A German punk guitarist has combined two iconic signature guitars by modding John Mayer’s PRS SE Silver Sky with the circuitry of the Fender Tom Delonge signature Stratocaster. He calls it – what else? – the ‘John DeLonge’.
The instrument was conceived and built by Jannik Köhler (opens in new tab), guitarist and frontman for Stuttgart, Germany pop-punkers The Journey Back (opens in new tab). Köhler is a longtime fan of the original Fender Artist Series Tom DeLonge Strat – a hardtail, single-humbucker take on the Stratocaster – that debuted in 1999, and has owned a Graffiti Yellow model since 2015.
“I always loved the looks, simplicity and flashy color of it and thought it would be just the right thing for the music I play,” says Köhler, recalling his first encounter with the Tom DeLonge Strat.
“I then discovered afterwards that it’s quite sought after and hard to get a hold of now, especially in Germany. After a while, I ordered one from Chicago Music Exchange – all the way to Germany – and kept it ever since.”
Köhler knew he liked PRS guitars and had even previously modded a single-pickup Single Cut, in tribute to Dave Baksh from Sum 41 (pictured above). Melding John Mayer’s Strat-inspired Silver Sky with Tom DeLonge’s signature model seemed like a logical next step.
“When they first announced the Silver Sky I said to myself: if there will ever be an SE version, I’ll combine the Tom DeLonge Strat and Silver Sky,” he recalls. “After they finally announced it, I just went for it. Now that I see how many people liked it, it seems that it was a great idea!”
The build was “pretty simple”, he says, befitting the ultimate utilitarian guitar that inspired it.
“I ordered a few custom Silver Sky pickguards with only one pickup and volume route through a german custom seller,” says Köhler. “But ended up using the pearl one to stick with the original TD look.
“The most difficult part was probably routing the body to fit a humbucker in the bridge position. I routed it with a pretty unconventional tool – as you can see in the pictures – so it took a while, but it was the best I had.”
Once the routing was sorted, Köhler blocked off the Silver Sky’s stock tremolo to emulate the hardtail found on the original Tom DeLonge Strat.
“I'm not a fan of [tremolo systems] for live use, in general,” notes the guitarist. “They always mess with tuning stability and make quick string changes to drop C more or less impossible.”
Finally, Köhler copied the wiring from his Tom DeLonge Strat. His only detour from the original circuit was a push-pull volume control, enabling him to split the coils of the distinctive Seymour Duncan Invader humbucker.
“This was something I always wanted to try to see how it sounds,” says Köhler. “But I couldn’t bring myself to do it to my original Fender, given the crazy prices they go for these days.”
Speaking of prices, Köhler estimates the full cost of the project to have come in under €900 (approx. $955), with the pre-owned SE Silver Sky having accounted for €650 (approx. $690) of that.
“After playing it in its original form for quite a while before modding it, it took some getting used to,” reflects the guitarist. “But it works just like I intended it to. Sound-wise, it gets very close to the original given the electronics are more or less 90 percent identical.
“The addition of the coil-split was also great. I didn’t think I’d get such nice clean sounds out of the very high-output Invader, even when splitting it.”
Köhler says his original Tom DeLonge Strat has a slightly different feel, as you’d expect. “The Fender has one of the best neck profiles on any guitar I’ve ever played,” he adds. “But the Silver Sky neck works very well with the whole concept – and it adds that 22nd fret to the Fender that I always missed.”
No doubt some Mayer devotees will be horrified to see a Silver Sky torn up, but Köhler says he’s pretty relaxed about it. He notes it’s an easy switch to put the original pickguard back in and the ‘John DeLonge’ has already become one of his main touring guitars.
Overall, he reckons the SE Silver Sky is a pretty effective base for mods.
“It’s is a very nice guitar in general, with great potential,” says Köhler. “But even if you don’t go as extreme with the mods and keep it in SSS configuration, I’d suggest swapping the tuners for the USA locking ones and swap the plastic knobs for something a bit more durable. All three cracked on my SE after only a few months of owning/playing it.”
Köhler’s still puzzling out his next step on the mod front, but says he has a few ideas. “I’m tempted to refinish it in yellow, like my Fender in the future,” he says. “Or maybe even try it on the USA Silver Sky!”
While we wait to see the results of his next experiment, you can check out Köhler’s band, The Journey Back, over on Spotify (opens in new tab) and Instagram (opens in new tab).