Perhaps only the most dedicated connoisseurs of bizarre Japanese guitars can tell that a mid-Sixties Inter Mark Cipher model lurks beneath the trinkets and ornaments covering Shawn Mayo’s customized guitar.
In fact, for many years Mayo thought it was a Harmony model, due to the Harmony neck that a previous owner used to replace the original neck.
“My mom bought me the guitar at a yard sale for 10 bucks,” he recalls. “Her nickname was Lulu, so I started calling it the Lulu guitar and, eventually, just Lou. When she passed away in 2001, I decided I would do it up nice. I did some research and discovered it was an Inter Mark Cipher—a Cipher named Lou…Lou Cipher! This guitar was clearly destined to be evil.”
Initially, Mayo affixed just a handful of chrome-plated baubles to the guitar, but soon his family and friends starting giving him, he says, “skulls, spikes, guns and spooky weapons of mass destruction” that went with his “macabre, dark metal theme.” He even inserted spikes into the neck above the 12th fret, which rightfully punishes players for shredding wheedily-wheedily solos when they should be pummeling power chords in the nether regions.
The modifications to Mayo’s Lou-Ciper guitar are not just on the surface. He also installed a Gibson humbucker at the bridge and rewired each of the three pickups with its own on/off toggle switch.
“I originally planned to use all Gibson pickups,” he explains. “I was going to use Firebird pickups for the middle and neck positions, but the original pickups sound amazing! I usually use the bridge humbucker and neck pickups together, which sounds crisp, yet warm and almost harmonic.”
Whereas most guitars featured in It Might Get Weird are for sale, Mayo refuses to part with his metal masterpiece. “It’s my daily player,” he explains. “It’s a very personal piece, so there’s no way I could ever put a price on Louie. He’s family, and we’ve been through a lot together.”
Photo: Jeremy Saffer