10 Iconic Guitars That You ‘Almost’ Never Hear About

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10 Iconic Guitars That You ‘Almost’ Never Hear About

Marc Johnson for TheToneKing.com

After reading yet another article about the most iconic guitars, we here at TheToneKing.com were disappointed yet again to find that the list consisted of the same old stale names that have been recycled for the past twenty years. Don’t get us wrong, we love the Jackson Randy Rhodes ‘V.” But Freaking A, it’s been on every guitar list since he died in ’82. And, yes, we get that Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstein is always going to be iconic. But come on! Real players know that there are plenty more iconic guitars out there than the mainstream would let you believe. We decided to put together our own list of 10 iconic guitars that everyone else fails to mention.

1: George Lynch’s ESP Kamikaze

Say what you want about George Lynch nowadays, but his Kamikaze guitar singlehandedly made a name out of ESP guitars. While George was chilling out in Japan, he stumbled on ESP and commissioned to have a guitar built for him. Viola! One of the most recognizable rock guitars ever created. With maple body and a maple neck, a Screamin’ Demon humbucker in the bridge with a ESP SH-100 single-coil in the neck, 22 frets, Gotoh Tuners, and a Floyd Rose Original Tremolo, the ESP Kamikaze is the quintessential rock guitar. Some might say that Lynch’s Snake ‘n’ Skull model that he played on Lynch Mob’s Wicked Sensation is another iconic guitar. We don’t disagree, but when most people think of George Lynch, they think of the Kamikaze.

2:  James Hetfield’s White Explorers

Although his career with Metallica started with the White flying ‘V’, it wasn’t until he started using the complete embodiment of badassness known as the Explorer that fan boys and girls started to look at him as the God of Thunder. With “More Beer” or “Eet Fuk” scribbled on the massive body, James wielded that thing like an axe, cutting the heads off of everyone in the crowd with roaring riffs from Master of Puppets and Creeping Death. While James’ first Explorer was a Gibson, he moved on to an identical ESP Explorer during the Black Album tour. A mahogany body, maple neck and 22 fret fingerboard, James started using EMG 81 and 85 pickups for a stronger attack.  Although James has since hung up his Gibsons and moved on to an ESP signature Snakebyte model, James’ white Explorer will always remain one of metals most iconic guitars. 

3: Kerry King’s B.C. Rich Warlock

Slayer! A name so emblematic of brutality that it is a natural occurrence to hear the named screamed out at EVERY metal show, even if Slayer’s not on the bill. And nothing shows that brutality like Kerry King’s bald head brutally banging away as he tremolo picks on arguably one of the most frightening looking guitars ever built. EMG 81/85 configuration with a PA2 Preamp, gives the mahogany body more punch and enough high end to tear the heads off of every one in the room. The Floyd Rose Trem gets Kerry his long screaming harmonic dives. Scott Ian once said, “Slayer is the soundtrack of hell.” Well, the B.C. Rich Warlock is the instrument of the devil himself that Kerry King wields to bring forth those hellish riffs.

4: Steve Harris and Dave Murray’s Fender Guitars

Before Iron Maiden started melting faces with their scorching leads, the hardest noise to ever come from a Strat was Eric Clapton’s Layla. Dave Murray and Steve Harris looked at the guys playing Fenders and said, “That’s nice. Now here’s what it sounds like when you play with some balls,” and proceed to show the full spectrum of Fender Instruments.  Although it’s nearly impossible to include this much awesome in one article, it’s impossible to single out any one player this monster of a band. Admittedly Steve Harris started with Ibanez guitars (See the vid for Number of the Beast) it wasn’t long before he called Fender his home. Now if only Fender would make the model bass that Steve Harris actually plays, then we’ll be rockin’. As far as Dave Murry’s axe, check out TTK’s own vid where we detail his signature Strat and tell us that this thing doesn’t rock.

5: Zakk Wylde’s Gibson Les Paul Bullseye

It’s still a mystery how in the hell Zakk Wylde can tear through a bulky Les Paul neck with more ferocity than many other players can on sleeker necks. Let’s face it, for most of us mere humans, a Les Paul is not a speed machine. It’s more like the Station Wagon of guitars, dependable but you’re not going to win any races. Zakk took that mentality and tossed it on its head when he started playing alongside Ozzy. He showed that not only can a Les Paul be used for blues and classic rock, but it can be wielded as a shred machine gun that can blast through even the most complex leads. The heavy Mahogany body combined with the EMG 81 & 85 pickups keeps the tone like a punch to the face. While a raw maple neck with an ebony fingerboard keeps his fretting hand moving easily up and down the 22-fret neck.

