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Lots of Strings Attached

I love my six strings, I really do. I never pine for more, not even a seventh. In fact, most of us are okay with six, but some people just

I love my six strings, I really do. I never pine for more, not even a seventh. In fact, most of us are okay with six, but some people just have to break new boundaries and head into the unknown. I have joyfully experienced a number of these musicians and their seemingly crazy quest to make music with bunches of strings, although three seem to separate themselves from the pack with their unique guitars and music. The music is certainly worth checking out, but the technical aspects of these axes will simply blow your mind.

At the top of the list is the Pikasso. Its name is ostensibly derived from its likeness in appearance to the cubist works of Pablo Picasso. The one pictured belongs to Pat Metheny, one of the most famous jazz guitar players of our time. In Pat’s hands, this guitar is not just for show. He works the daylights out of this thing. The Pikasso guitar was built for him by luthier Linda Manzer in 1984 and it has 42 strings. This 42-string beast with three necks has been popularized by Pat and can be heard on his song “Into the Dream” and on the albums Quartet, Imaginary Day, Jim Hall & Pat Metheny, Trio Live, and Metheny Mehldau Quartet his 2007 second collaboration with pianist Brad Mehldau. The guitar can also be seen on the Speaking of Now Live and Imaginary Day DVDs. Metheny has also used the guitar in his guest appearances on other artists’ albums and on a Jazz TV show, Legends of Jazz, where he referred to it simply as a 42- string guitar. I wonder how often those strings get changed.

Guitar Tech
Pat Metheny’s 42-string Pikasso guitar
Photo: Brian Pickell

Next is the harp guitar. The definition of a harp guitar goes something like this, “a guitar, in any of its accepted forms, with any number of additional unstopped strings that can accommodate individual plucking.” These instruments have a separate and distinct category within the guitar family. In this case, the word “harp” is now a specific reference to the unstopped open strings; not a specific reference to the tone, pitch range, volume, silhouette similarity, construction, floor-standing ability, or any other harplike qualities. To qualify in this category, an instrument must have at least one unfretted string lying off the main fretboard.

My friend Muriel Anderson was the first person to really hip me to the harp guitar and she is a true ambassador for the instrument. Muriel is an artist with a slew of CDs, videos, and instructional books to her credit. She’s logged many miles on the road and one of her CDs has even traveled as far as outer space, accompanying shuttle astronauts on a mission. She won the National (USA) Fingerpicking Championship in 1989 and remains the only woman ever to hold that title. She founded the Music for Life Alliance and is host and founder of Muriel Anderson’s All Star Guitar Night concert series. Her main instrument is a Paul McGill classical guitar, though a Del Langejans steel-string harp guitar has made its way into her performances and the CDs Journey Through Time and Harp Guitar Christmas. More recently, she has added a Mike Doolin nylon-string harp guitar to her arsenal. Muriel’s arrangements and compositions cover a wide stylistic range. Her teachers have included Chet Atkins and Christopher Parkening.

Lastly, I couldn’t resist the three neck anomaly owned and played by Steve Vai. Just when you thought that the double-neck used by Jimmy Page was almost too much, we find the triple-neck. One 12-string neck, one regular six-string neck and a fretless neck make up this guitar. It must hurt just to hold it. Steve wanted to use it on the Sex and Religion tour, but it was too much of a hassle to carry, mostly because of its fragility. Triple neck guitars are still rare because they’re huge, heavy, expensive and generally pointless, but Missy Elliot has her Lamborghini bed and Lil Jon has his jewel encrusted crunk cup, so hey, why not a triple neck guitar?

So, if you’re tired of your mundane set of six strings, check out these voyages into the final frontier. Listen to the previously mentioned recordings and try to lay your hands on one. You’ll be weirder – I mean better – for it.

Rick Wheeler
Rick Wheeler currently works as Larry Carlton’s guitar tech and front of house engineer. He is also an accomplished jazz guitarist, vocalist, and educator. You can contact Rick at