Simon Jones scours the planet to track down wild, weird and experimental guitars and his collection now includes rarities from the UK, America, Russia, Germany, France and beyond. Lars Mullen drops in.
It’s been seven whole years since Guitar & Bass ventured to the far depths of Cornwall to witness Simon Jones’ startling selection of guitars. Simon isn’t a man to stand still, though, and since that time many of his instruments have been put on the block to make room for yet more way-out custom guitars. Is it about time for us to pay the man and his remarkable collection another visit? You bet it is.
‘What’s changed,’ Simon explains, ‘is basically lots of upgrades, and the new stuff leans very much towards high-end custom-built guitars of a pretty alternative nature. Some of the new guitars are complete one-offs, while some of them are just rare.
‘I’m in a pretty lucky position because a lot of the instruments I love simply aren’t trendy at the moment. To be honest, a lot of players wouldn’t even dare to be seen with them!
‘But, hand on heart, I can promise that I’d proudly go on stage with any one of these. A lot of them originally cost a fortune but have little secondhand value today, or they’re in a specialist kind of area, so in reality I get the best of both worlds, cherry-picking high quality alternative guitars.
‘If you look across my collection you’ll find a lot of British makers. It’s not a conscious decision to buy British each time, but I feel that while everyone seems to talk about the big Californian names – Fender, Rickenbacker, Gibson, Charvel, Schecter – we have phenomenal builders here in the UK who are very often overlooked.’
First up is a pair of extraordinarily angular and futuristic through-neck six-strings. ‘These were designed by Professor Roger McVae and they were built in the UK around the year 2000,’ details Simon. ‘Roger was fascinated by the Washburn Shift vibrato system, which at the time you couldn’t acquire separately, so he purposely bought two Washburn guitars which he then scrapped so he could use the vibratos on these two beauties. Both have carbon strips instead of truss rods and maple/mahogany centre blocks through the bodies. One uses mahogany for the body wings, neck and fingerboard, while the other employs ebony. Both have EMG humbuckers.’
The next two on display are very pink and very green. ‘These are early ’90s Palm Bay electrics, handbuilt by Andy Mackenzie,’ says Simon. ‘Both are highly playable, and they’re some of the best answers that Britain came up with for the ’80s rock guitar trend.’
The tubular silhouette of a Gus will be familiar to many fans of experimental British guitars. ‘I think Simon Farmer is a genius,’ enthuses Simon. ‘Of course they’re radical, but anyone who doubts the sound or the playability should try one. I think this one – which is a Gus G1 Vibrato model – is one of the best modern electric guitar designs. It just feels so good strapped on… the wood/carbon fibre composite body is perfectly balanced. I love the fact that standard hardware just isn’t considered good enough, so he makes all of it, including the controls and the pickups – and the vibrato is stunning. It’s literally hand-built rather than assembled.
‘The blue guitar with the graphic finish is a Stormshadow. I reckon these are Britain’s answer to what I call the “California Valley” guitars. This is one of their early DBS models from 2008, with a Blue Tribal/Ghost Flame finish. The graphics are by Piers Dowell, the body is American alder, the neck and fingerboard are AAA-grade birdseye maple, and the humbuckers are Bulldog Extremists.’
Rather more restrained but equally classy are two guitars built by Tom Anfield, a luthier originally from Australia but now based locally in Cornwall – a natural-finish guitar with three humbuckers and a dark sunburst double-cut with two.
‘Tom really has carved his name into the industry with his custom guitars,’ says Simon. ‘Mine are both early prototypes. The one of the left has a hollow swamp ash body and a spruce top. He’s a genius with the wiring as well as the construction: the three Kent Armstrong pickups are coil tapped and have boost and phase switches, stereo mono outputs and piezos under the bridge. This guitar is the Swiss army knife of sonic versatility, a great all-rounder.
