35 of the wildest custom guitars & basses in rock music
From the truly sublime to the ridiculous
Last updated 1st Feb 2021
Absolute Radio presents some of the wildest custom guitars and bass guitars that have been played by famous rock and metal musicians over the decades.
A handful of the guitars are nothing short of attention-grabbing gimmicks, however many of these unique instruments are firmly entrenched in rock and roll folklore - and in one or two cases, they’re among the greatest guitars in the history of our beloved genre.
Musicians whose guitars feature in the list include Prince, Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, Steve Vai, Metallica's James Hefield, Queen's Brian May, Bo Diddley, Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, Ginger Wildheart, Zack Wylde, Megadeth's Dave Mustaine, Blue Oyster Cult's Eric Bloom, ZZ Top, KISS's Gene Simmons, Lita Ford and Slade's Dave Hill.
35 of the wildest custom guitars & basses in the history of rock music:
ZZ Top’s Spinning Fur Guitars
Of course, we couldn't make a feature about outrageous guitars without ZZ Top's iconic Spinning Fur Guitars. Made from real sheepskin, the twirling guitar for Billy Gibbons and bass for Dustin Gibbons were both created by Dean Zelinsky of Dean Guitars and they famously first appeared in the music video to 'Legs' in 1983. Billy Gibbons says: "The guitars are attached to our belt buckles. It's a rotary electrical contact and strap mount. A hole is bored in the back of the guitar at the balancing point and the device is mounted there. Oh yeah, you gotta look out for that thing coming back around. Get your head and neck out of the way or else it'll say hello in an unfashionable fashion."
Rick Nielsen’s Five Neck
Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen with his iconic Five Neck guitar at a concert in 2012. Tired of performing with multiple guitars at concerts, Nielsen joined forces with guitar makers Hamer way back in 1981 to combine all of his guitar playing needs into one glorious instrument. The guitar was created by fusing the bodies of five Hamer Specials together and there have been several incarnations of the Five Neck. Hamer founder Frank Untermeyer said: "Rick's out of his mind, but in a wonderful way."
Michael Angelo Batio’s Double-Guitar
Famous for his technical prowess and genre-straddling playing style, American heavy metal guitarist Michael Angelo Batio personally invented the Double Guitar - a V-shaped, twin-neck guitar that Batio plays both left and right-handed.
Bo Diddley’s Square Guitar
The blues rock legend made his first square guitar aged 17 as he couldn't afford to buy an electric guitar. He explained to Vintage Guitar in 1997: "(the guitar's) pickup was the part of a Victrola record player where the needle went in. I clamped it to the metal tailpiece to pick up the vibrations." The original guitar was sadly stolen, but in 1958 Gretsch later made a version with DeArmond pickups. Pictured is Bo proudly clutching it in 1959.
John Paul Jones’ Triple Neck Arch-Top Mandolin
The Led Zeppelin multi-instrumentalist's unique Triple Neck Arch-Top Mandolin was created by luthier Andy Manson in the mid-1970s and swiftly became a mainstay of Led Zep concerts. The famous electroacoustic instrument boasts 8-string mandolin, 12-string guitar, and 6-string guitar necks. Manson said decades later: "I designed and made the triple neck and took it to John's house. I said, 'Hi John I thought this might interest you.' He said, 'Wow, yes indeed, I can't wait to see Pagey's face when I walk on stage with this!' It cost ￡400 and I skipped off down the road feeling like a millionaire."
Prince’s Love Symbol Guitar
Pictured is Prince with a purple Love Symbol guitar in at The Grammy Awards in February 2004 where he performed his anthem 'Purple Rain'. Prince's range of Love Symbol guitars were based on the shape of the unpronounceable symbol he adopted as his moniker in 1993 in an act of rebellion against his record label, Warner Bros.
Bill Bailey’s Gary Hutchins Six-Neck Guitar
Comedy legend, esteemed musician and Strictly Come Dancing champion, Bill Bailey, played this six-necked guitar aptly called The Beast as part of his stand-up routine in 2011. An apparent nod to Rick Nielsen's Five Neck, the instrument was created by guitar maker Gary Hutchins, the eponymous founder of Hutchins guitars, and it once went on display at London's Albert and Victoria Museum.
