview with Pure Guitar that the hardest part of building the prototype was designing the pickups. Since then, the 7-string guitar has become a mainstay in popular metal, helping bands find sounds heavier than ever before.

 

The 'Duck' Stratocaster

Yngwie Malmsteen
 
 

Yngwie Malmsteen has been a metal god for many years now. He is credited with bringing the influence of classical music to the world of shredding. His iconic yellow 'Duck' Stratocaster has been with him since the beginning. It is a 1971 Fender Stratocaster that started out as white, but over time faded to yellow. It's name comes from the cartoon duck sticker on the body. Yngwie also modified the guitar by “scalloping” the neck, carving out wood between the frets to fit his playing style. For more about his guitar, check out this interview with Guitar International.

 

The 'Arm the Homeless' Guitar

Tom Morello
 
 

Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave's Tom Morello has become known for his guitar's record-scratching sounds and whammy pedal solos. Morello is one person on this Guitar Origin list who hated what became his signature instrument. After buying it from a custom shop in California, he spent many years and dollars swapping parts out on it, trying to get the sound he was looking for. He said in an interview with Music Radar that he finally gave up and just started writing music. The guitar's tone eventually helped shape Rage Against the Machine's unique sound.

 

The 'Red Special'

Brian May
 
 

Queen's Brian May is a smart fellow. This rocker-turned- astrophysicist and guitar builder said he and his father built his own signature guitar, partly because he couldn't afford a new one and partly for the challenge. They carved the body from an old mantle, hand-wired the pickups and used the springs from a scooter kickstand for the tremolo bar. This guitar ended up contributing to Queen's unique sound, from the jangle of 'Another One Bites the Dust' to the weepy solos in 'Bohemian Rhapsody.'

 

The Dean from Hell

Dimebag Darrell
 
 

When Pantera's 'Cowboys from Hell' was unleashed on an unsuspecting world in 1990, many heads turned. What they saw was a guy with a long, mulit-colored goatee and a trucker hat playing a Dean with a blue lightning bolt on it. Dimebag Darrell helped reintroduce Dean guitars to the world at that point and brought the company back from obscurity. Since then, other shredmasters such as Dave Mustaine have joined the Dean bandwagon. But for many people, Dean guitars will always be most heavily associated with the late Pantera lead guitarist.

 

The 1959 Les Paul Replica

Slash
 
 

When Guns N Roses released 'Appetite for Destruction' in 1987, Gibson Les Pauls had fallen somewhat out of favor. Since then, though, they've been on top with no signs of faltering. And anytime you see Slash, more often than not he has one slung on him. His first Les Paul, though, wasn't a Gibson. It was a copy, built by luthier Kris Derrig. Slash talked about his first Les Paul on the website Slash's World. Even though this Les Paul isn't a genuine Gibson, it was still responsible for the sound that defined one of rock's most successful albums.

 

The Polka Dot Flying V

Randy Rhoads
 
 

Randy Rhoads was a large part of Ozzy Osbourne's success after Black Sabbath. He made the most insane guitar riffs look easy. And he did it with style. One of his most recognizeable instruments was his black-and-white polka-dotted Flying V. According to Jackson Charvel World, this signature instrument was built in 1979 by Karl Sandoval. They say it was a Danelectro neck glued to a Flying V body. Rhoads was one of the guitarists responsible for the huge popularity of the Flying V body style. He later went on to design Flying V's for Jackson and influence just about everyone who came after him.

 

The 'Old Boy' SG

Tony Iommi
 
 

With Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi helped invent the entire genre of heavy metal, creating crushingly-heavy guitar riffs. In Sabbath's early days, he played custom-built SGs made by John Birch. When he hired John Diggins (known as Jaydee) as his guitar technician, Diggins decided to make him a spare SG. Diggins said on his website that still-fresh lacquer and changes in climate created the cracked brown finish that the guitar is known for. Iommi still uses his original Jaydee SG to this day. It was one of his main guitars for Sabbath's '13' album.

 

The 'Frankenstrat'

Eddie Van Halen
 
 

Eddie Van Halen changed the music world with his crazy guitar-playing style. He introduced everyone to dive-bomb notes and double-tapped solos. He also played a crazy red-and-white striped guitar. According to Curt's List, once the world saw his crazy mongrel guitar, people began trying to copy it. To keep them guessing, he made several pointless changes to it, like adding a non-functional pick-up and selector switch. The guitar started out as black and white, but he painted it with red Schwinn bicycle paint after the first copies started to surface.

 

The Flying V Copy

James Hetfield
 
 

James Hetfield and Metallica have taken the world by storm to become one of the most successful metal bands of all-time. While Metallica fans may associate Hetfield with his ESP Explorer, he didn't start out playing that. Instead, he first played a very beat-up, white Flying V copy. This old Flying V looks like it was dug up from the depths of Hell, and helped propel Hetfield to become one of metal's most prolific riffsters. According to a thread on Harmony Central, Hetfield dug his old white V out and had it tuned back up in 2008.

 

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