‘The Anfield on the right is more of a heavyweight in every department. It’s got two Kent Armstrong humbuckers, so it’s more of a blues/rock guitar. It has a very fast neck, and the Honduras mahogany body gives lots of sustain. This was originally designed for through-body stringing before the installation of the Kahler vibrato, so the rear cavity was refilled with million year-old fossils!’
Next up – and pictured at the top of the next page – is an gloriously spiky red ESP. ‘I’m more than happy to play outlandish guitars like this live,’ Simon grins. ‘This is a late ’80s ESP Custom Shop AX and it’s been my number one stage guitar for a while now – I play in a duo called Smug Jars and two bands, Entity and Craters Of Mars. It’s turned out to be a pretty solid and reliable guitar. This came from a contact I have in Japan.
‘I actually got the ESP in a swap for an original Vox Teardrop guitar – collectable of course, but not my cup of tea. The Japanese guy bit my arm off. It was a three-guitar swap, and for that one Vox I got the ESP AX, an Ibanez Jem and this incredible ESP Angel Wing which was hand-carved for Takamizawa Toshihiko, the guitarist in Japanese rock band the Alfee. He’s the biggest ESP endorsee of them all. I haven’t gigged this one yet as it doesn’t have a volume control, and that might hamper my playing style a little!’
The bizarrely-shaped custom graphic guitar on the left in the next group of three comes from O’Scannell custom guitars in France. ‘These take some beating when it comes to radical shapes and paint jobs, but this one is surprisingly comfortable to play both standing up or sitting down,’ recommends Simon. ‘I bought it from a guy in Romania, of all places. O’Scannell still make these models, but I think they’re mainly concentrating on basic Fender and Gibson shapes. That proves once again that weird shapes and oddball paint jobs are not too popular, but I love them dearly.’
Next to the O’Scannell is an all-black guitar which might look, at first glance, to be relatively normal… but it isn’t. ‘This,’ says Simon proudly, ‘is a Bond Electraglide, a British oddity from the mid-’80s that took full advantage of the technology of the day. Built with carbon fibre and plastics, it’s vastly over-engineered with LCD displays for the volume and tone, and it uses its own power supply, which I also have. It’s a classic case of someone over-thinking in the design department – there’s a circuit board inside which is the size of the entire body! The black anodised aluminium fingerboard has “steps” instead of frets. The action is ridiculously low and fast, and this is the only model they made with a vibrato.’
On the right of the same group of three is a brightly-coloured partscaster. ‘I’m fascinated by colour schemes! This “bitsa” has a ’77 Fender Tele body, a reverse pointy headstock, an angled humbucker and Floyd Rose. It was put together as a tour guitar by the same guy who did the very loud paint job, and it’s incredibly heavy.’
On the left in the next group of three, below, is a wild-looking US-made custom. ‘I keep in touch with builders all over the world and I was recently talking to Tony De Lacugo in California,’ Simon explains. ‘His guitars are wonderfully off-the-wall and extremely specialist. Actually, Tony’s better known for putting a twist on familiar body shapes with loud custom finishes, but this Excelsior is from his Extreme Series. There’s nothing normal about the shape, from the open headstock to the inward-radiating solid mahogany contoured horns, which wrap around your body in the playing position.
‘My number one studio guitar at the moment is a Feline, custom built by Jonathan Law, another fine UK maker. This is one of his early models from around 1995, with a flawless blue metalflake finish that throws out rainbow colours from different angles. It’s a great visual guitar, a light show in itself with the reflective scratchplate and tailplate. Martin Sims installed catseye fingerboard lights at the 12th fret. I’m partial to the odd sparkly finish… in fact I love them.’
The spiky blue/green guitar is a Wilkes Slut. ‘Some of my guitars have been kept fairly clean by their previous owners but a lot of them arrived in pretty poor condition, so over the years I’ve learnt how to do most of my own restoration work. The Wilkes was totally unplayable when I bought it. I think Doug Wilkes is one of Britain’s finest builders – really high quality work. I actually have two Sluts that live in my studio.
