Whack Job: The GR-OX

This guitar started out as a late- ’60s Vox Starstream XII 12-string.
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THIS GUITAR STARTED OUT AS A LATE-’60s Vox Starstream XII 12-string. However, the previous owner decided it needed to have a different neck and pickups on it. Ouch! As such, the guitar was in pretty bad shape from the perspectives of a both player and a collector. But—and in the words of the great philosopher Pee-wee Herman, this is a BIG but—the onboard, totally freaky electronics were still intact. This was a guitar worth saving—even knowing that I could never get it back to stock condition.


The Starstream XII’s “sandburst” finish isn’t exactly weird—nor is the lute-inspired body. The weirdo factor for this guitar is definitely the built-in effects. The Starstream came stock with Distortion, adjustable Treble or Bass Boost, an echo-like Repeater, and a built-in palm-actuated Wah-Wah. Oh yeah—it also came with a tuning tone. Hit the E-tuner switch, and the guitar produces an E note that you and your bandmates can tune to. Pretty clever!

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This obviously hybrid and customized guitar—which I renamed the “GR-OX”—is, in large part, all Vox. But as I gave up looking for the correct replacement pickups, Mike Fox and Dave Stein at The Starving Musician suggested that Gretsch pickups would sound cool, as well as be large enough to cover the holes cut by the previous owner. So the GR-OX now sounds much more like a Gretsch than a Vox. The vintage 6-String neck and bridge came from Ronni Sargent of Dinette Guitars. Then, I had to deal with the triangular “palm controller” that operates the Wah-Wah. The original pieces were notorious for breaking, so Stein built the one pictured here out of a bottle opener. As it was a 12-string, the guitar came stock with a set bridge, but I opted to put a tremolo bridge on to cover up some other unsightly drillings by the previous owner.

Unlike some other “mash-ups” I have come across, the GR-OX plays super nice. The sound is just about impossible to describe, but if you think of the stoney guitar sounds on the Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night,” the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense and Peppermints,” or Davie Allen and the Arrows’ “Blues Theme” (from the cult biker movie, The Wild Angels), you’ll start to imagine what this guitar can do.

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Last year, a stock 1968 Vox Starstream XII sold online for $2,500. Of course, this one is far from stock. Back in 1968, Vox listed the Starstream XII for $450. In 2010, I paid $400 for the beat up body, $200 for the neck and bridge, $100 for the pickups, $4 for the bottle opener, and about $300 for the rebuild. That’s around a thousand bucks for the guitar you see here, and it was well worth it!


This has got to be one of the most interesting guitars I’ve ever seen or heard. It plays like a vintage Vox with its skinny, fast, and narrow 22-fret neck. But the onboard effects are what really take this thing into the Twilight Zone.