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Jay Jay French and his daughter, Samantha, cradle the Gibson J-200 and Martin 000-18 flattops he commissioned to raise money to combat the rare eye disease Samantha has suffered from since she was 6 years old.
If you’re a child of the ’80s or hip to Reagan-era hard rock, John French Segall (aka Jay Jay French) needs no introduction. As co-lead guitarist for Twisted Sister, he cranked out fistpumping melodic anthems like “We’re Not Going to Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” that gave voice to the angst and rebellion felt by whole swaths of youth eager to indulge in everything their parents feared and hated. Those anthems brought French and Twisted Sister worldwide album sales of more than 15 million units, in addition to 37 gold and platinum awards from eight countries.
But even if you’ve never been into that particular music scene, you can probably relate to French as a gear nut— he’s famous for his trademark “pinkburst” Les Pauls. If you’re a parent, you’ll probably also identify with what he faces as the devoted father of a 17-year-old girl, especially as you read on and try to imagine what it was like when French and his (then) wife learned that Samantha, then 6, had uveitis—a disease that causes inflammation of the middle layer of the eye and that is the leading cause of blindness among American girls (see “What Is Uveitis?” sidebar on p. 5). Regardless of your musical or gear proclivities, you’ll likely feel pangs of empathy as you contemplate the 11 intervening years of pain, uncertainty, and heartache as French’s family learned to live with the disease.
French didn’t want to just live with it, though. As a restless rocker and a vigilant dad, he wanted to do something to help the cause. So three years ago he began the Pinkburst Project—an effort to amass a collection of one-off custom guitars and amps that could be auctioned to raise both awareness about uveitis and money to fund research for a cure. French commissioned Fender, Paul Reed Smith, Epiphone, Gretsch, Martin, Gibson, Marshall, Vox, Mesa/Boogie, Hartke, Diamond Amplification, Finland’s Ruokangas Guitars, and Orange to design a lineup of 25 exquisite guitars, basses, and amplifiers to that end, while TKL designed one-of-akind cases for the axes, Red Monkey created customized straps, and Harley Hoffman of Kayline Industries supplied the custom vinyl covering for the amps.
We recently spoke to French about his family’s struggle with uveitis, what led him to begin the Pinkburst Project, and what it was like selecting the gorgeous guitars, amps, and accessories that comprise it (we’re displaying selected portions of the project here, but you can view the entire collection at pinkburstproject.org).