The Top 10 Weirdest Guitars
By Brad Tolinski
If you search the internet for “weird guitars,” plenty of strange mutant six-string (or more!) instruments pop up—some ingenious, some down-right idiotic. It seems almost anyone with a bandsaw and a lot of time on their hands can build a guitar these days, but whether you would want to be seen playing any of them is another matter altogether!
For International Guitar Month, we thought we’d narrow the scope of our Top 10 Weird Guitars list just a bit. Instead of highlighting bizarre, homemade instruments, we decided to celebrate some oddities that actually made it to the production line. Some of you may recognize these guitars—or, perhaps, even own one or two of them—but we feel each is wonderfully weird and groundbreaking in their own way.
Top 10 Weird Guitars
This is the legendary granddaddy of weird guitars. Designed alongside the Flying V and Explorer, the Gibson Moderne was a rubbery-looking Gumby-like electric guitar model prototyped by Gibson way back in 1957. But unlike those classic instruments, the Moderne was never put into full production until many, many years later. For years it’s been rumored that a couple of the original prototypes survived, but like Bigfoot, no authenticated example has ever been photographed, making it the “mythical great white whale” of weird collectible guitars (see video for the entire history).
B.C. Rich Warlock
When Bernie Rico designed the first B.C. Rich Warlock, he was convinced “it was the ugliest guitar I’d ever designed.” However, he soon discovered that this beast was a hit amongst metal giants like Lita Ford, Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. and Kerry King of Slayer. When it comes to pointy guitars, this is still the king, inspiring a zillion knock-off weird looking guitars.
Like Gibson, Fender has also made its share of oddities. For example, The Performer was introduced in 1985, only to be discontinued one year later. Looking somewhere between a B.C. Rich Warlock and a Fred Flinstone carving, it was commissioned to combat lost sales to the “Superstrats” that were flooding the market in the mid-’80s. Unfortunately, in the battle for market supremacy the Performer ended up losing, banished forever to the area of Arkham Asylum reserved for weird shaped guitars.
Hendrick has been called “one of the most enigmatic brands in the recent history of American guitar.” Founded by Kurt Hendrick, the son of an aerospace engineer, the company has been producing some of the most otherworldly and weird looking guitars since the ‘80s. Hendrick’s customers include ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ted Nugent and most recently Joe Perry and Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, who have been playing their instruments religiously when on tour. The Generator is mondo cool (see video), but so are Comet and the Apollo. If you’re looking for something weird, unique and spacey, Hendrick will have you over the moon.
Gretsch G5034TFT Rancher
Ever wish your acoustic guitar had humbucking pickups and a whammy bar? No? Neither have we—but mostly because we never really thought about it before. Introduced in 2014, the Gretsch G5034TFT Rancher with its awesome retro triangular sound hole, Bigsby twang bar and Fideli’Tron humbucker pickup is everything a weird looking guitar should be—unusual, badass, eye-catching, but still practical and playable.
Misa Kitara Digital Kaos Guitar
Why this way-out contraption never caught on is beyond us! Essentially, it allowed any guitar player to become a synthesizer wizard overnight. Unfortunately, the Misa Kitara Digital Kaos Guitar is no more after going out of business back in 2013. Still, it leaves us with the existential dilemma: Is this weird guitar or a weird keyboard?
Eastwood Airline 59 3P DLX
You can’t do a story about weird unique guitars without mentioning Eastwood, the reigning kings of strange six-strings. If you want a great head-scratcher of an axe, Eastwood is your company. This Airline 59 3P DLX is one of our favorites. Coming in colors that will make your dog uneasy, this deluxe oddity will not only make you look like a rock star, but will keep you busy for days trying to figure out which knobs do what.
Danelectro Baby Sitar
In the psychedelic ‘60s, everybody from George Harrison to Jimmy Page to Brian Jones was messing around with the Indian stringed instrument known as the sitar. Problem was, it was hard to tune, amplify...and play! Legendary session musician Vinnie Bell had the brilliant idea to create a standard guitar that replicated the twangy buzz of the instrument. Since then, the electric sitar has been a cult favorite. You can hear it on Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam,” Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” and Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” The Danelectro company recently revived this fabulously strange instrument and made it eminently affordable. It may not be your first guitar, or your second...or third...or fourth...but this weird unique guitar is great for those times when you’re feeling a little “far out, man.”
Kurt Cobain Fender Jag-Stang
Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain loved Fender Jaguars and Mustangs. So, he reasoned, why settle for one or the other when you can mash both up into one weird beast? Using his cred as the biggest rock star of the ‘90s, he sketched up an idea, gave it to Fender and they eagerly put together this weird unique six-string. With its short-scale neck, it’s very easy to play, and with it’s bolt-on neck it’s also easy to smash. However—as Vice magazine recently pointed out—“unfortunately these axes are about as easy to find as an original pressing of Nirvana’s Bleach.”
Music Man St. Vincent
It’s good to know there are players that still feel the urge to push the envelope. Annie Clark of St. Vincent is one of the few artists keeping “strange” alive in modern pop music and in the guitar world, so of course her signature Music Man guitar is going to reflect that. With a body made of African Mahogany and a Rosewood neck and fingerboard, not only does it look unusual, but it has a fabulously distinct tone as well. While not exactly “weird,” it looks and feels like nothing else. Go, Annie, go!
Final Thoughts: Top 10 Weird Guitars
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Brad Tolinski is perhaps best known for his work as the editor-in-chief of Guitar World magazine for 25 years. He is also the author of Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page (Crown); and Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound and Revolution of the Electric Guitar (Doubleday), which was the basis for a 2019 guitar-focused exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Most recently he edited the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Issue of CREEM magazine, and his latest book Eruption: Conversations with Eddie Van Halen (Hachette) will be coming out in October 2021.