Skip to main content

Watch Frank Zappa at his Fingerboard Shredding Finest

Frank Zappa performs at Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, California on November 18, 1977
Frank Zappa, 1977 (Image credit: Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

It’s never too late to discover the minor pentatonic key of C sharp. Frank Zappa’s epic “Muffin Man” outro solo proves the point – and some! Featured as the closing number on Zappa’s 1975 (mostly) live album Bongo Fury starring his old high school buddy Captain Beefheart aka Don Van Vliet “on vocals and soprano sax and madness”, this standout track is a high point for many in the late, great guitar hero’s career.

Frank Zappa Bongo Fury cover

1975's Bongo Fury (that's Captain Beefheart under the hat) (Image credit: DiscReet)

While Zappa’s inimitable guitar tones were chiefly down to his singular technique, his approach to modifying instruments made him sound all the more distinctive. 

By fitting his electric guitars with midrange-boosting preamps, altering the phase of the pickups, and half-cocking his wah wah to emphasis certain resonant frequencies, Zappa was able to create a variety of dynamic tones which not only cut though the mix but also allowed him to control feedback in a highly musical way.

Frank Zappa performing on stage at Hammersmith Odeon, London, 09 February 1977

Frank Zappa, 1977 (Image credit: Ian Dickson/Redferns)

In this clip from a 1977 Halloween concert at New York City's Palladium Theater, Zappa is using his “Baby Snakes” SG – his main ax during the late ‘70s that he bought for $500. Though it appears to be a straight Walnut Gibson SG Standard from a distance, this guitar features a customised body, fancy fretboard inlays, an extra (23rd) fret, and bespoke-designed electronics including various preamp and phase switching options.

Check out the incredible Halloween 77 box set here.

Rod Brakes is a music writer with an expertise in all things guitar-related. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a journalist covering artists, industry pros, and gear includes writing hundreds of articles and features for the likes of Guitarist magazine, MusicRadar, and Guitar World, as well as contributions for specialist books and blogs. He is also a lifelong musician.