Throughout the early days of rock, indeed from the fifties through the seventies rock guitar players played a myriad of guitar brands and designs. For every Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster there was a Rickenbacker or Gretsch. Occasionally a rocker would sport something outlandish like a Dan Armstrong plexiglass guitar. They were beautiful instruments, and were valued for the aesthetics and the craftsmanship that went into them.
As the eighties arrived, fashion went from corduroy and long straight hair to “Jams” bathing suits with palm tree and surf board prints and spiked hair. Closely coinciding with a flashier fashion sense was a similar look for rock bands. This included not just the clothes, but the instruments. In 1978, the first look the world at large got of a newcomer named Eddie Van Halen was this picture:
The guitar looked like a Stratocaster, with it’s pre-CBS headstock , But was adorned with a custom elaborate stripe pattern. Van Halen would continue to build his own guitars for years and bestow each one with a new stripe design.
In retrospect it makes sense that if everyday people were wearing neon clothes and “Swatch” watches that Rockstars would have to be even more flamboyant. This included the guitars. Very soon many players were adorning their axes with stickers, custom paint jobs, and even custom body shapes. George Lynch had a guitar carved into a skeleton while Steve Vai had one shaped like the flames on a hot rod.
This coincided with the expanding popularity of other brands of guitars, like Kramer, Ibanez, and Jackson. By the mid eighties it would almost be odd to see a glam-metal band sporting an off the rack, wood finish instrument.
It seems fitting that the decade that celebrated flashy playing would produce the flashiest instruments. It was fun, fun to look at, and impactful. I kind of miss it. What are your favorite guitar graphics from the eighties? Comment below!