Steve Stevens Signature Series (SS)
By: Dave Talkin of daveonrock.com
The history of the Washburn Steve Stevens Signature model guitars is significant in many ways, one being that the guitar represents the end of an era.
The birth of this style of guitar, the super Strat if you will, began in the Asuza, Southern California workshop of Wayne Charvel , later located in Glendora, the famous San Dimas location was only where the PO box was.
The combination of a flat compounded radius fingerboard and superbly fast playing oil finish bolt on neck, with jumbo frets, rear loaded controls and electronics, body mounted pickups and a Stratocaster shaped body, with first a vintage style Fender tremolo, then with the arrival of Floyd Rose, a locking tremolo system that became the Original Floyd Rose unit, paved the way for many famous guitarists.
The first one to embrace this style of guitar was the legendary Edward Van Halen, who built his own variant on this theme and eventually worked with Wayne for a brief period of time until Wayne sold his business completely to Grover Jackson in 1978.
The Washburn Steve Stevens models were the early nineties version of this concept and in my opinion, one of the finest guitars of it’s type ever produced.
To many a Charvel purist it would be heresy to suggest any later guitar could approach the legendary Pre-Pro models, but I feel that the spirit of these fine guitars is embodied in the 1993 only produced SS Washburns.
I feel that it is significant to preface the story of the Chicago Custom Shop Washburn’s, with it’s So Cal roots, as one of Steve’s favorite guitars, still to this day, his 1985 Jackson/Charvel “Glow” guitar.
“Let’s see, regarding the Charvel/Jackson glow…Grover Jackson came backstage to a Billy Idol show on the Rebel Yell tour.
This was probably in ’85. I was pretty much just playing Hamer’s and didn’t think much of what Grover might have to offer. We spoke and he asked what I might like in a bolt on neck.
I stressed the fact that the Floyd Rose had to sit flush on the body, so that if I broke a string, the guitar would stay in tune. I also asked to angle the bridge pickup so that the bass strings were brighter. I don’t think I got the guitar in time for the remaining tour dates, but I know I had it for the recordings of Whiplash Smile.
The guitar was just so comfortable to play, and it just sounded great.
As the recording of the Top Gun anthem was done while the Idol sessions were going on, I used the Charvel. I pretty much used it on every record, until I got my first Music Man Van Halen model, which is also a great playing and sounding guitar.
I retired the guitar in the ‘90’s (it had been beat to hell) but brought it out for Memory Crash.
I have one of the new John Suhr Moderns and did a lil’ A/B recording test against the Glow. The Suhr actually sounds better, so that’s become my go to guitar for any of the bolt on style stuff I record.
Other than that it’s always a Les Paul. I hope that answers the history of the glow guitar.”
I believe Steve has a Bare Knuckles VH II pickup fitted to the glow at the present time and he also used it on the Michael Jackson track Dirty Diana as well.. also the majority of the Vince Neil Band tracks on Exposed
Also I would like to add that all my research and interviewing of the people involved with the Washburn project, led me to certain conclusions that I must keep private and am not at liberty to discuss publicly.
Steve, may have had some issue with the necks.
From Washburn, this is what I was told, "From what I have heard it was an issue with the necks with Steve, but now I think he may like them because he has been playing Les Paul’s of late.
Steve Gill adds, Steve and I have had some correspondence on various forums and I spoke with him briefly at NAMM. Cool cat and one of the greats in my eyes.”
Since through Jon Kluiter of the excellent Funky Munky Music of Shawnee, Kansas., I learned of Steve Gill of Washburn being a huge SS fan like myself:
Steve Gill was kind enough to pass on some questions directly to Terry Atkins, whom is really the father of these guitars, these are some that I came up with, I still hope to one day visit the Washburn factory in Chicago and interview Terry in person, here are my questions in italics:
“Was there this Artists Spec SS 80 built for Steve Stevens himself?”
TA: “The initial batch of guitars all had various truss rod adjustments as we did not yet set the specs on the guitar before production started. Fortunately, the guitar proved to be popular and was getting orders before we had the specs. It wasn’t until we got the black color, gold hardware, and regular truss rod adjustment in place that spec was set.”
“What date did Steve Stevens leave Washburn approximately.?”
TA: “Late 1993.”
