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Carvin #1-MS Professional Double-Neck. Photo courtesy of Dave Isaac/Hollywood Vintage Room.
For the 1961 model year, Gretsch introduced one of the more unique multi-neck offerings ever to come from a major manufacturer. The Bikini was actually three units, a guitar (6023), a bass (6024), and a doubleneck bass and guitar (6025). The concept was that you could use one body and slide in either a bass or a guitar neck. To make things slightly more complex, the body also folded down the middle on a piano hinge, becoming known as a “butterfly.” A player also had the option of combining separate butterfly back components to make a doubleneck. The guitar was 25-1/2" scale and the bass was 29-1/4" scale. Electronics, pickups, tone and volume controls were self-contained in each respective neck shaft. The guitar was a good idea in theory but not in practice, and was difficult both to produce and to operate.
Throughout the rest of the 1960s and 1970s, Gibson was the only major manufacturer to consistently offer an electric doubleneck. Mosrite kept the Joe Maphis doubleneck in its catalog up until the latter part of the decade, and Rickenbacker occasionally produced guitar and bass doubleneck combos. Other manufacturers produced doublenecks only as a custom order. By and large, the doubleneck moved into novelty status with only Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin using one to any effect. Rick Nielsen famously paired with Hamer on a number of extreme multi-neckers, and in the 1980s some metal bands made use of the shock factor of the instrument to add to their visual appeal. In the late 1990s and early parts of the 2000s, retro appeal brought back some doublenecks into the realm of “guitar geek” status.
Some of the most enlightening moments in guitar learning have come for me at the Museum of Making Music. Located at NAMM headquarters in Carlsbad, CA, the Museum not only preserves the history of the music instrument industry but teaches the history of music instruments to the public. I was lucky enough to work at the museum doing a number of things, none more gratifying than giving tours to youngsters. Once while giving a tour to a group of Brownies—girls between the ages of seven and nine—I walked up to a case holding an incredibly rare Bigsby doubleneck built for J.B. Thomas. It’s a beautiful piece with a maple top and one regular-scale guitar neck and one mandolin neck. I asked the Brownies the question, “Now why would a guitar have two necks?” The girls were silent until one of them, in a whisper quiet voice, said, “So you can rock and roll?”
A great answer, and probably not too far from the truth.
Make sure to read the companion piece, "Those Daring Young Men and Their Doubleneck Guitars: A Brief History of Multi-Neck Players" in this issue!