“I tried SGs and Flying Vs, and they might look cool, but it's like playing a piece of Styrofoam”: Bill Kelliher explains why he prefers his guitars to be as heavy as possible

Bill Kelliher with his ESP LTD Bill Kelliher Royal Shiva Silver Sunburst
(Image credit: Aldara Zarraoa/Redferns/Getty Images)

ESP recently released Bill Kelliher’s latest signature model, the Royal Shiva. The arrival of the LTD iteration of his personal ESP Custom Shop Silverburst had been hotly anticipated both by fans of Mastodon – and fans of unusually thick electric guitars.

Indeed, the guitar itself was teased back in 2021, and while the double-cut Yamaha SG/First Act body shape caught the eye, it was the sheer denseness of the starkly finished guitar that really stole the spotlight: that thing was absolutely huge.

But while we mere mortals would look at that guitar and shudder at the thought of the damage it would do to our backs, Kelliher instead sees it as an essential part of the playing experience.

Now, in an upcoming Guitar World interview, Kelliher takes a deep-dive into his new signature guitar and the origins of the instrument that first inspired it.

That guitar, which itself was based on a 13lbs First Act Custom Double Cutaway nine-string model, was built by ESP back in 2020, and was produced to replicate the First Act’s exacting weight.

“I sent them the guitar, and they sent it to Japan to have all the specs mapped out, aside from the original nine strings,” Kelliher explains. 

“They basically made an exact copy of it, and I love it. It's heavy, thick, and unique. It feels great, and the neck is incredible. And it's heavy, but that's okay because the weight of a guitar is very important to me. The thicker, the better.”

Asked why he operates with this approach, Kelliher responds, “I don't trust a light guitar. Well, I shouldn't say I don't trust it; it's more that I like a guitar that feels solid. I know I'm getting older, and running around the stage with such heavy guitars isn't great for my back and shoulders, but I like 'em heavy. 

“I tried SGs and Flying Vs, and they might look cool and sound good, but it's like playing a piece of Styrofoam.”

Bill Kelliher isn’t the only high-profile riffsmith to favor guitars that err on the heavy side. Tool’s Adam Jones, for example, shares a similar affection for heavy instruments.

However, while Kelliher is happy to add a bit of body thickness to the equation to achieve his desired density, Jones takes a more particular approach towards wood choices.

Indeed, as Gibson CEO Cesar Gueikian noted recently, the Silverburst aficionado had Gibson searching for “the heaviest woods” possible while building his Les Paul Custom, due to the fact “he wants the heaviest guitars” the company can “humanly make”.

Visit ESP to find out more about the LTD Royal Shiva.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.

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