Steve Vai’s Ibanez Triple-Neck Red Heart Guitar
The virtuoso musician designed his Ibanez custom built triple neck with heart-shaped body guitar in 1988 as he wanted something "eye-catching" for the video to David Lee Roth's 'Just Like Paradise'. Steve Vai himself admits the guitar is "odd" and there have been three incarnations of the instrument – the original Red Heart, a spare called Red Heart II and a Purple Heart. Steve used the latter guitar on the Ultra Zone tour and wrote the song 'Fever Dream' with it.
Pat Metheny’s Pikasso Guitar
Canadian master luthier Linda Manzer created The Pikasso Guitar in 1984 when jazz artist Pat Metheny requested a guitar that had "as many strings as possible." The completely unique resulting instrument has 42 strings arranged in four different string sections.
Gene Simmons’ Axe Bass
Back in 1978, Gene Simmons joined forces with master luthier Steve Carr to create a unique bass guitar shaped like an axe that would suit his on-stage Demon persona perfectly. The resulting weapon-like instrument – aptly entitled The Axe Bass – is a true classic. Now a running trademark for KISS, there have been a number of incarnations of the Axe Bass including the pictured Cort GS-Axe-2 bass guitar Gene is aggressively clutching at the 2010 NAMM Show.
Michael Anthony’s Jack Daniel’s Bass
Michael Anthony's now famous Jack Daniel's Bass was created back in 1983 while Van Halen were working on their musical masterpiece '1984'. Anthony's guitar tech and good friend Kevin 'Dugie' Dugan was charged with creating the bass, which was made with the blessing of Jack Daniel's on one condition – that only three guitars were made. One is on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum, one is in storage and one is still used by Michael Anthony to this very day.
John Entwistle’s Buzzard Bass
The Ox played the iconic Buzzard Bass for the final 17 years of his career from 1985 to his untimely passing in 2002. Entwistle worked with Hans Peter Wilfer, founder of Warwick basses, on the striking bass and the pair came up with the moniker Buzzard after imbibing numerous drinks at London nightclub Maggie's – neither could remember who first suggested the name. After they picked the name, the headstock was tweaked to resemble the beak of a buzzard.
John Fogerty’s Baseball Bat Guitar
Crafted by Philip Kubicki, John Fogerty named his unique guitar 'Slugger' in homage to the Louisville Slugger baseball bat. Created in 1985 when his album 'Centerfield' came out, Fogerty donated the instrument to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 2010. Fogerty said at the time: "That guitar means a lot to me. It's symbolizes two of my great loves, baseball and the guitar. When 'Centerfield' came out, it was after a long break and was such an important album to me on many levels. The lessons of baseball - the hits, the misses, the triumphs, and the losses - were something that I could really relate to in my life. So I got this idea to make a baseball bat guitar and of course, it had to be a Louisville Slugger."
Ian Hunter’s Maltese Cross Guitar
Ian Hunter's Maltese Cross Guitar was designed by American luthier Harvey Thomas in the 1970s. Despite its iconic status, Hunter says the guitar looked good but didn't sound great and he sold it a number of years ago. Def Leppard and Planet Rock's Joe Elliott had two new Maltese Crosses made for Hunter's 70th birthday in 2009 that Hunter says sounded "GREAT!" Hunter says: "There are only two in the world. I think it's really neat that a guitar can look that good AND sound so good. Very cool!! Praise be to Joe!!!"
Bumblefoot’s Vigier Flying Foot guitar
As the name suggests, Bumblefoot's Vigier Flying Foot features a pink foot on the guitar body complete with wings that pop out. Bumblefoot says of his beloved instrument: "Vigier spent 5 months building this guitar by hand - it's truly a masterpiece. Incredible detail on the guitar, down to the toenails. When you bend down the vibrato bar, wings pop out of the sides. They gave me this guitar at the NAMM convention in Los Angeles, January 1998. Plays and sounds the best of all my guitars - it's my main guitar."
George Lynch’s Mom
Influential Lynch Mob and ex-Dokken axeman George Lynch unveiled his skull and bones guitar – affectionately called 'Mom' – in the mid 1980s. Designed and hand-crafted by artist John 'J. Frog' Garcia, the guitar also featured an ESP Guitars decal on the headstock as Lynch was contracted with them at the time.
