the Turbo Les Pauls
The Japanese LP's both have unusual 3 1/4" thick solid carved mahogany bodies with thin book-matched/figured maple veneers atop. One boasted a great Ace Frehley yellow-to-red sunburst, while the other had a sweet Jimmy Page amber stain; both have rosewood fingerboards. The Gibson has the typical solid mahogany body, however it is capped with a three-section maple top(the two outer sections are book-matched from heavily-curled stock). It sports a beautiful dark cherry-red stain finish, an ebony fingerboard, and virtually stock electronics(the tone pot. for the rear pickup is disconnected to prevent high-end loss).
On all three instruments, Blair first re-shaped the original headstocks from the stock 3-and-3 tuner layout, to a pointy Jackson-style 6 in-line tuner arrangement by cutting one side straight, adding a section of maple, and cutting out the new shape. With new tuning gears installed, the original nuts were removed, and a poured/shaped epoxy 'shelf' was created to support a Kahler nut clamp at the proper position. Holes were drilled through the neck(causing future trouble), and the new nut clamps secured. These clamps keeps the strings from slipping, maintain tuning, and make for easier bending overall.
The fingerboards were then fully-scalloped by hand(using round files), from a shallow depth at the 1st fret, gradually to a deeper level at the 22nd. 'Top hat' position markers were carefully filed, and re-glued if they became loose. Next, likely the most radical mod was performed: Blair had grown accustomed to easy high fret access by modifying Strat neck heels, and also from the 'Stevens Extended Cutaway' neck attachment found on his Washburn N4 models. On the Les Pauls, he surmised correctly that there was ample material around the heel area of these instruments to make a Stevens-style(shark-fin shaped) cutaway, allowing the neck to stay slim until it meets the body. This made playing the high frets immensely easier, and left the neck joint duly secure: there have never been any issues.
Following this was creating a large 'belly contour' cutaway as found on a Strat, making it much more comfortable to play, while reducing weight. 'Stop' tailpieces were then replaced with Schaller fine-tuning tailpieces which, when used with the clamped strings, increased the tuning stability of the guitars remarkably. Pickups were traded out on the copy instruments for genuine Gibson models--mainly 490T and 490R's, and all pickups were potted in melted wax to eliminate microphonic feedback at high volumes. Finally, they were shimmed and bolted directly to the body--from above or below--at precisely the correct height(barely 1/8" from the strings) for best tone and response.
These original mods were all completed in the early/mid-1990's, with the guitars used only occasionally by Blair in his group 'Run 21.' Primarily playing his custom Strats and Mutant Twin double necks, it is ironic that these guitars all later became very crucial studio and touring tools.
After re-joining W.A.S.P. in 2006, interest was renewed in the Turbo Les Pauls. Possibly the influence of Slash(although Jimmy Page was always a major influence) or just a desire to move away from the cliched Strat, resulted in Blair taking the amber 'Turbo LP' out on the spring 2007 run. It sounded great, and looked cool onstage. Soon thereafter, he took the sunburst one out, but wasn't happy with the pickups' thin sounds.
The Gibson, however, turned out to sound the best of the three. Used by Blair for leads in the studio on both the Dominator(2006) and Babylon(2009) CD's, as well on various tours '07-'09, it served as a benchmark to tune the other stage guitars to. Seeking a new aesthetic for the W.A.S.P. stage show, Blair set upon overhauling the two Japanese guitars into 'Blade' Les Pauls in the summer of 2009 and 2010. This entailed refinishing, creating custom metal parts, and fitting real and engineered 12" table saw blades to the face of the guitars. Utilizing 8" diameter wind turbine ball bearings, the blades were cut so the outer edge could spin whilst performing. A small model airplane propeller motor(powered by 2 onboard AA batteries)--with a rubber landing gear wheel attached--rides against the blade edge, and spins it at a reasonable speed. Extremely talented machine and hobby shop help were enlisted to help realize this unique idea.
The sunburst Les Paul went first, repainted 'alligatored' black replete with a genuine 1950's blade--courtesy of Blair's carpenter brother-in-law, found rusty, hanging on the wall of his barn. A single volume knob was fitted, with the pickup switch ring and logo hand-created out of rusting tin. A switch near the front pickup activates the 'spin' in either direction, and 22 mini red 'lasers' are also fitted beneath each tooth of the blade--but a method to transfer power to them has yet to be found, so they remain dark. This guitar was an instant hit when debuted at the 2009 Hellfest in France, earning the name 'heavy metal banjo' from W.A.S.P.'s ever-witty(and sarcastic) bassist.
The amber Les Paul was next, repainted flamed cherry red with a manufactured aluminum shark-fin blade(anodized gold), with gold hardware, and a brass logo and pickup switch ring. This guitar is much lighter, debuting in Bergen, Norway in the fall of 2010. Both guitars have since been outfitted with several new unique appointments to improve tone and further the aesthetic: an invention of Blair's, the 'laser bridge,' places 6 mini lasers in a 'bridge,' mounted atop the Schaller tailpieces with adjustment screws. By aiming these lasers directly down the strings, Blair's fingertips are hit with red laser light, producing a stunning and far-reaching effect onstage. This, along with the blade motor, are controlled by new 3-way rocker switches mounted within the front pickup bezels.
Lastly, an interesting 6-way 'Freeway' pickup selector switch is utilized, along with a tone 'pot.' and 'Orange Drop' tone 'cap' mounted inside the pickup switch cavity. This allows for several tone 'presets'--especially valuable when using the front pickup with the tone turned to 'zero.' With nowhere else to place another control on the 'Blade' Les Pauls, this is a clever application of this versatile switch.
