Pipe Dream: Artist Jeff Ritzmann's Villanizer Guitar Is a Steampunk Sensation

Like Most Guitar players who came of age during the Eighties, artist Jeff Ritzmann always dreamed of owning an extravagant custom guitar like George Lynch’s Skull and Bones or Eddie Van Halen’s Dragon, but the price was always out of reach.

That desire stayed with Ritzmann until 2006, when the cover of Iron Maiden’s A Matter of Life and Death album inspired him to build a guitar that looks like a tank. He did it, he says, by modifying an off-the-shelf guitar “beyond all reasonable comprehension.”

“I started looking into gears, rail bars and rivets,” says Ritzmann, who now customizes guitars for his own company, Thunder Eagle Guitars (thundereagleguitars.com).

“Somebody mentioned a video game called BioShock, so I checked it out and loved its combination of heavy metal and steampunk aesthetics. I wondered if you could have a guitar in that world, what would it look like? I looked for the most weapon-like guitar I could fi nd and chose the Jackson Rhoads. I think you could kill somebody with one of those. It looks like a combination of a ray gun and a razor blade.”

The result of that inspiration was the Villanizer, a guitar that looks like something Jules Verne would have conceived if he were a heavy metal fan. Featuring embedded layers of gears, rust and an extended body wing affixed to the body with welded pipes, the guitar is a steampunk/sci-fi fantasy come to life. The pipes are both aesthetically and acoustically pleasing, enhancing the guitar’s tone.

Ritzmann sold his first Villanizer on eBay for $2,700, and since then he’s made two more, although none of the three were the same. The Villanizer has become an underground art sensation, incorporated into other artists’ 3-D modeling scenes and even tattoo designs.

“I never thought I’d get known in the art world for making a guitar,” Ritzmann says. “I was hoping it would be for a painting or my animation, but it was the thing I least expected. It’s humbling as hell.”

Photo: Donna Feldman Lasky, www.shootbar.com

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Chris Gill

Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.