The unique guitars, amplifiers, effect units, keyboards and studio equipment of Frank Zappa

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“Frank would take about any piece of gear that you can imagine, and squeeze it and churn it and pull it, like a pit bull with a steak! Frank dug really deep into every parameter, and when he squeezed it as hard as he could, he’d call the company and tell them what they needed to do to make it better.” – Steve Vai (TEC Les Paul Award acceptance speech - NAMM show 2012)

Frank Zappa was an unremitting innovator and experimenter, and was forever looking at ways to exploit the latest advances in musical instruments, amplification, effects units and sound recording. His working life coincided with the explosion in the development of music technology that started in the 1960s, and continued throughout the following three decades. Consequently, he ended up using a unique and fascinating range of guitars and other musical equipment during his career. Without such inventions as the Marshall amplifier, the Gibson SG, the wah-wah pedal and the Synclavier, FZ’s ‘air sculptures’, as his music has been described, would have had a significantly different shape and texture. Furthermore many of his guitars and musical appliances were specially modified and customised (or ‘tweezed’ as he put it), and often used in ways for which they had never been designed.

Although numerous excellent books have been produced on the history of electric guitars and amplifiers, much of the gear that FZ used has received scant coverage. As a musician, self-confessed equipment geek, and life-long Zappa fan, these were things I wanted to know more about. In the end, the only solution was to write the book myself. Of course I wildly underestimated the amount of work involved, but even more wildly underestimated the amount of fun I’d have in the process. As a direct result of this project I have made so many great new friends that, for me at any rate, writing has turned out be far from a lonely craft. Whenever I needed motivation during a long late-night writing session, I could always imagine FZ looking over my shoulder, frowning, drinking coffee, and smoking a lot of cigarettes (to paraphrase his end-note in the Frank Zappa Guitar Book).

This book may particularly appeal to electric guitarists; but other musicians, and general fans and students of FZ’s work, should also find some interest here. As well as looking at the equipment itself, it also introduces some of the pioneering inventors, engineers and entrepreneurs without whom the products would not exist. I have steered clear of topics such as ‘how to play guitar like Frank Zappa’, ‘which Zappa band was the best’ or ‘the real meaning behind the lyrics of Billy the Mountain’. If you have not already formed your own opinions on these and similar subjects, there are more than enough books and other sources that cover such matters. I have not attempted to dissect or analyse the music itself, but wherever possible I have indicated particular recordings that feature the specific instrument or item under discussion. I have included a glossary of technical terms for those readers who might need it.

‘Zappa’s Gear’ is about music hardware, how it was made, and how it was used by one of the most innovative and creative musicians and composers that the 20th century ever produced. It is a book for those of you who, like me, find this kind of stuff interesting.

Mick Ekers – Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England - 2013