The electric guitar is one of the world's most enduring symbols of rock and roll, with classic designs like the fender Stratocaster and Gibson Les Paul remaining musical icons. Many of the musicians drawn to play rock seem to eventually decide that traditional-looking guitars didn't cut it for them, and a few brave (or tasteless) famous musicians decided either to customize their own guitars or to choose outlandish designs that got a lot of attention. These are but a few of the gloriously gaudy or plain ugly guitars that famous players used, and this is not a criticism of the musicians themselves. Showmanship is a huge part of popular music, and these folks knew what they were doing.
Mark Bob Mothersbaugh's "Blue Potato" Ibanez
Devo is an American treasure, having spent decades steering their music into weird places. Unsurprisingly, the band's primary guitar player Bob Mothersbaugh, or "Bob 1" for short, is no stranger to using quirky instruments. Probably the strangest-looking of those was the custom Ibanez "Blue Potato" guitar that Ibanez built for him to use on the "Freedom of Choice" tour. Looking more like a mutant cloud than a potato, the thing is hideous and awesome at the same time. By the mid-'80s, Bob hit some hard times and had developed a cocaine addiction, which led the guitarist to sell his beloved potato axe to a pawn shop for $250. In the following decade, Bob cleaned up and regretted losing the guitar, so he began searching for it. After he spent years not getting anywhere, the guitar surfaced in the collection of pro skateboarder Jason Jessee, who reunited Bob with his blue potato.
5. Steve Vai's Ibanez Jems
The 1980s was an era rife with ugly guitar designs, with loud paint schemes and pointy axes being the calling card of hard rock and metal in particular. I'm fond of many of those tacky creations, and collect hot-rodded guitars from the period. One design that never appealed to me, despite being used for some really well-built instruments, was the Ibanez Jems made for the shredmaster Steve Vai. I can forgive splatter and swirl-paint designs and Day-Glo paint, but why the handle, Steve? It just looks dumb.
4. Brian Jones Vox Teardrop Guitar
Way back in the 1960s, Vox built a white teardrop-shaped guitar just for Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. It's hard to criticize the band's music from that time, but the guitar is just ugly, reminding me of a silly-looking lute more than an instrument built to play rock and roll. Collectors still clamor for these ugly ducklings today, and Vox even reissued the thing a few years back.
3. Eddie Van Halen's Frankenstrat
Eddie Van Halen changed rock-guitar playing forever when the first Van Halen album was released, sending guitarists scrambling to learn how to play like he did. His red, white and black-striped guitar, a homemade "Frankenstrat" that Eddie built out of modified spare parts, became instantly famous and inspired countless imitations. It was largely responsible for popularizing super-Strat guitars, which were everywhere by the mid-1980s. Van Halen's Frankenstrat became almost mythic among guitarists interested in how the pyrotechnic player got his sound, despite reports that the thing was basically a piece of junk when examined up close. One thing is for sure: That guitar is iconic. It's also ugly as hell. A few years ago, Fender reissued a lookalike guitar that cost around $25,000, proving some collectors will spend nearly anything for an ugly striped guitar.
2. Dimebag Darrell's Washburn Guitars
"Dimebag" Darrell Abbott left a huge mark on heavy-metal guitar, and his playing with Pantera was hugely popular and innovative during a time when heavy metal had largely fallen out of favor with the mainstream. The band was like a punch in the face to a music scene that mostly ignored most metal bands, and Dimebag was an enormous part of what made Pantera noteworthy. He also played some ridiculous-looking guitars during an era when traditional-looking designs had come back into vogue. The Washburns he played were designed after a Dean ML model that Dime had loved in the early '80s, and the pointy guitars made a real visual statement, especially with the awesomely garish paint jobs he was a fan of. I've heard the Deans and Washburns Dime popularized described as the "WWF of guitars," and it's hard to argue against that impression.
1. Michael Angelo Batio's Four-Necked Guitar
Michael Angelo Batio has been using his mastery of extreme guitar techniques to dazzle fans since the 1980s, and while he's not everyone's cup of tea, there's no denying the guy has shredding skills. At some point along the way, Batio decided that one guitar neck simply wasn't enough for him, and developed a two-necked "Duo guitar." While double-necked guitars had been around for years, played by guitarists like Jimmy Page and Alex Lifeson, Batio played both necks simultaneously. After two necks, the only way to go was up, and Batio unveiled his four-necked "Quad Guitar." It's one of the dumbest-looking guitars I've ever seen, but one has to be impressed by the sheer excessive nature of the thing.
There are a lot more weird, ugly or just plain silly-looking electric guitars that have been played by famous musicians, and this list just scratches the surface. Until we revisit the good, the bad and the ugly of electric stringed instruments, shred on.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.