From "The Grail" to "The Dean from Hell": The Stories Behind 7 Famous Metal Guitars

For some legendary metal guitarists, the instruments they've chosen to deliver their unique brand of heavy have gone on to help define the player themselves. And within these immediately identifiable instruments, you'll find a hallowed few that were responsible for shaping the landscape of music's heaviest genre.

Here, we investigate seven of these legendary guitars to learn how they came into their famous owners' collections, where they are now, and—most importantly—each of the unique stories that crafted the lore around them.

Tony Iommi's 1965 Gibson SG Special

Tony Iommi playing his 1965 Gibson SG Special

The godfather of metal has been seen with a wide variety of Gibson SGs throughout his career. But it was his 1965 Gibson SG Special, nicknamed Monkey for the sticker on its body, that was responsible for the seismic shift that forged heavy metal.

As the story goes, Iommi was a Strat devotee all the way up to the day Black Sabbath was tracking their debut album. But fate stepped in, and the Strat's bridge pickup gave out. The only backup guitar close by was the P90-loaded SG. The rest of the album was tracked (along with such iconic songs as "War Pigs," "Paranoid," and "Iron Man) with that guitar, and rock 'n' roll has never been the same.

Since that time, the guitar has had some modifications by British guitar builder, Jon Birch, such as pickup changes, a wrap-around bridge, and the addition of a monkey sticker that imparts the instrument with its name.

Today, you'll find Monkey in the collection of the Times Square Hard Rock Cafe in New York.


Michael Schenker's Black & White Gibson Flying V

Michael Schenker playing his Gibson Flying V

From his work with the Scorpions to his success with UFO, Michael Schenker wrote the book on heavy metal lead guitar while swinging his trademark black-and-white Flying Vs around his shoulders.

From the day that Schenker borrowed his first V from his brother Rudolf, he was hooked. But the guitar's original finish didn't appeal as much to the budding hero. After a failed attempt at stripping the finish, Schenker had the guitar repaired and finished with the classic black-and-white look, simply because he wasn't sure which he'd like better. From that point on, the Vs that passed through his hands were treated to the same dichromatic facelift.

Unfortunately, due to a career plagued with hardships, Schenker was forced to sell his beloved Gibsons in the early 2000s. But all was not lost. It paved the way for his signature line with Dean Guitars which include custom designs, the classic black/white look, and even a black-and-white V acoustic.


Zakk Wylde's Original Bullseye Les Paul Custom

Zakk Wylde playing his Les Paul Custom

Zakk Wylde's original bullseye Les Paul Custom, affectionately known as The Grail, has been turning heads since he first took the stage with Ozzy Osbourne in the 1980s. Originally painted with a bullseye to differentiate Wylde from Randy Rhoads—Ozzy's previous blonde-headed, Les Paul Custom-wielding hero—the guitar's appearance has gone on to mythical status.

But what some may not know is that this legendary six-string was almost lost forever. While on tour with his band Black Label Society, The Grail fell out of the back of an improperly secured U-Haul. But in a stroke of luck, a Zakk Wylde fan, while perusing local pawn shops, came across a very specific-looking Gibson Les Paul Custom for... get this: $250. Realizing what he had found, the fan contacted Wylde and the two were reunited.

Today, The Grail stays safely at home with Zakk and is still used to record in The Black Vatican, Wylde's home studio.


Dimebag Darrell's Dean ML

Dimebag Darrell playing his Dean ML

Before Pantera hit it big, Dimebag Darrell was a local legend in Texas, shredding "more experienced" players at every guitar competition around. One of the prizes he won at a particular competition was a maroon-colored Dean ML that was later sold to help fund the purchase of a yellow Pontiac Firebird.

The new owner brought his ML to band practice where bandmate Buddy Blaze traded him a Kramer for the Dean, recognizing it as Darrell's. Blaze then quickly went to work customizing the guitar to the lightning-bolt-wearing icon of metal it is today.

In a twist of fate, Blaze lent the guitar back to Darrell for some upcoming Pantera performances. And when Dime asked to buy it, Blaze gave it to him, revealing it was the same instrument he had parted with.

Dimebag Darrell and his heavily modified Dean ML went on to rewrite how crushing heavy metal can be. From recording the heaviest album to ever debut at #1 to countless world tours and years of onstage abuse, the Dean From Hell and Dimebag's legacy will forever be linked.


Chuck Schuldiner's Custom B.C. Rich Stealth

Chuck Schuldiner playing his B.C. Rich Stealth

In the late '80s and early '90s, Chuck Schuldiner's band Death was kickstarting a brand of heavy metal that pushed the genre's heaviness, technical proficiency, and songwriting to levels never before imagined. And he was doing it on a custom B.C. Rich Stealth.

The extreme-looking instrument perfectly accompanied the violence of death metal. It's simultaneously angular and flowing lines were crafted from alder and a maple neck-through construction. And for maximum impact, Schuldiner selected a no-nonsense single pickup, single volume, and wrap-around bridge setup that got right down to business.

While Chuck owned a collection of Stealths, it was the DiMarzio X2N-loaded black model that was his number one. Since his death, Schuldiner's number one Stealth remains with his family and resides with his nephew.


Meshuggah's Nevborn 8-String Guitars

Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström with Nevborn Guitars

Today, the 8-string electric guitar has been widely adopted. But when Meshuggah's axemen, Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström, first tapped Sweden's Nevborn Guitars to design them guitars capable of rattling whole buildings, it started one of the heaviest revolutions in metal history.

After tuning 7-string guitars down for their previous albums, Meshuggah switched to the custom Nevborns to re-track their seminal album, Nothing. The result was one of the heaviest and most grinding guitar tones ever recorded, setting off an explosion of bands and manufacturers trying to out-heavy each other.

Today, the Meshuggah boys have taken their design to Ibanez guitars, resulting in two of the most unique signature models out there, the FTM and the M8M. By combining the 8-string design with a low-output Lundgren M9 pickup and bass-like 29.4" scale length, you're left with instruments that are perfectly crafted for a down-tuned rhythmic assault.


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