Ron Thal may look sane, but one gander at his weird arsenal of house-of-horrors guitars and it's evident that this man is, in fact, quite mad. Ron's debut album, The Adventures Of Bumblefoot (Shrapnel), a blistering collection of Zappa-esque instrumentals, Latin-tinged acoustic tunes and assorted other items not of this Earth, was recorded exclusively with what he dubs "The Swiss Cheese Guitar."
"That was a beat-up Ibanez Roadstar with cracked wood selling for 180 bucks," the 26-year-old New Yorker calmly explains. "I hacked it up and put holes in it. Then I went into an auto-body shop with a slice of Swiss cheese and said, 'I need this color.'"
Then there's the "Double-Neck From Hell," a two-headed monstrosity with one body and two necks that looks like it came straight out of an Ed Wood movie. "That was a '57 Stratocaster which played, tuned and sounded like shit," says Thal. "I was feeling creative one day, so I took a bass neck, chopped it in half, refretted it, stuck a DiMarzio Super Distortion and a Badass bridge on it, wired it up and stuck it into the bottom horn of the Strat. When you switch to that neck, which is tuned an octave higher than a regular guitar neck, you hit some screaming high notes that just make your ears bleed."
But Thal's pièce de résistance is clearly "The Hand Guitar." "I took some graph paper, traced my hand, enlarged it to a usable scale and carved the body in the shape of my hand," he explains. "It also has 37 frets down right to the pickup and a moth under a piece of glass that's set into the body, like an exhibit."
Thal also employs some unusual playing techniques, such as using a thimble to create bizarre high-end squeaks and wails heard on Bumblefoot. "I keep it on the 4th finger of my picking hand," he explains, "and I use it to go beyond the fretboard and get all those high notes." And on Bumblefoot's most unusual piece, an untitled track lurking at the album's end, he employs a secret code to translate words into music.
But what's the code? "I will never tell," Ron says with a maniacal laugh. "It's a big secret and no-one will ever figure it out."
- Mordechai Kleidermacher