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6: Dimebag Darrell’s Dean ML

The late great Dimebag Darrell definitely left his footprint on the world of rock. In fact, you might say that he stomped a mud hole in rock’s ass while telling it to stop crying like a bitch. The brutality of Pantera’s riffs could only be matched by the brutality of his choice in weaponry. With a body shape that looks more like an axe than a guitar, Dime crushed the skulls of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam with ungodly wails and dominating rhythms. Although there have been many incarnations through the years, the Dean ML was the start of it all. Mahogany body and neck shaped into the iconic three-pronged body with the two-pronged headstock, reminding us what it means to throw our hands up with our first and fourth fingers extended in the universal symbol of rock ‘n’ roll. And nobody whipped the Floyd Rose bridge around like Dime did, creating howls and wails that seemed to come from some other unholy creature.

7: Steve Vai’s Ibanez JEM7V

Steve Vai is on the short list of true guitar legends. First produced in ’87, the JEM was co-designed by Steve Vai. Nicknamed “Evo” by Vai, the most noticeable part of the guitar is the big handle carved out of the body of the guitar. While that probably gets the most attention, it is by far not the most impressive thing about the JEM7. Vai has always been a fan of art in his music, and it extends to this axe. Vine inlays climb up the neck between gold plated tuners and Floyd Rose. Ibanez’s 5-piece maple/walnut neck and an Alder body are topped off with DiMarzio Evolution pickups, two humbuckers in the bridge and neck and a single coil in the middle position. 

8: Warren DeMartini’s Charvel Signature Snake

While Warren DeMartini is not a big name to the general public, players could never mistake the scorching leads of the great RATT guitarist. DeMartini’s leads are always crafted to the song, enhancing the song rather than just flash. Which is not what you would expect from someone with such a badass guitar. I mean… it’s covered in snakeskin for crying out loud! In addition to looking like it would fit nicely with a pair of snakeskin boots, the Charvel DeMartini signature is hot. With a custom designed Seymour Duncan humbucker in the bridge and a Quarter Pounder in the neck, this thing is made to cut through even the densest mix. With a San Dimas neck backshape and a maple fingerboard, it’s easy to glide up and down this guitar. 

9: Tony Iommi’s SG

I know that Angus Young gets more credit with this guitar, but that’s bullshit! While Angus is running around in his little schoolboy uniform, Tony Iommi and Black Sabbath were creating heavy metal. Without the dark sounds of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Into The Void, or Children of the Grave, bands like Metallica, Slayer, and Killswitch Engage would probably never have existed. Where Angus would prance around with the SG, Iommi’s gait was more of a funeral march. There’s nothing pretty about an SG. The devil-like horns that surround the neck and dark-red hue tell you exactly what’s in store for you, and it can only come from hell. Originally, Iommi used a left-handed ’65 SG special with P-90 pickups. Later he would collaborate with Gibson to make his own signature version with white cross-shaped fretboard inlays. Although his signature SG look freaking amazing, we here at TTK are still fans of the old-school version.

10: Jerry Cantrell’s G&L

It’s no secret that we here at TTK are huge fans of Jerry Cantrell, which is only part of the reason that he’s on our list. The biggest reason he’s on our list is because he is single-handedly keeping G&L on the metal map. While many people don’t even know who the hell G&L is (What is wrong with these people?) Jerry is showing that they are still building some of the best guitars out there. As far as specs, the Rampage is pretty bare bones. A single Seymour Duncan JB humbucker in the bridge and a volume control are all that he needs. But, in its simplicity, there is elegance. For starters, there’s the recessed Kahler 2320 Professional Tremolo. For anyone who hasn’t played on a Kahler bridge, go out and do so right now! Don’t get us wrong, we love Floyds, but the Kahler is a much more comfortable place to rest your hand. Then, of course, you have the graphics. Our particular favorite design is the “Blue Dress” graphic. If this particular design doesn’t get your attention, you’re probably in a coma.

There are a ton of iconic guitars that never get mentioned in most mainstream top 10 lists. Here at TheToneKing.com, we’re about those guitars that influenced us the most. We would run down to our local guitar shops after school to stare at these guitars in awe, waiting for our chance to plug them in and rip out the riffs that made these guitars famous. While we added our ten, there are plenty more iconic guitars out there. Let us know who some of your favs are. Maybe next time, we’ll put them on our list.