‘There’s a cute story behind this silver sparkle Charvel Fusion. When I was a young lad in the early ’80s I lived in Northampton, and I was just getting into players like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. Each time I got dragged out to the shopping centre with my family I was allowed to hang out in the guitar shop and make terrible noises through a big Marshall amp. Full credit to the staff, who let me use this very guitar every time! It was drastically reduced as it had a crack in the finish, and at one point my dad almost bought it for me. I was devastated when I turned up one Saturday to find it had been sold. Then, many years later, it came up on eBay. I wouldn’t have gone for it, but it had a lot of sentimental value.’
The bright red instrument with the extended horn is an electric sitar by Eyb of Germany. ‘This is quite a feat of engineering,’ remarks Simon. ‘The scale length is longer than normal and the pickups are placed to enhance the sitar sound, but the real secret is in the saddles and the bridge construction. Each saddle can be individually raised or lowered for the required amount of sitar effect, then locked in place. It sounds very authentic on lead lines and chords.
‘The mother and father of all sparkly guitars surely has to be this BC Rich Gunslinger, hand-inlaid with hundreds of pounds’ worth of Swarovski crystals by a company called Crystal Rock. It’s a stunning effect, reflecting insane patterns and changing colour under the lights. It’s the perfect guitar for a really bad player – you’d get cheered with this guitar just by going on stage and playing an E chord!’
Last time we spoke to Simon we discovered his near-fanatical feelings for pearl-covered Ritz guitars – and his collection is now well into double figures. ‘I had 12 when we last talked, and now I have 37 of the original 53 guitars that were made in that one year of production in 1989. Ritz guitars have become a passion for me. It’s a shame that they sit in the “forgotten” category but that’s but good for me, as nobody seems to want them!
‘Ritz guitars were designed by Eric Galletta and Wayne Charvel, and they had a body with a thicker central core thinning out towards the edges. The cracked shell finishes form a kind of mosaic pattern, and every single one is unique. Sections of shell were cemented to the wooden body, then cracked with a rubber mallet before being sanded flat. The catalogue lists the colours as Green Shell, Abalone Shell, Violet Oyster, Brown Lip, Black Lip, Nautilus, Shell and Snake Lip. That was just a guide, though, as I have several others, including one that has all those finishes on one body!
‘The hardware was a little sporadic. Wayne Charvel once worked for Gibson and BC Rich, so there’s quite a variety of pickups. I love them dearly, and I’ll always buy any Ritz. Some have arrived in a really bad way, but I’ve nursed them back to life.
‘I’m still on a mission to get more. There’s a lock-up in the USA that has five waiting for me to collect at the moment, which I’m very excited about. If anyone in the world knows where there are any more then please, please contact me!’
We’re back to relative normality for the next three instruments. ‘The white Strat was put together with all the best parts from several guitars including a rather cool lace-backed scratchplate, while the two Schecters are great beefy-sounding guitars from the late ’70s. Both are pretty rare. I love the brass hardware and the use of woods that you don’t seem to see on guitars these days. The lighter-coloured one has an ash body, a rosewood fingerboard and Ultra Sonic pickups, while the other has a walnut body, an ebony fingerboard and the original Schecter pickups.’
The current pride of the whole collection just might be an extraordinary blue-finish Auerswald guitar. ‘I almost have to sit down to talk about this one, it just takes my breath away every time I look at it,’ Simon sighs. ‘Germany’s always been the place for high-quality engineering, and their guitars are incredible too.
‘This is an Auerswald Naomi, built by Jerry Auerswald, who for me is the best guitar builder on the face of the planet, full stop. Aside from the machineheads he’s made everything on this guitar – even the carved pickup covers. This has been my ultimate dream for a long time. I’d been chasing one of these for over 22 years, and I missed out on a few on eBay because I couldn’t communicate well enough in German. I eventually found this one last year. I have all the catalogues and have done tons of research. For me, an Auerswald guitar is the pinnacle of guitar collecting.’
