A Short Guide to the Guitars of Devo

No band on Earth has influenced and informed such a wide variety of music genres and media as Devo. The band’s influence is evident in electronic music, punk, hardcore, new wave, industrial, metal, grunge, alternative, EDM, dubstep and any other genre or sub-genre one can rattle off. Indeed the music video medium as we know it would have either come about way later, or simply not been of any consequence had it not been for Akron’s anti-retrograde assassins. Long before it was cool to play kooky guitars, student models and pawnshop prizes, Devo wielded electric axes that were as unique and striking as their musical and visual concepts. Perhaps their choice of instrument at times had as much to do with looks as it did with sounds, but hey, if the spud fits wear it… Let’s peel away the gates of steel and take a peek-a-boo at a few classic mutato musical instruments right now.

Gibson L6-S Custom

Gibson L6-S Custom

This is the guitar that is visually and sonically synonymous with early Devo. The design, like the band, forsakes convention and defiantly disregards the confines of traditional elegance in favor of futuristic functionality and utilitarian operation.

The set-neck and one-piece maple body are both wide and flat, freeing up plenty of forearm space for Bob Mothersbaugh (Bob 1) and Bob Casale (Bob 2) to administer furiously precise downstrokes. The sealed ceramic “super humbuckers” and space-age circuitry are courtesy of pickup-legend Bill Lawrence (who also designed those swappable pickups for the acrylic Ampeg Dan Armstrong guitar back in the ‘60s). With a six-way rotary selector switch, Bob 1 and Bob 2 were able to dial-in series and parallel pickup combinations, both in and out of phase, or go full-on humbucker grunt with a flick-of-the-switch. If you listen to Hardcore-era Devo and the first two albums, you can hear the distinct sounds of one of Gibson’s most underrated guitars. Oh, and the L6-S is black and yellow, just like those iconic protective yellow suits.

La Baye 2x4

La Baye 2x4 XII 1967

Anyone that has seen Devo live will know that the set has reached its climax when Bob 1 whips out “the stick” and spastically shreds all the strings off of his super-rare La Baye 2x4 in a fit of malfunctioning robot riffage. The solo for “Mr. DNA” is anything but common stock and calls for an axe as jarring as the tune.

The elusive and coveted La Baye 2x4 was first manufactured in 1967. This minimalist design was the brainchild of a Green Bay, WI guitarist by the name of Dan Helland and no doubt influenced Ned Steinberger’s futuristic headless composite guitars that reared up a few years later. Essentially, the La Baye 2x4 is a plank of wood with a slim neck bolted on, four thumb-wheel tone and volume adjusters on the top, and a Bigsby-style vibrato unit that is highly expressive. With only 45 or so ever made, one should be prepared to pay a couple grand or more for the real deal. The good news is, those of us Devo-obsessos on a spudget can get a killer reissue from Eastwood Guitars to arm ourselves for future duty.

Ibanez Spud Custom

Legend has it that in 1979, Devo was touring Japan and Ibanez approached Bob 1 for an artist endorsement. He perused their catalog and nothing popped out at him, so he whipped out a magic marker and drew over a LP-style guitar. His instructions for Ibanez were to make a potato-shaped guitar, paint it brown and put every kind of available electronics into it.

Vintage ad for Devo's Spudocaster

Lo and behold, the legendary “Spud” guitar turned up months later—only it was blue instead of brown and resembled a cloud more than a potato. It arrived just in time for Devo’s commercial breakthrough album Freedom of Choice, and one can hear the distinct active pickups of the “Spud” cut through the speakers on the iconic opening riff for “Girl U Want.” Though Bob sold his beloved blue Ibanez in the purgatorial, Devo-less mid-‘80s, a few years ago he bought it back from a friend-of-a-friend, who happened to be pro skater Jason Jessee. The man and his Spud are now inseparable. It must be mentioned that Bob 1’s vision of a hideously realistic potato guitar has now come to full fruition in the form of his newish Devo Spudcaster. It was custom made for him by Chopper Guitars and is likely to be the least desirable signature guitar ever produced.

G&L SC-2

G&L SC-2

Of all the guitars in this feature, the G&L SC-2 is the one I have personal experience with. The SC-2 is all about lightweight, playability, tuning stability and the powerful springy brilliance of the Magnetic Field Design (MFD) pickups. To me, this is Leo Fender’s sleeper guitar design. The SC-2 has DNA from the Mustang, Jaguar, Stratocaster and Telecaster, while retaining its own vibe, feel and sound all together. It is quite simply a stripped down, effortless player and a pure surfy Rock n’ Roll machine.

From Devo’s New Traditionalists album onward, Bob 1 can be seen playing both stoptail and tremolo-equipped versions and I imagine that he favored the SC-2 for all the reasons I listed above—and also his affinity for Fender Musicmasters. Oh, and G&L reissued the SC-2 a few years back and they are still made in Fullerton California, dipped in tasty vintage-style finishes that make you want to pick them up and lick them like ice cream bars. Tasty.

Ibanez Talman TC420

Ibanez Talman TC420

Similar to the G&L SC-2, the Ibanez Talman TC420 is a supremely attractive, playable, and toneful sleeper guitar, with a cult following of those in-the-know. The late Bob Casale’s main axe toward the end of his adventurous life was a slightly customized, green-bodied Talman TC420 with a red pickguard and a beautifully flamed maple neck and fretboard.

Hagstrom PB-24-G

Known as Devo’s “technician,” Bob 2’s role in the band was to hold it all together and perform a variety of foundational (yet highly skilled) musical tasks, using a variety of guitars and synthesizers. Going way back to 1973 (when Devo made their first appearance at Kent State University) Bob Casale rocked a Hagstrom PB-24-G Futurama. He would later on lend this vinyl-covered axe to Mark Mothersbaugh. who would “modify” it with Duct Tape and an Electro-Harmonix Frequency Analyzer when a Tele wasn’t available.

Bob Casale and his band of Spudbrothers bonded in the wake of the horrific Kent State Shootings that ended the lives of several innocent human beings and the hippy dream altogether. As literally a band of brothers, they decided to do something about it and subsequently changed the way we perceive music, media, performance and technology. This feature is dedicated to a true visionary who fearlessly traversed decades while simultaneously avoiding and inadvertently creating trends. His brothers continue to teach us that the beginning is the end. This is the truth about Devolution. The message is as hardcore and relevant as ever.

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