I’m thrilled to do this project for Premier Guitar—I’m always happy to destroy a guitar for a good cause! But first, I would like to explain why you’d want to modify a guitar like this in the first place. I’ve played on prepared guitars for more than 10 years, and they work great in a studio environment. But onstage it’s a nightmare when you try to recreate the sounds you recorded—they’re never the same. In 2001, I started building instruments of my own design in order to solve the inaccuracies of instant preparations. This has evolved over the last 12 years, and at this point I have created 40 or 50 different types of stringed instruments. For this project, I’m using ideas from some of my earlier designs, and I’m doing it in such a way that anybody who is a bit handy with tools can do the same thing with a guitar of their choosing.
The final product is a fittingly scuffed-up experimental axe with a rotated E-string pickup, a behind-the- bridge playing area with its own pickup, and three 1/4" outputs.
This instrument has two main modifications, and each has its own 1/4" output—in addition to the original output. you’ll notice in the photos that the guitar has a rotated single-coil pickup. This allows you to route the 6th string to a separate amp—one with ideal rhythm-guitar tones—to fake the sound of a second guitarist playing power chords. it may even inspire you to kick the second guitarist out of your band. you think I'm joking, but here are some of the benefits of this artificial “second guitarist”:
• She/he always plays perfectly in sync with your part.
• She/he is always perfectly in tune with your guitar.
• She/he isn’t bored onstage when she/he has to skip a verse to give the song breathing room or sit out for a song to yield a more dynamic set.
• She/he doesn’t argue about being asked to play a simple part (or other “artistic differences”).
• She/he isn’t always playing when you want her/him to shut up and listen to your explanations or requests during rehearsals.
• She/he doesn’t take a cut of profits from merch sales and concert fees.
• She/he doesn’t steal your food, beer, bed, and groupies while you’re on tour.
The other mod you’ve no doubt noticed is the relocation of the bridge pickup to a new cavity that’s been routed behind the Tune-o-matic-style bridge, as well as the creation of a playable area behind the bridge—like on Fender Jaguars and Jazzmasters, and a bunch of other ’60s guitars that seemed to be searching for the best tremolo system for surf music. Many experimentally minded guitarists (including Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore) prefer these guitars, and this playable area behind the bridge is part of the reason.
Our behind-the-bridge “playground” will allow you to play ethereal sounds reminiscent of a Turkish violin (or other timbres in Eastern music), and send them via an independent output to their own amp or effects processor. I often strum this area with a backhanded technique, alternating between picking in front of and behind the bridge—tung-tung ting-ting tung-tung ting-ting. You also get very interesting and complex shared overtones when you alternate between playing behind-the-bridge notes and the open strings, as well as notes fingered at the 5th, 7th, and 12th frets. And you can expand the possibilities here with altered tunings that allow you to decide which notes are on frets that accentuate the rich overtones and reverberant qualities.
With its neck pickup still in the original location (and wired to its own output), the guitar can function as a normal electric guitar and as an experimental instrument.
Listen: This track is recorded with just one instrument and in a one take. So both sounds come out of this instrument at the same time. Output 1 is the signal coming from the normal pickup and is connected to Amp 1, Output 2 is the signal from the pickup in the tail piece of the instrument and is connected to Amp 2. The odd reverb overtone sound is caused by this pickup/output. No reverb or delay is used on this recording, on distortion on Amp 1. The strings have a Baritone set up tuned in A.