Part of the appeal of most rock stars is that they are larger-than-life characters who seem to be able to get away with style choices that would get anyone else laughed at. As we've discussed previously, rock guitarists in particular are a colorful bunch, and their choices in instruments often reflect that. For some famous players, it's enough to play the same stock guitar so long that it becomes associated with them. Can anyone imagine Angus Young taking the stage playing anything but a Gibson SG? It would be rock and roll blasphemy if he ran out playing a Fender Stratocaster, and many fans would be shocked.
But for other stars, stock instruments just don't make the grade, and either a desire to attract more attention or very particular tastes demand that they play something a little more unique. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but some of the axes famous players have used are just plain ugly. Here are a few that fit into that category.
5. EDDIE VAN HALEN'S IBANEZ "SHARK" DESTROYER
Eddie Van Halen's made the first installment of our Ugly Guitars list, because despite his striped homemade "Frankenstrat" being an iconic instrument that helped change the course of rock guitar playing, it's an ugly duckling. But Eddie makes our list again, because the Frankenstrat wasn't the only hideous guitar he ever cobbled together — far from it, in fact. EVH seemed to like building ugly guitars almost as much as he did redefining the way hard rock sounded.
According to many sources, one of the key guitars that Van Halen used on his early material, and one that played a large role in the band's sound, was an unmodified Ibanez Destroyer. That design from the Japanese guitar company was basically a copy of a Gibson Explorer, and was used on about half of the tracks from the first Van Halen album. Shortly after the recording of that album, Eddie decided to modify the guitar, hacking out large chunks from its body and giving it one of his striped paint jobs. Removing pieces of the body made the guitar visually more noticeable, but reportedly changed the way it sounded, displeasing Van Halen. He must have still been fond of the awful looking instrument, because Eddie Van Halen posed with it on the cover of the 1980 album Women And Children First, and there are plenty of photos of it floating around. It's truly a terrible-looking guitar.
4. RICK NIELSEN'S DOUBLE-NECKED HAMER
Rick Nielsen is a sometimes underappreciated guitar player, with a serious passion for guitar collecting. The instantly recognizable guitarist for Cheap Trick has a world-famous and enormous stable of vintage and custom guitars in his collection, and surprisingly they're not all checkerboarded. Despite owning some of the rarest electric guitars in existence, Nielsen is probably most associated with a custom double-necked Hamer built to look like him.
Now granted, this guitar was created to be played at concerts and to get attention from audience members, and it's doubtful it's the guitar Mr. Nielsen reaches for when casually playing around his house, but it's an awesomely ugly instrument that deserves its place on this list. Extra ugly points awarded for designing the guitar's necks to look like his legs. Nielsen has other stage guitars of note, especially a five-necked Hamer that is checkerboarded. The man loves to make an impression, and his fans love him for that.
3. STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN'S "NUMBER ONE"
Saying anything that might be construed as a criticism of Stevie Ray Vaughan is enough to get a person strung up faster than serving picante sauce made in New York City. I'll take this opportunity to say that every one of the guitar players on this list are amazing players, and I mean no offense to them or their fans. With that disclaimer out of the way, I will say that the Fender Strat most closely associated with Vaughan is ugly as hell, a horrible-looking mutt of a guitar that probably would be looked at with scorn if it hadn't been played by him.
The battered instrument has a 1962 neck and body, with pickups from 1959, and is missing nearly all of its original finish. Vaughan replaced the pick guard with a black one, to which he added his initials with large reflective stickers that look like they belong on someone's mailbox. It's an unattractive guitar, but is iconic since the guitarist coaxed some amazing sounds from it. Number One has also been copied by legions of Vaughan's fans, and had tribute versions released by Fender. I'll also reward honorable mention for Stevie Ray Vaughan "ugly artifact" status to his memorial statue in Austin — that thing looks as much like a Sleestak from Land of the Lost as it does the legendary blues-rocker.
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2. BILLY GIBBONS' "FLUFF EXPLORER"
An entire list of ridiculous looking guitars could be comprised from Billy Gibbons' collection, as the dude has quite a few that fit the bill. While the Texas rocker famously plays a 1959 Les Paul named "Pearly Gates," ZZ Top has rolled out numerous odd-looking instruments over the years, and some of the silliest are the fuzzy guitars. Looking like something that came from a 1970s custom van nightmare, there have been several versions of the shaggy fur-covered axes, which are based on Gibson Explorers but made by many manufacturers. They're attention-getters that make me think of dirty carpets, thus their inclusion in this list.
1. PRINCE'S "SYMBOL" GUITAR
It's probably no big surprise that a guitar player as eccentric as Prince would be drawn towards some fairly outlandish guitars. Prince is an amazing player, but he also has carefully crafted a visual presence and image over the years, and has quite a few guitars that veer into extremely weird-looking territory. For awhile he was playing his "Cloud" guitars, custom built instruments that sort of look like a melting telecaster with an extremely pronounced upper horn. But then came his "Symbol" guitar which was built by a German luthier, and later reproduced by Schecter Guitars. I don't even know how to describe that thing - It barely looks like a guitar because it's so stylized. It's pretty ugly too — clumsy-looking and off-balance. Prince being the rock star he is, can play pretty much anything he wants and it will fit his image, but that is one stupid-looking guitar.
I think almost every aspiring guitar player goes through a period where they want to design their "perfect guitar," and in the case of people who want to make a visual statement, sometimes those projects get pretty crazy. When the players happen to be some of the biggest rock stars in the world, they have plenty of resources to make those freaky-looking designs into real instruments. The rock and roll world seems to love ugly guitars.