Johnny Depp’s “Shipwreck” guitar is one of the wildest custom builds you’ll see this year

Johnny Depp's Shipwreck electric guitar
(Image credit: David Petillo/Facebook)

Though Johnny Depp has always had an affinity for the electric guitar, it seems as though the actor’s six-string career has really shifted up a gear over the past few months. 

After first appearing alongside Jeff Beck for a surprise cameo back in May, the pair then went on to release a studio album together, with Depp also currently accompanying Beck for the latter’s North American tour dates.

It makes sense, then, that Depp would need a personalized, suitably styled instrument to keep up with all his additional axe-related activities.

Lucky for him, luthier David Petillo put together a none-more-aquatic instrument inspired by Depp’s most popular acting performance, Pirates of the Caribbean, just for him – and it’s one of the most remarkable custom builds we’ve seen all year.

Retelling the tale on Facebook, Petillo reveals he built the meticulous guitar with the help of his friend Will Joseph, and presented it to Depp backstage after getting an audience with him through one of his other friends, Ronnie Czajkowski.

After deciding he’d give the Shipwreck to Depp as a gift, Petillo raced to complete the build throughout the summer, before bonding with the Hollywood actor while presenting him the insane-looking custom guitar.

At its core, the Shipwreck Tele-style model features a 209-year-old basswood body, as well as a flame maple neck and 12” ziricote fretboard. But the real magic can be found in the aesthetic and hardware departments, which are crammed with imagery and symbolism.

Adorning the body is a fully functioning compass fashioned from brass made in 1899 – a nod to the compass Depp’s Pirates character carries with him – as well as an upper bout inlay of Depp’s daughter Lily Rose, hand-carved from Tahitian gray pearl on a background of pink and purple abalone.

Two pickguard engravings – one of the Grim Reaper and another that reads “Never Fear Truth” – line up alongside a holographic picture just above the strings, which changes between a ship in stormy seas, a lighthouse and an “eyes of the soul” motif.

And that’s just the pickguard. For the control circuit, Petillo fashioned a deep sea diver's helmet out of steel and copper for the tone knob, and swapped the regular volume knob with a wave-engraved alternative. A “Captain’s Door Locket”, meanwhile, houses a White Rose adjacent to the controls.

Other specs worth mentioning – though the list is exhaustive – include the mesmerizing fretboard inlay work. At the first fret, there's a deep sea diver's helmet surrounding by sea life, while the 12th fret is adorned with a treasure chest.

But it turns out Depp didn’t plan on just having Shipwreck as a piece of six-string eye candy. As Petillo went on to explain, “When we left his dressing room it was a relief to get the guitar in his hands, mission accomplished.

“When the show started Jeff stepped on stage and played a couple sets and then I saw Johnny come up with the guitar strapped on from the dressing room. I was so excited to see him playing it for the first song.

“Johnny said those pickups are fire and he would be calling soon for more projects and really enjoyed our talk.”

Head over to David Petillo’s Facebook page to read the whole in-depth story behind the Shipwreck six-string.

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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.