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A multi-neck guitar is a guitar that has multiple fingerboard necks. They exist in both electric and acoustic versions. Although multi-neck guitars are quite common today, they are not a modern invention. Examples of multi-neck guitars and lutes go back at least to the Renaissance.
Today, the most common type of multi-neck guitar is the double neck guitar, of which the most common version is an electric guitar with twelve strings on the upper neck, while the lower neck has the normal six. Combination six-string and bass guitar are also used, as well as a fretless guitar with a regular fretted guitar, or any other combination of guitar neck and pickup styles. There are also acoustic versions. Two necks allows the guitarist to switch quickly and easily between guitar sounds without taking the time to change guitars.
There are many ways to customize a multiple-necked guitar, such as the number of strings on a neck, frets or no frets, the tuning used on each neck, etc. One of the earliest designs still in regular use is the acoustic contraguitar, invented around 1850 in Vienna. This guitar, also known as the Schrammel guitar, has a fretted six-string neck and a second, fretless neck with up to nine bass strings.
One of the more common combinations is where one neck of a double-necked guitar is set up as for a 6 string guitar and the other neck is configured as a 4 string bass guitar. Guitarist Pat Smear of the Foo Fighters utilizes a double-necked guitar during live performances (bass guitar top neck, six-string electric guitar bottom neck) in order to perform Krist Novoselic's bass part in the song "I Should Have Known," from the album Wasting Light, in addition to his own duties. Rickenbacker International Corporation and Gibson Guitar Corporation in the USA have both manufactured production models of these configurations in the past.
A less common configuration has a 12 string guitar neck combined with a 4 string bass guitar neck: Geddy Lee of Rush is well known for using the 4/12-string Rickenbacker 4080/12 production model live in the 1970s.
In the 1970s and 1980s Mike Rutherford of Genesis was known for playing a custom-made Shergold Modulator twin-neck guitar-bass unit in live shows, as he frequently changed between lead guitar, 12-string guitar and bass guitar, depending on the arrangement of the song. The unique design concept of Rutherford's Shergold guitar set is that it consists of several interchangeable modular elements, each of which could be separated and recombined, and which attached to the other units through a system of dowels and thumbscrews, and an electrical connector. The complete original set consisted of a "top section" 6-string guitar, two "top-section" 12-string guitars (each in a different tuning), and a "bottom-section" 4-string bass. Each section could be separated and re-attached to create a variety of twin-neck combinations, with either the 6-string or one of the two 12-strings on the top, and the 4-string bass on the bottom, and there was a matching lower-body section which could be attached to the 6-string and 12-string main units, which created a single complete guitar when these were not attached to the bass. (As a tongue-in-cheek reference to this, the puppet version of Rutherford in the video for Land of Confusion plays a four-necked guitar.)
The National GUITAR Museum commissioned an 8-neck guitar from DGN Custom Guitars in 2011. The instrument, called the Rock Ock, is fully playable and its eight necks are: 1) mandolin, 2) tenor ukulele, 3) 6-string, 4) fretless bass, 5) fretted bass, 6) 12-string, 7) baritone 8), 7-string. The instrument has 154 frets, 51 strings, weighs 40 pounds and was designed by noted artist Gerard Huerta. The instrument has been on display as part of the "GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked The World" exhibit since it debuted in Orlando in 2011.
Multiple-necked bass guitars
Electric bass guitars with two or more necks have existed at least since the 1970s. Some basses have three or more necks, but usually upon custom order only. A double-necked bass guitar can be used for multiple tuning (e.g., B-E-A-D on one neck and E-A-D-G on the other, etc.); combining fretted and fretless necks; combining necks with different numbers of strings, etc.
One of the more well-known multiple-necked bass guitars is that used by Chris Squire (of Yes) for the song "Awaken." This is a replica of a guitar built by Wal for Roger Newell of the English Rock Ensemble. Squire's original triple-necked bass guitar was configured with a four-string fretted neck, a four-string fretless neck, and a six-string tuned in octaves (Squire was known to have tuned it to aA-dD-gG). This bass is currently on display at the Hard Rock Cafe. Steve Digiorgio used a multiple-necked bass guitar with a fretless neck and another fretted neck. A number of makers have also produced double neck basses with an 8-string bass neck (double courses, tuned in octaves like a 12-string guitar) on top and a 4-string bass neck on the bottom. Double neck basses with various other combinations exist, for example: four string and five string bass; four string and six string bass; etc.
Multiple neck "guitars" have also been made which include other stringed instruments among the alternate necks. Country guitarist Joe Maphis famously played a double-neck Mosrite instrument that had a regular 6-string neck on the bottom and an "octave guitar" for the top neck. This was a 6-string neck tuned an octave higher than the standard guitar, that both extended the range of the instrument, and allowed Maphis to play mandolin-like sounds. Between 1958-1968, Gibson made an instrument of this type which it called the "Double Mandolin" (Gibson EMS 1235). Hybrids with a 6-string guitar neck and a true 8-string mandolin neck were also made (e.g., the 1971 Dawson Electric guitar/mandolin). And Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones has a triple-neck electroacoustic instrument, custom made for him by luthier Andy Manson, which features (from top to bottom) 8-string mandolin, 12-string guitar, and 6-string guitar necks.
Pro Electric has produced a quadruple-necked instrument some have called the "ultimate bluegrass axe," not entirely without sarcasm. This solid-body electric instrument combines 6-string guitar, 4-string bass, 8-string mandolin, and 5-string banjo necks into one (heavy) package.
