One of the most admired guitarists in the history of American rock is Frank Zappa, a workaholic, perfectionist, and formidable conductor. He became a well-known rock musician, director, producer, businessman, social commentator, and symphonic composer throughout the 1960s while also criticizing the hippie movement’s pervasive hypocrisy. We’ll be looking at some of his favorite instruments right here.
Baby Snakes was the moniker given to one of Frank Zappa’s most cherished instruments. The bandleader’s preferred guitar for the majority of the late 1970s was the Gibson SG hybrid, which may have served as the basis for the album’s title in 1983. Although it appears to be a typical SG from a distance, it is in fact nothing like that. In actuality, Zappa purchased it for $500 from “a guy in Phoenix” who approached him backstage during a performance. Although it has a number of non-Gibson elements, like as ornate inlays and a 23rd fret, it presumably plays quite similarly to a Gibson SG. The second guitar we’ll be discussing was salvaged by Rex Bogue, who also equipped it with a phase switch and an integrated preamp, giving Frank Zappa unmatched control over his tone. Zappa also owned another SG, this time a real one, which he called “Roxy” and used on the 1974 album Roxy & Elsewhere.
Jimi Hendrix shattered a sunburst Fender Stratocaster during the 1968 Miami Pop Festival, and Zappa was the happy owner of that guitar. The instrument, which Zappa received from one of Jimi Hendrix’s old roadies, was set up by Rex Bogue and added a few electronics for good measure, including a Dan Armstrong Green Ringer and a Barcus-Berry contact pickup hidden in the neck. The tortoise-shell pickguard and the neck itself were both shattered during Hendrix’s Miami concert.
The other Strat in Zappa’s collection was a 1988 Performance solid body that was constructed to order. This vivid yellow guitar was utilized on Frank’s last tour and comes complete with concentric knobs and adjustable trim pots to permit minute tone adjustments. Midget Sloatman, his guitar technician said, “The trim pots are identical parametric filter circuits. One trim pot is dedicated to bass frequencies from about 50Hz to 2kHz, and the other one affects the top-end frequencies from about 500Hz up to 20kHz.”
Frank was able to “tune his guitar to the room” and “determine how the room responded to the amplifier” with the help of these filters, which also included a resonance frequency knob.
Zappa’s cherished Gibson ES-5 Switchmaster, which he used on the first three Mother of Invention albums, brings us back to Gibsons. Frank connected this sunburst semi-hollow body into his Fender Deluxe amp for his Freak Out! album, which must have produced a really meaty tone. Later, he added Barcus Berry pickups, a ton of additional switches, and tone knobs to the jazz guitar. Every guitarist needs a workhorse, of course. The Les Paul Custom seen on the front cover of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar was Zappa’s go-to instrument. Seymour Duncan humbuckers and a nine-position rotary switch that offered the options of single-coil/humbucker and out-of-phase pickup combinations were installed in this instrument by Zappa.
Zappa’s Martin D-18S 12-fret Dreadnought acoustic guitar was one of his all-time favorites, despite the fact that he is best known for playing electric guitar. This exquisitely crafted guitar, which has a slotted headstock, a Brazilian rosewood fretboard, head plate, and bridge, as well as mahogany back and sides, was used during the 1974 recording of “Sleep Dirt” and The Grand Wazoo song “Blessed Relief.” The owner of this Martin, Mark Volman, who was a member of Zappa’s Flo and Eddie lineup in the early 1970s, actually swapped Zappa his Telecaster for it.