A racecar builder uses his engineering know-how to build guitars out of titanium and other metals.
The aircraft-grade steel body on this sleek Firebird-inspired axe has a satin-black paint finish and joins a mahogany neck that’s capped with a rosewood fretboard. It’s dressed with chrome hardware appointments including a Bigsby B5. It’s packed with a pair of active EMGs—an 85 in the bridge and a 60 in the neck for a super-fat sound.
Like the racecars Sheldon Currington builds for a living, his luthier career has taken off fast. He started building his Bad Seed guitars in late 2010, and his very first prototype ended up in the hands of James Hetfield. Later that year, Currington got a call asking him to build two custom guitars for the Metallica frontman—not a bad start at all. “My original idea was to build a metal-body semi-hollow guitar with a one-piece neck-through design to ensure its tone would remain wooden if possible,” says Currington. “It worked so well and I’ve always dreamed of building guitars, so Metallica’s interest in me was all the encouragement I needed.”
Currington, a lifetime guitar player, says the opportunity to incorporate his two passions of fast cars and music is a match made in heaven. He also has an engineering background, and with that comes attention to detail, and experience working with metals, allowing him to produce guitars utilizing not only aircraft-grade steel for the bodies on some of his models, but also titanium.
The luthier says the sonic properties and stability are the biggest benefits of using steel or titanium for guitar bodies, but he maintains that the necks are still the most important part of a player’s personal connection with a guitar. “The necks remain wooden because that’s the first thing a guitarist touches and feels as they play,” says Currington. “To me, the neck has to feel just right, or else the player just won’t bond with it.” Therefore, Bad Seed guitars are built with a one-piece neck-through design to keep the feel of playing a wooden instrument, but with the sonic and visual bonus of the exotic bodies. “I’ve found a relationship between the materials that works so well. The instruments chime with almost piano-like qualities, and because they’re semi-hollow, they also resonate a bit like an acoustic guitar might. So in my opinion, you get the very best of everything.”
When asked why he thinks metal guitars haven’t gone totally mainstream yet, Currington says: “I think metal is a new taste for a traditional modern-day instrument. There is a huge swing at the moment to metal-body guitars for more flamboyant, embellished or expressive guitarists, but I don’t know if the ‘mainstream’ will accept it as the new medium, or just always see it as something interesting. It’s a super difficult material to work with when compared to wood, so it takes a special involvement to get right.”
Currington believes that electronics are just as personal for people as woods and body shapes, but he favors EMG’s latest 57/66 combo for actives and says it’s the most impressive active system he’s yet to hear. For passives, he likes the Seymour Duncan lower-output range in various flavors as a first option.
Beyond the obvious, the luthier contends that the sonic range of his instruments is what sets them apart. “Bad Seed guitars have more attack, more resonance, and more sustain. The exotic materials aren’t just there for fashion—they are functional in every way,” he says. “Bad Seed is also currently the only company in the world producing titanium guitars. That’s kinda cool, too!”
Pricing and Availability
Direct contact through the Bad Seed website is the best way to inquire Currington’s guitars. He is very involved with his clients in designing each guitar, but is adding a semi-custom series to accompany his full-custom guitars—these will be more standardized to make his guitars more accessible. The luthier handbuilds approximately 10 to 12 guitars annually, with the wait time on a custom build is currently around three months, but his semi-customs will be available with an almost “off-the-shelf” turnaround. Pricing for a Bad Seed guitar starts at around $4,500, though Currington says the sky is the limit with the full-custom builds.