|Randy Rhoads left an indelible mark on the history of rock guitar. His musicianship continues to inspire guitarists around the world, even though officially his recorded work only exists on five albums. He cut his teeth in the 1970s L.A. music scene with the band Quiet Riot, but it was his recruitment by Ozzy Osbourne that ushered him into the worldwide spotlight before his death in a plane crash in 1982.
As Randy dazzled the guitar community with his playing, many guitarists remained curious about the tools of his trade. Randy’s main guitar was a Gibson Les Paul Custom, which was flanked by two unique V-shaped guitars. While much has been written about these guitars, most observations have simply scratched the surface. With the help of luthiers Karl Sandoval and Grover Jackson, we revisit these very special guitars of Randy Rhoads.
Randy Rhoads began his performing career playing a cream-colored Gibson Les Paul Custom. His Quiet Riot bandmates had acquired it collectively for Randy’s sole use in the late seventies. Initially, Randy thought it was made in 1963, but would later discover it was actually made in 1972. This revelation came from John “JT” Thomas, an avid Gibson collector and guitarist for the British band Budgie, who opened during Rhoads’ first European tour with Ozzy. The Les Paul was Randy’s main guitar throughout his career and he used it for a majority of his recordings and performances with Osbourne.
The Les Paul Custom, per 1972 spec, had a four-piece body: two layers of mahogany with a thin layer of maple in the middle and a carved maple top. It was white when new, but the nitrocellulose lacquer yellowed over time. It was also heavier than fifties era Les Paul Customs. Randy made only a few cosmetic alterations to the guitar, replacing the brass toggle switchplate and substituting the Grover tuning machines with Schallers. The most noticeable marking on this guitar was Randy’s name engraved on the pickguard. Pickups during this era of construction were Gibson-produced “T-Buckers,” named for the T-shaped tool marking made in the forward bobbin of the pickup.
An Idea for a New Guitar
Before joining up with Ozzy Osbourne for Blizzard of Ozz
, Randy was still slugging it out on the L.A. scene, playing shows with Quiet Riot. In 1979, Randy found himself gigging with another local guitarist he admired from the band Xciter, George Lynch, who would later come to fame in Dokken. In those days, the two often conversed about technique, amps and, of course, guitars. One particular evening, Lynch showed up with a new single-pickup V-shaped guitar. Randy was excited to see it and asked to check it out. The guitar had a flat radius fretboard and a tremolo bar on the body, something uncommon on V-shaped guitars at the time. To Randy, it was like two worlds colliding—a Gibson-inspired shape with a Fender-made mechanism. Lynch had had the guitar custom-made by a local luthier named Karl Sandoval. As Randy was fascinated by the design of this guitar, George urged him to give Karl a call.
Karl Sandoval began his career as a luthier while playing guitar in the band Smokehouse. He was on the same scene that included many of Randy Rhoads’s contemporaries, like Eddie Van Halen and George Lynch. He built relationships with other guitar players on the basis of his guitar playing and the amazing guitars he made for himself. He had been working with Wayne Charvel at the Charvel guitar shop when he received a call from the Quiet Riot guitarist. He recalls that first conversation with Rhoads, saying, “I remember Randy giving me a call, telling me that he was backstage with George doing a show and got to play the guitar I made for George.”
The main design feature of the guitar Sandoval made for Lynch was a Danelectro neck bolted to a V-shaped body. “Going back before I was building guitars on my own, I built guitars with Danelectro necks,” Sandoval explains. “I remember playing them and I liked how the action could be low. You could pull up the high E string with a tremolo bar and it wouldn’t fret out because there’s no arch. It was a very unique feel.” Before the Lynch V, Sandoval had made a radically shaped, yellow “Megazone” for Eddie Van Halen that also featured a Danelectro neck.
On his first visit with Sandoval, Randy discussed ideas for his own version of what he had seen on George Lynch’s V. That was July 3, 1979.
“I can remember that day,” Sandoval says, “walking around in my garage discussing this guitar ... talking about the headstock, the color, the bowtie inlay on the neck. He wanted the Les Paul’s double humbuckers and the Fender Strat tremolo. He also asked about putting the toggle switch and the output jack on the upper wing.” Randy also mentioned that he did not want a bolt-on neck because he wanted the guitar to have the playability of a Gibson.
Sandoval with Rhoads' in-progress first V
As Sandoval tells the story, “I talked with Randy about coming up with something different in a guitar, a different look, saying, ‘Let’s come up with a different headstock, a different color, come up with an identity.’ And then he started to tell me, ‘V body with polka dots’ ...honestly, I thought that was hideous but then I just kinda used my imagination.” Randy wanted 3/4" dots painted all over the guitar, and to give it perspective, he didn’t want them randomly placed on the guitar.
“I took his ideas and I put them all together,” Sandoval continues. “I was real good at putting guitars together in my head. I could visualize the guitar in my head before it’s even started. He didn’t want a bolt-on, so the neck is set into the body.”
Building a New V
The first step in building this guitar was finding a Danelectro neck. Sandoval had become accustomed to using these necks, and they were a central feature of his guitars, but he still had to hunt one down: “I would go to swap meets and pawn shops a lot. Back in the day, I was picking up Silvertones and Danelectros for like 15 to 25 bucks. I couldn’t even get necks from wholesalers for that price! Basically I took them off the guitars and I ended up with a lot of guitar bodies and no necks.”
Contrary to popular belief, these necks did have truss rods. As Sandoval describes them, “It’s two I-beam, non-adjustable truss rods glued into the neck before the fretboard is glued on. If you look at the end of these necks, you’ll see two slots. That’s where these on-edge I-beam truss rods are. It’s like an inch-thick steel that will not bend. And it makes a maple neck very heavy. I think that’s what contributed to the sound of Randy’s guitar. There’s a lot of metal there.”