When Steve Vai appeared on the cover of the September 2016 issue of Guitar Worldto discuss his latest projects—including the new 25th-anniversary version of his masterpiece, Passion and Warfare—he agreed to let us photograph several guitars from his staggering private collection.
Below, you'll find photos of 10 guitars (mostly Ibanez), each of which is accompanied by a revealing tidbit courtesy of Vai.
To read our entire interview with Vai, head here. Enjoy!
Photos: Kevin Scanlon
Ibanez JEM777 SP (Shocking Pink)
“This is a reissue of one of the first JEMs that was released back in the day. In the mid Eighties I made a design for a guitar that fit the quirky musical sensibilities I was reaching for. I sent it out to a bunch of people and said, ‘Whoever makes me the best guitar—I’ll play it.’ Ibanez was the winner, hands-down, and it led to the first JEM and RG models. They were so bizarre with their fluorescent colors and their monkey grips. Ibanez must’ve been scratching their heads, thinking, What’s with this guy? But the guitars have sold pretty consistently through different trends and recessions.”
Ibanez UV77 7-string with burnt finish
“This is Bruno—a dipped multicolored seven-string that I took a blowtorch and a wire brush to in the Nineties. I have no idea why I did that; I guess I just liked the burnt-wood look. I first tried it with the natural wood aspects in my home studio and wondered what the same technique would do to a multicolored finish. You can see the guitar in the ‘For the Love of God’ video, and by the way, attempts to recreate my treatment of the finish have not been successful.”
Ibanez UV77SVR Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary Limited Edition
“Silver is part of the Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary seven-string release. There’s three of them—Passion, blue and pink; Warfare, orange and yellow; and Silver, silver and blue. Ibanez made different ones to match the various color combos on the cover of Passion and Warfare.”
"Bones"—custom built by Performance Guitar
“Bones was one of the predecessors to the JEM that I had made at Performance Guitar [a custom shop in Los Angeles]. There were others: Little Annie Fanny, Playboy and Cowgirl. I just went into Performance Guitar and gave them my specifications, tweaked the body shape, and requested particular pickup configurations. I later gave these designs to Ibanez and they refined them to make me the beautiful instrument that became the original JEM.”
"Flo"—modified Ibanez JEM77 with true-temperament neck
“We’ve done a lot of different JEM variations, including a white phase. Flo started out with a floral finish, but was redone in white. It has a true-temperament neck—hence the crazy, wavy frets—and a Fernandes Sustainer pickup. It’s one of the guitars I usually tour with: a real workhorse, and a warm place to call home.”
"Woody"—custom Ibanez JEM
“Woody is yet another example of a makeover that the JEM has seen—with a legacy guitar like this, we’ve gotten to fool around with all kinds of aesthetics. This one is completely different than any other JEM. It’s got a highly polished mahogany body, and the pickups are ones I worked on with Larry DiMarzio specifically for the guitar—they’ve got a brightness that compensates for the warmth of the mahogany. Then there are those cool steampunk covers [designed by Michael Mesker].”
Ibanez Jem77 7-string baritone
“One of the cool things about having had such a close relationship with Ibanez for so many years is that they’ve made me basically any guitar I can think of. Many years ago, I saw a baritone guitar and thought, That’s interesting—I should have one. That’s how this particular guitar came about.”
Ibanez JEM77 Floral Pattern
“My wife and I had just moved into this home in Hollywood and were decorating it. We found a curtain fabric we liked and when it came time to make another JEM I thought, How cool would it be to have this on a guitar? Ibanez figured out how to get the fabric to stay on an instrument, and it made for probably the best-sounding JEM. It must have something to do with how the fabric interacts with the wood. Ibanez ended up buying all the remaining fabric from the manufacturer and quickly ran out. Later, when we changed the décor in our house, I sent the old curtains to Ibanez so they could make more floral-pattern JEMs. Some people are actually playing guitars with fabric from my living room!”
Fender Stratocaster “Sticker Strat”
“One day when I was 15 or 16 I went up to my bedroom and found that my mother had woven $120 into the strings of my acoustic guitar with a note that said, ‘This is for your Stratocaster.’ I ran to Matthew Music at Roosevelt Field [a shopping center in Long Island, New York] and bought this natural-wood Strat. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in my life, and I played it all the way through my Frank Zappa days. It’s gone through all kinds of electronics and has had every locking tremolo device known to man. At one point I’d chopped up so much wood inside that I had to rebuild it.”
"Cherry Blossom"—Strat-style Ibanez with custom paint job and doodles by Steve Vai
“This was a guitar I requested from Ibanez with a body half painted white and half painted raspberry. I was going on tour with Experience Hendrix and wanted to pay tribute to Hendrix and the Strat that he had hand-painted [and burned at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival]. I never really felt like I had any real artistic talent, so that’s why it’s not much more than doodling, but it looked very cool onstage.”