Vintage Guitar - March 2018 - open - 105
AC/DC by then, and thought the SG was
what I needed - a real guitar. So, she fronted
me the $200.
Were you playing in a band by then?
Yeah. I think it was my sophomore year of
high school. We had a band called Obsession,
and played probably 40 cover songs - Black
Sabbath to Led Zeppelin to Deep Purple,
Robin Trower, Cream, Thin Lizzy. We played
three or four high school parties.
What amps did you use?
My brother had a Sears Silvertone that I
"procured." He and I built a speaker cab for
it - I wanted something tall and big, and we
recovered the Silvertone. Of course I wish
I still had that amp and that we hadn't recovered it (laughs), but the first real amp I
put money down on was a Peavey Deuce.
It was cool - had a footswitch so I could
pretend I was soloing. Really, it just made
me louder than everyone else.
Was the SG still around when Metallica
It was not. I wish it had been, but when
I was 16, my mother passed away and I
was uprooted. I had to move in with my
brother, change schools, and be away from
all my friends. It was brutal. But I thought,
"I love music. Here's a chance to meet new
people and form a band. Everywhere I
looked, everyone was looking for a singer,
so I thought I had a better chance getting
into a band if I was singing. So, I traded the
SG for a giant P.A. and a Carvin mixer that
I kept in my tiny, tiny bedroom. I flipped it
back and forth between singing or playing
guitar depending on who needed what in
a band. No one was a good enough singer
or no one was a rhythm-guitar player, so I
ended up doing both anyway.
When Metallica formed, what were
An Electra Flying V - made in Asia and
with a bolt-on neck. All I cared about was that
Michael Schenker played a V, and I wanted
to be Michael Schenker. I painted it white.
Were you playing a Marshall amp at
Yeah, and I'm not sure where the head
came from; I saved for it or had some inheritance. I bought a Marshall cabinet from
George Lynch. I didn't know who he was, but
he was advertising it, so I picked it up at his
studio in Hollywood. I had a half-stack and
my Flying V, so I was pretty happy.
As Metallica gained momentum, superstrats were becoming popular, but you
never got into them.
Strats were never my thing. They were
more for lead players. Plus, Schenker didn't
have one! The whole Charvel thing was
the big deal at the time, and all these L.A.
bands were playing them. That was not my
scene. Later, I ended up playing a Jackson
V, which was one of my first backups. The V
and the Explorer shapes interested me. The
V was nice and punchy for fast songs and
the harmony stuff we were doing. But the
Strat, to me, wasn't a cool-enough shape.
Plus, everyone had one.
When did your first Explorer come
I saw a couple of bands in the Bay Area
playing them. I loved the shape, and when
I finally played one it fit my body really
well. I could play it sitting down or standing up, and it balanced nicely. I also loved
the hockey-stick headstock. The first was
an '80s model with a black headstock and
Were you like Kirk, replacing pickups
Yeah, and I tried many pickups up in that
V - Bill Lawrence to DiMarzios. I think I
ended up with Super Distortions. Then,
we met Matt from ESP and told him I was
interested in an Explorer with a bigger
headstock. They were very open to making
it, and I started getting more into all the
things I could modify. EMG pickups were
just coming out, and Mesa Boogie amps.
All of this stuff started to come together in
developing our sound.
The first guitar ESP made for me was the
So What?. I loved it, and it went from my
backup into the number one slot really quick.
Was this around the time of Ride The
The end of Ride the Lightning toward
Master of Puppets. So '85/'86.
And you now have a handful of signature models.
Yeah. I've always loved the Les Paul shape,
as well, so we did the Truckster and the Iron
Cross. I've since done the V-shaped Snakebite
and Vulture with them. Those are the three
that feel best on me.
When did collectible/vintage guitars
ping your radar?
Once we started having some money,
we'd stop in cities and towns on tour and
go, "What can we do here? Oh, let's go to a
guitar shop." Then it became, "Hey, these
guys got this guitar. Somebody's got this."
And, people with guitars started showing up
at our shows. At that point, I suppose I was
collecting. Kirk was a lot more into it than
I was, and it was him and [producer] Bob
Rock who said, "Hey, you should get one."
I remember looking at my first '59 Les Paul
Standard and the guy said, "The prices on
these are going to go up." He was right. I got
one for $25,000 and now it's a lot more than
Were you focused on a particular brand
My first interest was eclectic and weird,
out-there stuff that no one else wanted. I liked
the unique sounds of Kay guitars and other
off-brands. Also, designer brands. I dove in.
There's something magical about getting
a guitar that's new to you, even though it's
vintage. There's something in a guitar that
speaks to you or still has riffs. I put human
emotions into it and get human emotions out
of it. When I see an old car sitting in a field,
I think, "Yeah, maybe it served its purpose,
but it still wants to run." A guitar wants to
play - there are riffs in it. The excitement of
playing it... there's an energy that riffs come
out of. I love playing a vintage guitar through
an amp for the first time. Something comes
alive with it.
You mentioned designer brands. Do
you remember the first time you saw an
I think it was Keith Richards playing one.
I really love artistry - tattoos, scroll work,
patterns, Western scrolling, When I saw on
one of the Zemaitis V copies, I had to look
into it. I eventually got an old one and a new
[GZV 500 MF] that Danny O'Brien engraved
for me with designs from my tattoos. It's
really, really cool.
How about other vintage models?
I have five '59s and one '60 Les Paul
Standard, I've got a few '57s. I've got a black
three-pickup, a korina V from '58 that
matches the Explorer. I also have a Veleno
and a few other unique guitars that I really
love. I've got a really cool collection of Vs and
recently found one in Silver Sky Metallic,
which was pretty difficult.
How did you find the '58 Explorer you
have on tour?
I'd been looking for one for quite a while.
A friend who sets up our guitars and finds
stuff for us said, "Hey, there's this pair
available - '58 V and Explorer. Are you
interested?" I had my guy go look over them
with a fine-toothed comb and flashlight. It
was no-brainer. It was not the cheapest set
I've ever bought, but it's very worth it.
What made you decide it was okay to
take it on tour?
Once Kirk started bringing Greeny out
on the road, that inspired me to bring the
Explorer. Also, going to see Queen; Brian
May is a wonderful guy and we were talking
backstage when his roadie walked past with
a guitar on his back. I said, "Hey, what's
that?" He was like, "That's the old boy."
It was the guitar that he and his dad built
- out on tour. I thought, "Hell, if he can
have that out, I can bring the Explorer."