Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, no stranger to oddball custom guitars, raised a few eyebrows with his massive Hamer five-neck guitar. Nielsen, world famous for his huge guitar collection, also owns various doubleneck instruments, including the one-of-a-kind ‘83 Hamer “Uncle Dick” guitar, which features a full-length caricature of Rick with his legs forming both necks and a detachable head.
English guitarist John McLaughlin, who gained fame in the 1970s as a member of Miles Davis’ group and then as leader of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, played a customdesigned doubleneck instrument based upon the Ibanez Artwood, and built by California guitar builder Rex Bogue, in 1974. The body was constructed of eastern fiddleback maple, the necks were maple and rosewood, and the fingerboards of Gaboon ebony. Gibson humbuckers were used, but were rewound by Bogue, and the inlay work was nothing short of spectacular, as were the intricate electronics. Grover Imperial tuners were used on the 6-string neck and Klusons on the 12. Finally, the 30-pound guitar was named “The Double Rainbow” by its owner, who used it extensively during his days as the acknowledged master of jazz/rock fusion guitar.
And So Many More
Other celebrated guitarists who have used doublenecks at one time or another are Denny Laine of Wings, Johnny Echols of the earliest incarnation of the Los Angeles band, Love, and Lita Ford. Laine owned an exceedingly rare Ibanez Artwood doubleneck. Reputedly, less than a dozen were made. Echols owned and played a Gibson EMS-1235. Ford was well known for her use of a white B.C. Rich doubleneck Bich, nicknamed “The Twins.”
And there’s the inimitable Pat Metheny and his jaw dropping Pikasso guitar, conceptualized by Pat in collaboration with Canadian luthier Linda Manzer. This tripleneck instrument has 42 strings, weighs just over 6 pounds, and when fully tuned, exerts almost 1000 pounds of pressure on the necks.
In the camp of the not-quite-world-famous doubleneck players, there’s Ron Weinstein, a talented guitarist/singer/songwriter from Long Branch, New Jersey—a loyal user of the Gibson EDS-1275 and a prime example of how most of us are influenced by our guitar idols. When questioned about why he began using one, Ron replied, “The awesome Jimmy Page inspired me, of course! I went to see Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden, and immediately bought a Gibson 6-12 doubleneck that still sounds and looks cool. The obvious advantage is the ability to play rhythm on the 12-string neck and lead on the 6-string neck without changing guitars. The doubleneck was instrumental (pun intended) in helping me write and produce one of my originals, ‘Trippin’ All Over The World,’ that wound up sounding like a Tom Petty song, partially because of the 1275.” (Click here to download a free mp3 of the song)
On the jazzier side, Scott Stenten, a Chicago-born but New York City-based guitarist, performs imaginative, adventurous music that employs both acoustic and electric guitars joined together in ingenious ways, with magnets, pins or screws. Stenton owns several doubleneck instruments, including custom made models by luthiers Brad Larson and Steve Klein. One of them is an Ibanez AM-100 semi-hollow electric, mated with a specially designed Klein-built solidbody. Another consists of two Martin Backpacker guitars, and yet another is a marriage of a Taylor 314CE and a Baby Taylor. All the guitars can be separated at any time if Stenton wishes. Stenton has developed a phenomenal technique that allows him to play both necks of his guitars simultaneously, a mind-blowing achievement.
Once I started researching doubleneck guitarists, however, I came to the realization that doublenecks, in whatever configuration a player may choose, open up limitless musical and tonal possibilities you would not have on a conventional single neck instrument. I had seen Jimmy Page play his 1275 many times with Led Zeppelin, so that point was obvious. The second reason is because doubleneck guitars just look so darn cool, and as guitarists, most of us are looking for something to set us apart from the crowd. Doublenecks always attract attention. Playing one onstage will definitely get you noticed.
[The author would like to thank his new friend Wally Marx for his assistance, and his buds at The Gear Page for their help preparing this article. You know who you are.]