Discovering the Gigerstein, an Oddity from Blondie’s Chris Stein and H.R. Giger

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What you’re looking at is the Gigerstein guitar, an instrument designed by Blondie founder and guitarist Chris Stein, Thomas Lieber of Lieber Guitars and H.R. Giger, the Swiss artist who is probably best known in America for his design work on the 1979 action-horror film Alien.

Stein commissioned Lieber to build the guitar and come up with a design based on Giger’s nightmarish, biomechanical artwork. Lieber created the basic design, after which he, Giger and Stein worked out the final details.

According to Lieber Guitars’ web site, “The asymmetrical bio-mechanical body is hand carved in wood. It is adorned with carbon graphite, assorted biological materials and bronze castings.”

Among the most striking features are a six-fingered Alien hand made of carbon-fiber, a gold-plated solid brass bridge, and a body design that incorporates Giger’s signature mix of organic and synthetic, as seen in the combination of hornlike body protrusions and “binding” that resembles ribbed tubing.

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Stein and Giger’s partnership predated the Gigerstein’s creation. The two had met in New York City around 1980 and became friends. Blondie were in the midst of a hiatus, during which Stein and Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry were working on her debut solo album, 1981’s KooKoo, produced by Chic’s Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers.

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At Stein and Harry’s request, Giger designed the album cover, coming up with a memorable image of Harry with her hair dyed black and four long needles piercing her face and throat from the left side to the right.

The Gigerstein hasn’t exactly been a secret, but it took some sleuthing on the part of Martin Schneider of the website Dangerous Minds to bring it to light. Schneider had read a VICE interview with Stein discussing his friendship with Giger, who passed away May 12, 2014. Afterward, he began digging around on Stein’s website devoted to Blondie when he discovered a not-so-obvious link to Lieber Guitars. And voila!

In addition to the distinctive peg head and the Leiber-designed/built bridge, the guitar features four custom EMG pickups, one volume control, one tone control and one on-off switch for each pickup. The Gigerstein is built on a 25 1/2–inch scale, weighs about nine pounds, measures 20 1/4 inches long by 13 3/8 inches wide, and is 1 13/16 inches wide.

Tom Lieber has a Facebook page devoted to the guitar. On it, he provides some background on the design phase of the project, including this anecdote about working with Giger.

“One evening after leaving Chris’s place, Giger and I were walking along the streets of NY discussing the project. He made an apology, saying ‘I don’t mean to insult you and I do understand the high level of museum quality perfection you try to achieve in your art but…. it’s all wrong!’

Giger went on to explain, “My art (bio-mechanoid) renderings need to reflect the melding of both nature and the technology of modern man. In nature there is imperfection that is near impossible for the perfectionist to reproduce. You need to allow imperfection to infiltrate your art on this project otherwise it will never look real.”

“This was such an opposite positioning for me it seemed absurd, yet I did listen,” writes Lieber. “When the graphite neck and hand parts were removed from their molds there was all sorts of open pores and wrinkled fibers where the epoxy resin hadn't completely filled. I left it as is, and boy oh boy, did it look real!”

This is not Giger’s only contribution to the world of musical implements. As HeavyMetal.com notes, he created a mic stand for Korn singer Jonathan Davis—though the site says “it’s really more like a Giger sculpture to which one can attach a microphone.”

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And lest we forget, Ibanez offered an H.R. Giger signature series consisting of four guitars released between 2005 and 2008.

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Ibanez RGTHRG1

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Ibanez RGHRG1

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Ibanez SHRG1Z

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Ibanez RGTHRG2

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