Four Rock Guitars That Truly Broke the Mold

The influence of the major manufacturers in music instrument production is hard to ignore. At one time or another, virtually every guitar manufacturer has made some version of an “S-Type,” “T-Type,” or “LP-Style” guitar.

But despite outward appearances, the musical instrument industry is not immune to new ideas. There are times when a design appears and changes the game by offering improved functionality or amazing aesthetics, and sometimes both. Many times, however, innovation comes from upstarts and smaller companies.

Here’s a look at four guitars from smaller companies that helped change players’ expectations of their instruments and pushed manufacturers to rethink traditional designs.

Jackson Soloist SLX

Jackson Soloist

Pioneered by Grover Jackson in 1984, the Soloist was more than a Super Strat. Many variations could be had, but the peak of the Soloist design featured a pointy headstock, neck-through construction, Floyd Rose tremolo systems and 24 frets.

These models were designed with modern players in mind and popularized the compound-radius fretboard. The fretboard was more curved at the nut to make chords easier, and flatter towards the bridge to make single-note runs effortless. The neck-through design also made the guitar unique, as the typically bulky neck heel disappeared and allowed uncompromised access to the highest frets. The full two-octave neck allowed shredders more notes for complex solos, an emerging trend in music at the time. The Soloist also pioneered the idea of buyer-specified pickups and paint designs; options were nearly limitless. The success of the Soloist served as the blueprint for modern guitar construction and was the starting point for competitive models such as ESP’s Horizon, the Schecter Hellraiser, Fender HM Series, Gibson U2 models and Hamer’s Californian.

Ibanez S-Series

Ibanez S770FM

The Ibanez S-Series, originally the Saber, took the Super Strat idea and transcended it. Born in 1987, the S-Series was all about ergonomics and speed. It featured the Wizard neck, then one of the thinnest production necks available. The model later evolved a sculpted neck heel, removing many impediments embedded in traditional bolt-on neck designs.

The ultra-thin body was among the thinnest and lightest in a production instrument. Ibanez then used the Ibanez Edge, its own variation on the Floyd Rose tremolo system. The early Edge system was in development from 1985 to '86 and featured several improvements on the Floyd Rose design, such as locking studs, pop-in rather than screw-in arm and a modified spring retainer system. Early models also featured the “Backstop,” which aided in tuning stability by returning the tremolo to a zero-point, an idea that was far ahead of its time. The Edge has evolved since, but is still the most original Ibanez bridge design.

Ibanez Saber was among the first to popularize the humbucker/single coil/humbucker (HSH) configuration, and the influence of the S-Series cannot be understated, as many of these features have since been appropriated by competing manufacturers, including the Caparison Dellinger, Washburn Parallaxe, and BC Rich Villain. The influence was so deep that many modern Fender Stratocasters now are routed for the H/S/H configuration from the factory.

Parker Fly Mojo

Parker Fly

The Parker Fly is truly one of the most iconoclastic guitars ever produced. When Ken Parker and Larry Fishman, two incomparable designers, collaborated to create a new electric guitar in 1993, they accomplished a wholly unique design. The Fly models featured a set-neck design, but the back and neck were encased in an ultra-thin layer of epoxy, carbon fiber and glass, which also was utilized for the fretboard. This design made the neck and neck joint exceedingly stable, allowing the company to use basswood and other more-resonant but lower-cost woods for neck construction.

The Fly models also were among the first to use both magnetic and piezoelectric pickups, and allowed players to blend the signals. The tremolo system was completely original, using spring steel plates rather than springs. The last innovation was utilizing stainless steel frets, which was an industry first. These innovations allowed for other companies to explore multi-pickup systems, such as the Fender Nashville Power Telecaster and the Gibson Alex Lifeson Axcess model.

Steinberger Spirit
GT-Pro Deluxe

Steinberger

Ned Steinberger’s attempt to improve the design of electric guitars and basses in 1979 was polarizing and innovative. Most controversial was the headless design, which was panned by the guitar world but embraced by bass players. The original models were made of carbon fiber and graphite and were impervious to environmental changes and incredibly consistent sonically.

Steinberger was also an early adopter of EMG active pickups and pre-amps, which now are standard equipment in countless models industry wide. While marginalized at its inception, manufacturers have adopted graphite reinforcement in necks, active pickups and more ergonomic designs. Recently the headless design has again found favor with makers such as Kiesel/Carvin, Klein, Teuffel and Strandberg embracing and building upon Steinberger's design. Hipshot also now manufactures a line of headless bridges and headpieces heavily influenced by Steinberger’s designs.

While we love classic shapes and sounds from the Golden Age of electric instruments, the models above successfully challenged that traditionalist vision. The aesthetics of these models were a sign of things to come, and the functional improvements took the electric instrument to a level of playability and consistency never before realized.

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What are your favorite off-beat designs? What iconoclastic models did we forget?

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