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Filed Under: Commentary / EditorialsFeaturedGuitars

About the Author: Marc published his first novel Becoming in 2010. It’s a kick-ass book with monsters and dreams and stuff, and you should buy it. Since then, he’s written thousands of articles for TheToneKing.com, many of which have been picked up for circulation by manufacturers and other news outlets. His next book, Drugs and Pancakes, should be available early 2014 if his alcoholic editor can find time to work on it in-between destroying his liver and screaming about punctuation. He graduated from Roosevelt University with honors, which means that he’s not as dumb as he looks. He’s been playing guitar for over 25 years, which is almost twice as long as most of his students have been alive.

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  2. Sean says:

    Re: Jaymez Hetfield’s pick ups.

    i am sure that Hetfield did us a EMG 81/85 config at some point in history before switching the the 60 in the bridge..

    Am I wrong on this?

  3. JMP says:

    That’s a good list but if you’re talking overlooked signature guitars (and it appears you are) the Peavey Vandenberg needs to be included….very underrated though pretty sought after these days.

  4. Deckard says:

    So I can understand the wanting to make a list such as this but its all “metal” players what about iconic gits like James Young’s blue kramer or his kramer double neck, or Ritchie Sambora’s double neck Telecaster and other obscured instruments like that?

  5. Nikko says:

    Some purists would say that Zakk doesn’t play a les paul as it has jumbo frets, thin neck, and (GASP!!!) active pickups.

  6. hotrod V says:

    Marty Friedman’s Jackson Kelly belongs up there. A true ’80s and ’90s metal staple.

  7. hotrod V says:

    Good list. I agree with all of the picks. For those who cry about it being “all metal” players with little versatility. Obviously not someone who knows anything about metal guitar. One does not just “play metal”. They work up to playing metal after the necessary blues, rock, and sometimes jazz and even european folk genres have been explored. These are the components that combine to create metal.
    Having said that, yes, there are some errors in the article, but the picks cannot be denied. The one error and probably little known fact is that, yes Kerry King uses a Kahler(although during the time that B.C.R. was owned by Class Axe he played Jacksons with Floyds and ESPs as well), but the biggest misnomer is that his B.C. Riches are the usual maple neck/mahogany body. Kerry’s personal Speed Vs, Beast Vs, and Warlocks are actually all maple, neck and body wings. The reproduction imports are indeed maple/mahogany with the exception of the very first run of the neck-thru Beast Vs from China. I own one, and called B.C. Rich to ask about some oddities about my particular guitar. The reason that it weighs as much as a Les Paul(!) is the maple. This was Kerry’s idea.
    This info is straight from B.C. Rich.

  8. Rob says:

    Tons of inaccuracies here.
    Lynch’s Kamikaze predates the Duncan Screamin Demon by quite a few years.
    Vai only calls one of his 7VWHs “EVO”–based on the pickups installed. Also–the 7VWH was not introduced in 1897–the Jem 777 was the first Jem series introduced in 1987: the finishes were Desert Yellow, Shocking Pink and Loch Ness Green.

    Zakk and his Les Paul–what about RANDY FREAKIN’ RHOADS????

    Warren’s original snakeskin did not have a neck pickup–it was a humbucker in the bridge only guitar.

  9. Vince says:

    So, the only under appreciated guitars have been played by guys playing metal??? These guitars might be great, but how versatile are they???

  10. ronjeremy says:

    there’s about 5 mistakes in this , still a nice list minus warren and Iron Maiden although iron maiden are incredible players. but the person who wrote this is a complete poser or should have done their homework.

    *James used the EMG 81/60 primarily not the 81/85
    *Kerry used kahlers like one guy said
    *steve vai used am original edge on his 87 jem as far as I know
    *steve also uses basswood bodies
    *jerry has a signature pickup out in his new rampages, than again you’re talking iconic so 50/50

    possible suggestions
    chris holmes of w.a.s.p. yellow star guitar what it looks like today is amazing
    joe satriani and his chrome guitar like someone else said
    I can go on forever but I don’;t want to put much thought into this dead link

  11. Great piece of information you posted here. I appreciate the time and effort you put into this. Keep it up!

  12. SCJapan says:

    Hey, Kerry King’s guitar has a Kahler trem not a Floyd!

  13. Andma says:

    Alex Lifeson’s white/cream 355?

  14. Indridcold says:

    Where is the joe satriani chrome boy ?

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