Canadian country music star Steve Puto owns a five-neck instrument that includes guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle necks—with a harmonica mounted on the fiddle body, for good measure. Puto says he found the instrument (which bears no maker's name) in 1973 in a friend's music shop, and he played it regularly on his TV show (The Lonesome Steve Show) in the 1970s.
In 2011, the National Guitar Museum unveiled the "Rock Ock", which it calls the world’s largest fully playable multi-necked stringed instrument. The 8-necked guitar weighs 40 pounds, has 154 frets, 51 strings, and 8 necks. The eight instruments are a mandolin, ukulele, 6-string, fretless bass, standard bass, 12-string, baritone guitar, and a 7-string. The guitar was designed by noted artist Gerard Huerta (responsible for the iconic AC/DC logo, among others) and built by Dan Neafsey of DGN Custom Guitars. The guitar hardware was supplied by Mojo Musical Supply while the instrument itself was commissioned by the National Guitar Museum. The instrument has been used in live performance and can be seen on YouTube.
Experimental alternate versions
Some luthiers not only built guitars with two necks in common configurations, but worked to expand the possibilities with multiple necks, extra bridges, odd configurations, and the like. Hans Reichel crafted a series of third bridge guitars with two necks on both sides of the body. Linda Manzer crafted the Pikasso guitar (a three neck guitar with 42 strings) for Pat Metheny. Solmania is an Osaka-based noise music band known for making their own experimental electric guitars out of spare parts. The guitars usually take an extremely bizarre form, utilizing unconventional body shapes, extra necks, strings and pickups in unusual places, and various extraneous gadgets such as microphones. Most of their instruments are double neck guitars or harp guitars.
Logistics and design
Many of those who have played double neck guitars report that the instruments are heavy and awkward, but this can be managed with practice. Triple neck instruments are even weightier and more unwieldy. This raises the question as to whether some of the larger varieties of multi-neck guitar are even playable as guitars, much less practical in performance situations. The bottom neck of Rick Nielsen's famous five-neck Hamer guitar is barely reachable by a person of average stature holding the instrument in a normal standing playing position, and it's hard to see how that neck could be played with any facility with both arms extended to their limit just to reach it. Although playable hybrids with up to eight necks have been produced (see the "Rock Ock", above), five necks would seem to be the practical limit for multi-neck guitars.
Luthiers seem, however, to be undeterred by either practicality, or by the limits of human anatomy, and have produced instruments with even more necks. In 2008 Macari's Music of London commissioned a six neck guitar ("the beast"), similar in design to Nielsen's five neck. Yamantaka Eye, of the Japanese noise/rock band Boredoms has toured with a seven neck guitar (the "Sevena"). This instrument has four necks on one side and three on the other, and is mounted on a stand and played with drumsticks as a percussion instrument.
Notable multi-neck guitar users
- Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin
- John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin and solo career and collaborations
- John "Charlie" Whitney of Family / Streetwalkers
- Joe Perry of Aerosmith
- Don Felder of The Eagles, specifically on Hotel California
- Denny Laine of Wings, especially on the Wings Over America tour.
- Rik Emmett of Triumph
- Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee of Rush
- Steve Howe of Yes
- Chris Squire of Yes
- Pete Townshend of The Who
- John Lodge of The Moody Blues
- Michael Angelo Batio of Nitro
- Matt Bellamy of Muse
- Andrew Stockdale of Wolfmother
- Patrick Boutwell of The Brother Kite
- Joe Bonamassa
- Leroy "Sugarfoot" Bonner of Ohio Players
- Junior Brown
- Jeff Cook, of Alabama
- Lita Ford
- Gordon Giltrap
- Pier Gonella
- Joe Maphis, country music guitarist and television personality
- John McLaughlin of The Mahavishnu Orchestra
- Dave Mustaine of Megadeth
- Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick
- Sile Nuić of Siledžije, Terra Slaves, and Frama
- Tom Petty
- Steve Rothery of Marillion
- Guy Thomas, bassist with The Vulcan Creedlers
- Mike Rutherford of Genesis
- Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi
- Slash of Guns N' Roses and Velvet Revolver
- Tom Keifer of Cinderella
- Claudio Sanchez of Coheed and Cambria
- Peter Sprague, jazz guitarist
- Chad Stuart of Chad and Jeremy
- Ricky West of The Tremeloes
- Steve Vai
- Brian "Head" Welch of Korn
- Bumblefoot, Guns N' Roses
- John Petrucci of Dream Theater
- Takeshi, bassist/guitarist/vocalist of Boris
- Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer
- Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar
- Kristian Dunn of El Ten Eleven
- Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap
- Tommy Shaw of STYX
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- The Rickenbacker Doubleneck Project
Media related to Double neck guitars at Wikimedia Commons
- Multi-neck guitars, ancient and modern
- Information on the EDS-1275 from 1958-1961
- Fusetar - three-neck fretless guitar, flamenco guitar and setar hybrid
- The Quad Guitar
- Another four-neck, the "ultimate bluegrass instrument"
- Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick plays the five-neck Hamer guitar on 9/16/2006 at MusicFest2006 in Cranford, NJ.
- Steve Puto's unique(?) five-neck instrument.
- "The Beast," a six-neck guitar
- Eye's "Severna," a seven neck guitar
- Yoshihiko Satoh's "Presents Arms" (2002), a twelve necks guitar sculpture