Andrew WK’s Taco Guitar
Hard partying rocker Andrew WK unveiled a delicious Taco Guitar to mark National Taco Day on 4th October 2017. His second foray into food-themed instruments following his Pizza Guitar a few years earlier, the custom Taco Guitar was created with ESP Guitars. WK said at the time: "I realised that since I had paid tribute to pizza, I now had to pay tribute to tacos in all their glory. I was destined to make a taco shaped guitar. This is proof that if you have the vision, no matter how outlandish or unruly, the team at ESP Guitars can turn it into a beautiful reality. And they only use the highest quality materials and they're truly master craftsmen. Absolutely mind-blowing attention to detail and playability. There's no compromise when it comes to the integrity of the instrument, or the hardness of the party."
Misa Kitara Guitar Shaped MIDI Controller
Not technically a guitar, the Misa Kitara was a short-lived digital MIDI controller and musical instrument that was developed on 2011 and discontinued just two years later. Taking its name from the Finnish word for guitar (kitara), the instrument combined touch buttons for strings and frets with an 8-inch multi-touch screen that creates a variety of sound effects. Muse bassist Chris Wolstenholme can be seen playing a modified Misa Kitara in the video to the band's 2012 song 'Madness.'
Dave Hill’s Super Yob Guitar
Famed for his outrageous costumes and hilarious haircut, it seemed only right that Slade axeman Dave Hill had a unique and eccentric guitar. Created by luthier John Birch in 1973, the Super Yob was styled after a science fiction ray gun and instantly became synonymous with Dave Hill. Guitarist and songwriter Marco Pirroni bought the original Super Yob in the early eighties, but Hill has since had a replica made.
John 5’s Fender Telecaster Lava Lamp Guitar
John 5 has a number of eye-catching guitars in his arsenal, but the Fender Telecaster Lava Lamp Guitar is arguably the standout instrument of the lot. John 5 says: "It's heavy as hell but it's really cool because it lights up on stage… it weighs a ton! It sounds really good. There's anti-freeze in it because when I ship it abroad it might freeze and crack the guitar."
Ginger Wildheart’s Smiley Bones Guitar
Based on The Wildhearts' fearsome logo, this truly phenomenal Smiley Bones Guitar was created in 2015 by Devil & Sons Guitars. Daniel Wallis made the guitar for Ginger Wildheart to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 'P.H.U.Q.' album as a replacement for the original guitar which came out when the album was released but was later stolen. He explains to Planet Rock: "I sent some images of it to Ginger who loved it but asked if I could make a few changes so it met a perfect spec for him to play live. Instead of making the changes I just made another so there were in fact two that I made. Part of his spec was to have a particular BC Rich neck put on it, which I did, but then he decided that to play it live it would be better with a 24-fret neck, so I made that change too."
Zakk Wylde’s Epiphone Graveyard Disciple guitar
Ozzy Osbourne and Black Label Society axeman Zakk Wylde with one of this Epiphone Graveyard Disciple signature guitars on stage in 2009. Nicknamed the 'Bo Deadly' by Zakk, the Graveyard Disciple comes in a coffin shaped case and features a crucifix on the body and headstock. Nice.
Eric Bloom’s Blue ?yster Cult Logo Guitar
We couldn't do this list without including Eric Bloom's famed guitar shaped like the Blue ?yster Cult logo. The bespoke guitar was created by master luthier Ronaldo at Pastore's Music in Union City, New Jersey. In case you're wondering, the logo was created by Bill Gawlik, the artist behind BOC's first and second album covers, and it's a stylization of the astronomical symbol for the planet Saturn.
Bootsy Collins’ Star-Shaped Space Bass
The flamboyant James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic bassist's first Star-Shaped Space Bass was created in 1975 by fledgling guitar maker Larry Pless who worked at an accordon shop called Gus Zoppi Music in Warren, Michigan. Since then there have been numerous incarnations of the Star-Shaped Space Bass, including Bootsy's current signature Warwick star basses, but the basic design has stayed the same.
