|Upper Left - Jack White’s Gretsch-inspired Parsons Red Vampire features cow-skull bracing inside its semi-hollow African bloodwood body.
Upper Right - The hollowed-out, three-piece neck is of African bloodwood and holly (“Bloodwood is just like ebony—very heavy and dense”), and the African bloodwood fretboard features cow-skull binding and thumbnail inlays.
Lower Left - The back has four compartments—one for the onboard MXR Micro Amp pedal and three to facilitate fast repairs on the road. “Jack breaks things,” Parsons explains.
Lower Right - The finished Red Vampire is stocked with a an unusual bridge (“I bought a bunch of them years back from a smaller company, but I haven’t been able to find any more”) and TV Jones Classic Plus pickups with a unique switching system: The treble bout has three beefy on/off toggles “from a secret source,” the bass bout has a killswitch (under the strap), and the knob complement consists of a master volume, a master tone, and a master gain for the Micro Amp.
While bone and other organic material might be lightweight, your Black Vampire model is made entirely of Gabon ebony. How much does that instrument weigh?
Well, before the fingerboard goes on, the whole neck is hollowed out. Again, kind of like honeycomb, so there’s some structure there. And the body is semi-hollow, so the sides are bent like an acoustic. And the top and the back are one chunk of ebony that’s shaped by hand. So it’s a heavy guitar, but no heavier than a Les Paul.
Why not just use multiple chunks of ebony?
The Black Vampire was built entirely of Gabon ebony for Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen. Its headstock is adorned with intricate scorpion carvings, and the back of the neck is inscribed with secret writings that are only visible under a black light.
The whole idea of one piece was just the uniqueness of it—y’know, the rarity. Here’s a guitar made from the same piece of ebony just to keep it consistent. If I’m going to make a guitar out of solid ebony, I’m going to know that all my T’s are crossed and my I’s are dotted and do it right.
How would you describe the Black Vampire from a tonal perspective?
You would think the Vampire would be really cold and dark, but there’s definitely an open, airy sound—kind of like an archtop. And I left the back of the neck unfinished, so it just feels great to play.
What are the pickups on the Vampire?
TV Jones Classic Plus models. Same thing on the Bruja model.
From your source materials to your model names—Strolling with Bones, Diablo, Bruja, and Vampire—there’s a hint of the macabre to your work. Where does that come from?
It probably comes from my personality and the things I’m interested in. I think of myself as so normal, but then people come over to my house and ask, “Why is it painted like that? Why do you have dead cows hanging from the ceiling?” So I don’t know. I’m just kind of one of those guys. I’m just a regular person that loves Halloween.
You joined the military in your 20s, which is a pretty unusual move for an artistic person of your background. What drove you to enlist?
I wanted an experience. I wanted adventure. It really was not my character to do something like that, but I just kind of panicked once I graduated from Cornish College of the Arts. It was like, “What the hell am I going to do with my life?” Music college was so liberal and so soft that I felt like I really needed to get beat up if I was going to do anything with my life. That discipline has really helped me to this day with my approach to guitar making and the way I run my business. I’m an anti-war guy, but in the military I learned you can achieve anything through hard work and never giving up. There’s nothing wrong with getting a little bloody and bruised and just basically working your ass off.