WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO make a guitar truly “yours”? I’m talking about building from scratch or modifying a guitar to achieve the sound that’s in your head. One of the jobs I enjoy most is individualizing guitars for specific players. Over the years, I’ve been asked a lot about one client’s instruments because his system is so unique. The player is Neal Schon, and I just finished doing the wiring and final setup on the “Wedding Guitar” that PRS built. I’d like to go over the many features that make this guitar unique to Neal.
Even though it has a locking nut, the locking tuners make it quicker and easier to change strings.
CUSTOM LOCKING NUT WITH NARROWER SPACING
PRS had this locking nut custom made for Neal’s guitars. The neck width at the nut is 1h", which would normally fit a #3 nut, but that left the strings too close to the edge of the fingerboard for his taste. A #2 nut works great for the spacing, but the edges of the nut sit inside the edge of the fingerboard. What we ended up going with is a #3 outside size with a #2 string spacing. This helps keep the strings from pulling off the side of the neck.
HARDER JUMBO FRETS
The larger frets make it easier to dig into bends and the harder fret material makes bending a feel little slicker.
FERNANDES SUSTAINER 401
Neal has tried a few Sustainers over the years. They all have a specific tone, and this one has always ended up tops for him. The Sustainer driver sits next to the neck pickup.
DIMARZIO FAST TRACK 2 NECK PICKUP
Although the Sustainer driver can act as a pickup, Neal prefers the Fast Track 2. It’s normally used in the bridge position, but he favors it in the neck for its rich and creamy sound.
SEYMOUR DUNCAN CUSTOM CUSTOM BRIDGE PICKUP
Neal finds that the big, warm sound of this pickup works better than some of the vintage pickups he has used in the past.
CUSTOM SWITCHABLE PASSIVE MID CUT AND TREBLE CUT TONE CONTROL
This has become very important both live and for recording. Since Neal plays with a fair amount of gain and the guitar is fat sounding, the mid cut can provide cool, in-between Strat-y tones.
MASTER VOLUME LOCATION
This knob is in a specific place for ease of use. If you look how far back a Les Paul’s volume knob is and how close a Strat’s is, this is somewhere in between—easy to reach but not in the way of his hand when palm muting the strings.
FLOYD ROSE ORIGINAL
This system will not go out of tune, even with the amount of abuse Neal puts the guitar through, and that’s saying a lot!
The original light and hollow bodies sounded big and full in the studio, but for live work Neal wanted it more solid for better control of the sustain and feedback.
DUNLOP ST RAP LOCKS
These are on all his guitars and straps.
All of these bits and pieces did not just “happen.” A lot of trial and error went into finding out what works best. Don’t worry— it is an ever-evolving process. Just get started.
Gary Brawer runs Stringed Instrument Repair in San Francisco. His many clients include Joe Satriani, Metallica, and Neal Schon.