Brian May’s Red Special Guitar
Easily one of the most famous guitars in the history of rock music, Brian May created the Red Special with his dad Harold as a teenager in 1963 as he couldn't afford a Fender, Gibson or H?fner guitar. Designed to intentionally create feedback, the guitar has helped define Brian May's signature sound and he's performed almost exclusively with it throughout Queen's prime in the 1970s and 1980s until this present day.
Todd Rundgren's Veleno Ankh Guitar
Todd Rundgren's aluminium ankh-shaped guitar was created by metal craftsman John Veleno in the early 1970s. Highly regarded for their aesthetic appearance and also distinct playing style, a series of Velono guitars were made for a number of artists. Rundgren loved his so much, he had two made.
The Dean V Dave Mustaine Double Neck Electric Guitar
Dave Mustaine's bespoke double neck guitar, created by Dean, has been one of his main instruments for the past decade. Thanks to its jagged shape and the metal artwork emblazoned on the body, the guitar is an absolute aesthetic triumph – a behemoth of an instrument that suits Megadeth's brutal music perfectly.
Rob Davis’ Heart-Shaped Guitar
Mud guitarist Rob Davis played his famous red heart-shaped guitar during the glam rockers' commercial peak in the 1970s and he still performs with it to this very day. Here he is proudly flaunting the guitar in a promo shoot with Mud almost five decades ago.
Prince’s yellow ‘Cloud’ Guitar
Late music legend Prince had an extensive and highly flamboyant custom guitar collection consisting of more than 100 instruments. Among the standout instruments was Prince's yellow "Cloud" guitar, which sold for $225,000 under the hammer in 2018.
Rick Nielsen’s Uncle Dick
A prolific collector, Rick Nielsen has amassed over 2,000 guitars over the decades. Alongside his trademark Five Neck (also pictured here), arguably the most famous of the bunch is his Hamer 'Uncle Dick' double neck guitar from 1983, which is based on a likeness of himself.
Michael Angelo Batio’s Quad Guitar
As seen in the video to his 2020 song 'Time Traveller', Michael Angelo Batio also invented the Quad-Guitar, which features – you guessed it – two sets of twin-neck V-shaped guitars. Outrageous yet highly impressive!
Lita Ford’s B.C. Rich Monkey Train guitar
The former Runaways rocker unveiled her train-themed B.C. Rich Monkey Train guitar in her 'Playin' With Fire' official video in 1991. Lita told Guitar Afficionado a few years back: "I got into B.C. Rich. I was always over there carving out new ideas and helping to make new stuff. They would make anything I asked them to make."
James Hetfield’s Carl Guitar
In 2018, James Hetfield proudly showed off his unique new guitar – dubbed Carl – to Metallica fans. The rugged instrument is named after 3132 Carlson Boulevard in El Cerrito, California, where Metallica were based during their breakthrough years from 1983 to 1986. The garage was later demolished but James's friend Andy Anderson of the Bay Area thrash group Attitude Adjustment kept eight pieces of wood from the heavy metal landmark and gifted them to him years later. Papa Het then enlisted the services of master custom guitar maker Ken Lawrence to craft him an instrument using those planks of wood. Carl featured on Metallica's WorldWired World Tour where it was used for performances of 'Hardwired… to Self-Destruct' track 'Moth Into Flame.'
Dan Hartman’s Bass Suit
Unfortunately, we've been unable to acquire an image of the late Dan Hartman's Bass Suit but there's no way we can miss it out! The Edgar Winter Group bassist and solo musician paid a reported $5,000 for the suit in 1974 (huge money at the time), which he designed with Los Angeles couturier Bill Witten. Made from a rubbery fabric that featured the instrument in the pelvic pocket, the Bass Suit's controls are on the sleeve attached to an aluminium plate and the guitar neck ends with a crescent moon.
Stig Pederson’s iPhone Bass
Stig Pedersen, bassist/vocalist of Danish rock band D-A-D, has a number of outlandish bass creations that he performs with including a rocket shaped bass, a reverse bass where the head stock and body are swopped around, and a transparent bass. He hit the headlines in 2018 when he unveiled his latest playful creation – a bass shaped like an iPhone.
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- steve vai
- ZZ Top
- blue oyster cult
- the wildhearts
- Led Zeppelin
- bo diddley
- brian may
- van halen