Post-script: All three of the Turbo Les Pauls have been damaged by airline/touring travel: The black one had its bridge caved-in from being squeezed on a flight; the Gibson has had its headstock cracked/broken and repaired twice, as has the new red one. This continual headstock damage is likely due to the weakened state of that area from the nut clamp holes.
Post-script script: Les Paul purists are commonly appalled by their perceived irreverence--through the bastardization of these instruments--to the legend that Mr. Paul and his contribution the guitar playing world is and will always be. But, in reality, possibly more than anyone, Mr. Paul would have enjoyed the vision and effort put into these guitars, just as he did his own throughout his whole life. And so, they are sincerely dedicated to him and his vision, that we all glean so much from every day.
1990's Washburn N4s
Two early-90's Washburn N4 'Nuno Bettencourt' model guitars have made it to the touring frontline, with one staying permanently. Purchased directly under a psuedo 'endorsement' program, the first was stock and the second custom-ordered and built by Grover Jackson of Jackson guitars fame while he was Production Manager. These guitars are born as stage monsters: the downsized body and Stevens Extended Cutaway neck joint allow for great high-fret access and comfortable performing. Alder bodies with Duncan/Bill Lawrence pickups and Schaller Floyd Rose trems round them out. The only differences between these two are their necks and fingerboards: one(I) has a thicker, rounder profile and ebony fb, while the custom(II) has a slim neck with a rare maple fingerboard.
The 'N4I' has become the 'Guinea Pig' or test-bed for a couple of concepts dreamt up and achieved in the mid-90's. The first is a cosmetic idea to give the boring black N4's some distinctive visual impact: small stained-glass 'windows' would be fitted between the pickups with lighting or reflective material behind to create an effect of 'jumping off' the guitar. The second was incorporating an ingenious invention called the 'Sustainiac,' an onboard sustainer, into the guitar. Both projects included extensive machining of the bodies and neck, and fitting various electronics.
A stained-glass artist was commissioned to make two small panels for the N4's: a complex multi-panel/multi-color replica of a church window, and a rippled amber 'dungeon gate' with wire 'bars.' Both would be mounted upon the guitars with 4 screws as to be easily removed, cleaned and replaced with other future panels(not to happen). On the 'church window,' bright LED panels are fitted in the cavity beneath, surrounded by copper foil. Amber gel sheeting warms the pure white light, while a strap-mounted battery powers them: a small on/off rocker switch has been fitted into the rear pickup bezel.
The 'N4II' is striking with chrome hardware, while a sheet of reflective paper in the cavity beneath the 'dungeon gate' creates a dull but shimmering lighting effect, much like the flames of torches in deep tunnels.
All four pickups have been moved for better sound: front pickups have been moved forward to the second harmonic position(crowding the neck adjustment), and rear pickups also moved forward away from the bridge. They've all been screwed downward into the body, shimmed for proper height. Both Bill Lawrence units were replaced with Duncan or Gibson humbuckers. Both fingerboards were scalloped in usual fashion: shallow to deeper going up the neck.
The most involved modification was performed on the N4I, with the custom battery-powered Sustainiac retrofit(a prototype from the inventor): a wire was installed within the back of the neck, and two control switches mounted on either side of the front pickup. A small 9VDC-powered unit fit easily within the stock control cavity, while the 'transducer' and magnet were mounted on the back of the headstock next to the tuners. Unlike a 'magnetic' sustainer, which recycles signal into magnetic energy to drive the string(as in an Ebow), the ingenious Sustainiac is an 'acoustic' sustainer which splits the guitar's signal, amplifies it and sends it to essentially a speaker which--instead of driving a paper cone--drives its energy right back into the headstock, much like touching the end of the neck to the cabinet while holding a note. The control switches allow on-off and polarity switching, which emphasizes certain notes in certain positions.
These mods were made in 1994, and both instruments came close to being sold off during a long period during which they were barely played. But they were certainly ready for the call in May, 2006: to return to WASP. The N4II was taken out on the '06 and '07 runs, then retired to home practice. The N4I has become a main stage guitar 'with whammy' for extended solo sections and feedback needs. In 2010, its headstock was painted red, and hardware was finally traded out with gold. It looks and plays is if brand new(at almost 20 yrs. old!).
An interesting neck was 'barrowed' from a mid-70's Japanese Penco Les Paul copy guitar, which Blair had traded a mini-bike for. It had a 'blonde' finish, rare for Les Pauls, and an even rarer maple neck/fingerboard with black 'top hat' position markers. A pocket was routed into the body, and the neck glued in. As this was a very early attempt at luthiery, Douglas overlooked accounting for string clearance over the body, and did not set the neck in with enough backward angle. This required that the parts on the face of the guitar(pickups, bridge and tailpiece) be 'lowered,' or set-in to the body--in turn creating a nice visual aspect, as well as a very narrow instrument.
The stained and prepared instrument was professionally finished 'on the sly' at the Ovation Guitars factory in New Hartford, CT in 1982.
The headstock was later changed to a 6 in-line Jackson style, and the fingerboard scalloped in 1992, while the Turbo Les Pauls were being created.
In 2011, the guitar was taken out, assessed, and refinished blood red nitro lacquer with a nut clamp and fine-tune tail installed. New electronics and pickups were fitted as well as a new copper logo. The fingerboard was refinished natural after a consideration of painting it red also. A custom case was created for both the Mockingbird and a Les Paul, and it was finally taken out on its maiden tour--31 years later--debuting at a festival in Thessolinikki, Greece. Opening and closing the live W.A.S.P. set throughout the run, it was a hit.