Discover ‘that’ twin-neck guitar.
Designer: Gibson Guitars
Cost: Up to £5,000 for an original
With three times as many strings and twice as many necks as a conventional electric guitar, the Gibson EDS-1275 twin neck guitar immortalised by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page may seem to be the holy grail of rock axes. However, the concept of multi-neck fretted stringed instruments goes back to the 17th century, when French luthier Alexandre Voboam was producing twin-neck ‘double course’ (strings in pairs) instruments for exponents of baroque’n’roll.
Although Page’s iconic instrument, which will be forever associated with his live performances of ‘Stairway to Heaven’, follows the template of a 12-string guitar on the upper deck, with a six-string on the lower, manufacturer Gibson produced variants of the instrument that included four-string basses and even mandolins.
Despite the commonly held assumption that legendary guitarist Les Paul designed all of the American manufacturer’s early electric guitars, he had nothing to do with the emergence of the range of SG instruments that originally bore his name. Gibson developed the SG range to combat the popularity of Leo Fender’s Telecaster guitar without Paul’s knowledge. Paul disliked the guitar and requested that his name be removed from it.
Originally the SG was a single-neck design, but by 1963 it had grown an extra neck, the floating bridge design had been modified to the fixed long-string variant, while the scale length had been reduced. The twin-neck has one advantage as a live performance guitar, as well as a significant drawback. For pieces requiring guitarists to change instruments, this could be achieved with the flick of an on-board rocker switch. On the other hand, they can be cumbersome and difficult to play.
Despite this, Page seemed to make it look easy and cool. In fact, the EDS-1275 has repeatedly won polls for the ‘coolest guitar in rock and roll’. Part of the guitar’s long-lived attraction was its appearance in the movie ‘The Song Remains the Same’, particularly the track ‘Stairway to Heaven’, during which Page switches from one neck to another in order to achieve different effects from the 12- and 6-string configurations.
A similar story applies to Eagles’ guitarist Don Felder, who started to use his EDS-1275 on stage for the band’s first Hotel California tour. Caught in the same dilemma as Page – how to recreate the iconic studio version on one guitar – Felder says: “I couldn’t figure out how I was gonna play the introduction and the solo stuff at the same time without literally changing guitars back and forth. So I got the idea of using a double-neck.” Felder’s white twin-neck is every bit the icon that Page’s is and, as with the Led Zeppelin axeman’s, a replica has been made, while the original held safely at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
The process of producing replica guitars is long and drawn out. Felder recalls ‘many’ design planning meetings with the head of Gibson’s custom workshop before he eventually received an ‘artist’s proof’ of the proposed guitar layout and spec. For Felder, one of the key concerns was to get the signature model as close to the original as possible in tone, finish, componentry and scale. Distress marks were reproduced using a rhinestone belt buckle, while various pick-up and wiring configurations were used before the sound was deemed accurate enough for Felder to approve the guitar. This was after “about five artist proofs.”
Today the guitar lives on not just in replicas, but in games such as Guitar Hero.
Next month: GPO telephone Type 706
Key features of the Gibson EDS-1275
Mahogany SG-style body
‘Bell knob’ volume and tone potentiometers
3-ply plastic pickguard
‘Tulip’ style tuner
12-string guitar neck in upper position (maple)
6-string guitar neck in lower position (maple)
20-fret scale (both necks) joining body at 15th fret (rosewood fretboard)
Three-position toggle switch
Humbucking (interference-cancelling) pickups - two for each neck