Whack Job: The Big Orange Tres/Guitar

There’s whack and then there’s WHACK! This month’s Whack Job has the distinction of being the largest guitar I have ever held in my arms.
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There’s whack and then there’s WHACK! This month’s Whack Job has the distinction of being the largest guitar I have ever held in my arms. Ever since I started haunting the Starving Musician in Santa Clara, California, some 20 years ago, this guitar has continued to hang unceremoniously from the music store’s ceiling. Although it looks very “Central Valley, California” inspired (á la Mosrite, Hallmark, or Standel), there’s no telling who built this monstrosity. But as absurd as it looks, “Big Orange” has some trippy features that are rather inspired.

WEIRDO FACTOR

Where do I start? It’s large, Marge! At just under four-feet long and almost 20 inches wide at the lower bout, it’s more like a bass drum with strings and a guitar neck. The orange-sparkle finish would make a ski boat envious. The body is one piece of hollowed-out Honduran mahogany, and at 15 lbs it weighs five pounds more than the heaviest Les Paul. The Prince-like scroll on the upper cutaway is like The Attack of the 50-Foot Mandolin.

The bridge and nut have nine holes and slots to accommodate two different ways to string it: As a standard 6-string guitar, or as a Cuban/Puerto Rican instrument known as a Tres. Unlike a Mandolin that has four sets of double strings, a Tres has three courses of double strings, and is typically tuned to open C . There appear to be two output jacks on the guitar, but it isn’t stereo. One jack is a standard mono output, but the other jack is of the TRS variety that goes out to (presumably) a Fender Twin to turn the reverb and tremolo on or off. Clever!

PLAYABILITY & SOUND

The “Big O” is so unwieldy and goofy looking that one would assume it is a complete failure as a musical instrument. (The neck looks so much like a hockey stick with strings that my friend John said the manufacturer might have gotten confused and made it for Gordie Howe, instead of Steve Howe.) Well, friends, this huge guitar really surprised me. It’s a bit of a beast to handle, but considering its size, it’s actually a fun and relatively easy guitar to play. The sound is warm and loud and surprisingly pleasing.

VALUE

The Starving Musician’s Dave Stein said he probably didn’t pay much more than a hundred bucks for Big O all those years ago. But, for me, such a thing of wonderment and weirdness is a priceless one-off.

WHY IT RULES

In a world of Strats and Les Pauls—and I love Strats and Les Pauls—it’s very cool to see something that has its own character. The fact that Big O sounds good, plays well, and can see action as either a conventional 6-string or a Tres is icing on a large, orange-sparkle cake!

Thanks to Dave Stein for the loan of the guitar. And if anyone knows who made this monster, please feel free to contact me at rtcarleton@gmail.com.

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