We’ll take a bit of a breather by looking at three basses. ‘The black Vigier dates from 1980 and I’ve been told by the company that as the serial number is 4, it’s one of the very first production basses they made with a metal fingerboard. You can get a sharp, cutting sound, but it’s also capable of sounding as warm as any bass with an all-wood neck. It’s a killer bass for recording. Next to the Vigier is a Cort Curbow, not a rare bass, but I love the Mystic Ice Crazer finish and the sleek, well thought-out design. It’s a great bass for the money.
‘And finally, the bass with three pickups and the mad scratchplate is a very unusual German-made Rellog Gitona, made in 1959. It’s a monster size, with a really long, thick neck, but I was amazed at the top end slap when I plugged it in – it’s ideal for funky bass lines. I have several basses that should be far better than this one on paper, but they’re not!’
Simon also writes and records music using instruments other than guitars. ‘I have an oud from the Middle East, a Turkish saz, and a Chinese moon guitar which I’m told is hundreds of years old. There’s also a 170-year-old bass lute, which is basically a small classical guitar with added bass strings. The large soundbox creates a natural reverb effect. I sit and noodle for hours with this one!
‘I love the sound of an old parlour or nylon-strung classical guitar. I can see the beauty in all these, whether they are a few years or a few centuries old. This little parlour on the right is one I found in the UK, and there’s no label inside so I can’t identify the builder. The one in the centre has just arrived; I need to work on the neck before the strings can go on. Both are superbly built and have some beautiful inlay work.’
Simon’s trio of modern acoustic guitars were all built by Caz Davey. ‘I just can’t do without these three,’ he praises. ‘Caz Davey also makes banjos and mandolins, but when it comes to guitars he basically sticks to a dreadnought shape and a modified OM design, using the customer’s chosen tonewoods. I have one dreadnought and two of the OMs; the one in the middle, the lighter-coloured one, has a Swiss alpine spruce top. I can’t do without any of these for live or recording work. Incredible workmanship.’
Below left is a handmade classical electro-acoustic. ‘It’s a Sedgemoor, built by Ivor Sedgemoor from Somerset, and it must have taken an age to complete,’ says Simon. ‘I don’t know that much about him, or even if he’s still making. This guitar is a bit like a Gibson Chet Atkins on steroids. It’s got a Shadow pickup system and a beautiful see-through light red finish showing a gorgeous quilted top. Next to it is a rare Barry Ducret acoustic from 1968 – he built guitars for some major artists, like Alice Cooper. The grain of the soundboard runs at an angle, working against the bracing for extra strength and a more dynamic sound. This is a loud guitar and there’s no sign of any trouble with the top or the neck-set, so the concept really works.
‘I needed a semi-acoustic jazz guitar a while ago for a project and came across this rather large Abbot Victor that used to belong to Ronnie Wood. It’s in remarkably good condition, and as the grain in the wood is much like a fingerprint, I’ve been able to look at photos and feel assured that this is the actual guitar he used.’
Lastly – well, at least for our current visit – Simon produces a stunningly rare and unusual work of art. ‘I would regard Andy Manson as the Gandalf of the acoustic guitar world! This nylon-strung doubleneck 6/12 string is just exquisite. There’s a waiting list of many years for one of his guitars, and looking at the detail here, you can certainly see why. This guitar is one of the finest examples I’ve ever seen. The synergy of all the parts, the way the woods have been selected not only for tone but for the way they interact to create the tone… it’s an amazing guitar.’
For Simon, collecting has made him value people just as much as instruments. ‘I have friends all over the world helping me to track down stuff… Russia, Germany, Japan, Australia, America. We all have a common understanding of guitars. You could almost say my search engine is human! I do feel that collectors are keeping these fantastic works of art alive. I find it quite sad how some of the more unusual guitars, especially those from the ’80s, are often left clapped out in a corner.
‘I feel I’m in a very privileged position to have a collection like this. It’s taken me years, and there are many years to go… but that’s all part of the fun of guitar collecting.’