“How many and which variants of his SS models did Steve receive from Washburn and were these guitars serial numbered?”
TA: “Steve received a handful of guitars from us, but the number is unclear for sure.”
“Are the blueprints and technical specification data still existing for the SS 80 and SS 100 guitars?”
TA: “We still have the programs for the CNC machines.
Steve Gill: The guitar you received from Funky Munky (Purple maple quilt topped SS 80) was to go to Steve Stevens but he left before the guitar was finished and it then became part of Washburn history.
Rudy, the owner (note: now previous owner) had it in his collection for sometime before it was hung on the wall in the Washburn “Hall of Fame.”
I don’t believe that Terry Atkins was here at that point, but he was very much part of the design of the guitar. There are no serial numbered records or any proof as to how many were made or released. They are in fact pretty rare guitars though.”
In fact I had resigned what I had hoped to be a major guitar magazine article about these fantastic guitars, due to my great respect personally for Steve Stevens, who has been only most gracious towards me and open and honest in his replies to my questions.
What I had learned led me to not pursue any further publication on these guitars, with just a somewhat detailed ‘biography’ about them on my web blog http://www.daveonrock.com
I have been involved in researching these dynamic guitars, since I first read the guitar magazine articles in 1993, where Steve mentioned his new Signature model.
Of course being a mega-SS fan, I immediately went to a local Pennsylvania music store to special order one of these incredible looking guitars. The literature alone was very exciting and I had hoped to also obtain a patent leather case that Steve had also mentioned in the interview, but sadly this did not arrive with the guitar, a vacuum formed plastic Washburn case instead held this black and gold beauty.
To show the extent of my commitment, even back then in 1993, I put down $200 dollars on a credit card and managed to convince the store manager to hold my prized 1983 Fullerton built ’57 Stratocaster Reissue, ‘Blackie’ as collateral for payment on the special order.
The Strat I also had special ordered back in 1983 as a tribute to EC’s Blackie at the time and even locked down the tremolo since that day.
Needless to say I wasn’t the least bit disappointed when I opened the case for the first time.
The guitar was flawless and built with great precision and care.
Later I was to learn my example, which is serial number 9303085, which is March of 1993, was unlike any other Washburn Steve Stevens model, I had ever seen or have seen since, except for the Artists spec examples, built for Steve personally. I will go into detail about the differences later in the various model descriptions.
Suffice to say, the only other black SS80 matching the description of my guitar, is sadly no longer with us.
It was featured in the Vince Neil Band video, “Can’t Have Your Cake”, also featuring Pamela Anderson, who was dating Vince at the time.
At the end of the video, Steve is seen smashing it to pieces on the stage and throwing it’s remains out to the crowd..
So that was the beginning of my 16 year love affair with these guitars.
In 2009 I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase another unique example of an SS80.
I am told by Terry Atkins of Washburn, who is currently very high up in the company and runs the Chicago Custom Shop, where these guitars were made, that my NOS 1993 SS80 was to go to Steve, but he left before it was finished.
Certain other guitars were also built post Steve’s departure, but more about that later.
Terry had also worked with SS at Hamer, when Steve was with them and he ended up at Washburn as did quite a few ex-Hamer employees.
I also had the rare opportunity to purchase all of the SS models in the Washburn Museum or personal collection of Rudy Schlager, the now former CEO of St. Louis Music.
Unfortunately, the high dollar amounts and the fact that, I had to sell major pieces of equipment and a valued guitar, to finance only half of my guitars value, the other half was paid for with cash and literally eating hot dogs for a few months. That I ended up in the hospital with pancreatitis later was only coincidental I’m sure..
So it has been established that I am fanatical about these tone machines from the Windy City. If you have ever played one and not many people have, I can tell you that you would well understand my addiction.
So as I have stated I dropped my intention to go any further with this, as post SS leaving Washburn, he has not picked up or played one since 1993. I felt that I was opening old wounds that had since healed for Steve, again he has been most kind and understanding with me about a painful time in his life, that he has long moved on from.
At times I felt like the Washburn stalker or Ghost of Christmas Past, but being approached by many, many people, who shared a similar love for these exceedingly rare instruments and through my web blog by Darren, I was honored to be able to finally find a resting place for the story and details of these guitars, which sound as beautiful as they look…
Dave Talkin 1/15/10
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