Multi-neck guitars

Gallery opened 31 Oct 2021

Updated 3 July 2022

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Your average guitar has of course a single neck. Double-neck guitars are fairly well-known, but they have always been regarded as a bit on the pretentious side. "I am so talented I cannot express myself on a mere conventional guitar." I only knew one musician who played a double-neck, and he did go some way to reinforcing this prejudice; hello David. If two necks are better than one then let's have more! After three necks things get a bit odd...

There is a Wikipedia page on multineck guitars.

There is a complication here in that there are things called Harp guitars that muddy the waters considerably. It is often hard to say how many necks there really are that count. There is a very comprehensive reference on harp guitars here, and I'm not going to attempt to compete with it; but there is a short introduction to it at the end of this page.


DOUBLE-NECK GUITARS

Left: A Gibson double-neck

Relatively conventional as multi-neck guitars go.

From top to bottom: 12-string, 6-string.

Left: Michael Angelo Batio double-neck: 2021

No, it's not Photoshop. Here is an alternative (and rather less practical) way to make a double-neck guitar.

Each side has a single bridge-positioned humbucking pickup. This can be split to get single-coil timbres. There is a volume and a tone knob on each side. The two sides can be taken apart to yield two guitars. There is more information here.

Both sides appear to be conventional 6-string guitars. Note there is a strap peg on each side.

Left: Michael Angelo Batio double-neck: 2021

This how the guitar breaks down into two separate guitars.

Left: Michael Angelo Batio plays another double-neck: 2013?

There is a video of Batio playing this guitar here. Note this is a different guitar from the one pictured above. How do you play two guitars with only two hands? With a lot of hammering-on.

Batio's performance has been described as guitar shredding.

Note the strap attached to the rear of the guitar body.


THREE-NECK GUITARS

Left: Russian three-neck electric guitar: 1936

It might seem unlikely that Soviet Russia would be at the forefront of electric guitar design but it happened. This 23-string guitar has three necks, though one of them is very short indeed. The baroque design is explained by the fact it was partly made out of piano parts.

Only 18 tuning pegs are visible at the top end, but there are another 5 pegs at the bottom, which presumably tuned the strings on the very short neck.

The text at left says "Microphone position" and at upper right says "Guitar front view". Thanks to Pigeon for the translation.

Source: Generation Z: Russian Pioneers of Sound Art and Musical Technology. Document on an exhibition held at Budapest in June-July 2011.

Left: Russian three-neck electric guitar: 1936

This gives the story of the guitar. It sounds like a sorry tale of communist buck-passing over a small amount of money, but compared with some of the other stories in Generation Z, it is a success story. The same document describes the fate of theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold, whose works were declared "alien to the Soviet people". He was sentenced to death and executed by firing squad the next day, on 2 Feb 1940.

Source: Generation Z: Russian Pioneers of Sound Art and Musical Technology. Document on an exhibition held at Budapest in June-July 2011.

Left: Russian three-neck electric guitar: 1936

This drawing confirms 18 tuning pegs at the top and 5 at the bottom. The top pegs are divided into 11 for tuning the unfretted neck, and 7 for tuning the fretted neck. This makes sense as there is a long tradition of seven-string guitars in Russia. The 11 strings were presumably just for resonating, as there does not appear to be room to get a hand to them. There appears to be a small wheel at bottom right, but it may just be a scroll of woodwork.

Source: Generation Z: Russian Pioneers of Sound Art and Musical Technology. Document on an exhibition held at Budapest in June-July 2011.

Left: Russian three-neck electric guitar: 1936

This version of the above drawing shows that the guitar was fitted with a microphone rather than conventional electromagnetic guitar pickups.

Many thanks for translation by Pigeon.

Source: Generation Z: Russian Pioneers of Sound Art and Musical Technology. Document on an exhibition held at Budapest in June-July 2011.

Left: Russian three-neck electric guitar: 2022

The back of the guitar and its dimensions.

Source: Generation Z: Russian Pioneers of Sound Art and Musical Technology. Document on an exhibition held at Budapest in June-July 2011.

Left: Three-neck solid guitar by Steve Vai:

This three-neck-electric guitar was built and played by Steve Vai. The guitar necks are from the Nagoya factory of Japan. Vai played extensively in Frank Zappa’s band from 1980 onwards and went solo in 1983. He also designed the Ibanez Universe 7, the first seven-string guitar put into quantity production.

From top to bottom: 12-string, 6-string, and 6-string fretless.

Left: The Hydra three-neck acoustic harp/guitar: 2022

This is Steve Vai playing The Hydra, a three-neck plus harp machine by Ibanez. The picture is from the official YouTube video.

The guitar has a 12-string neck, a 7-string neck and a 4-string bass neck, 2 strings of which are fretless. The harp section at left has 13 strings.

There is a guided tour of the instrument on YouTube.

Left: Chris Squire plays three-neck solid guitar in Hawaii: 2003

Chris Squire of Yes played a custom triple neck bass on "Awaken" on Going for the One released in July 1977. Squire's original is said to have had a four-string fretted neck, a four-string fretless neck, and a six-string tuned in octaves (tuned to aA-dD-gG). That does seem to correspond with this photo.

From top to bottom: 6-string, 4-string bass, 4-string fretless bass.

Left: Jimmy Page plays three-neck acoustic mandolin/guitar: 1994

Performing "The Battle of Evermore" on a 1994 tour of Jimmy Page & Robert Plant for the album "No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded".

There is a YouTube video of the song. At 0:56 and 2:48 Mr Page is playing the mandoline section. Actually, as far as I can see he doesn't use the other necks in this song.

From top to bottom: mandolin, 12-string, 6-string. This seems to me perfectly sensible; you can switch from mandoline to guitar almost instantly, as opposed to putting down one instrument and picking up another.

And I'm not going to argue about guitar-playing with Jimmy Page.

You can see another very nice three-neck acoustic combined mandolin, 12-string, 6-string, at the Sedgewick website.

Left: The Pikasso three-neck acoustic harp/guitar: 1984

This three-neck harp/guitar was built by Canadian luthier Linda Manzer for Pat Metheny in 1984. It took about 1000 hours to build. From top to bottom, 12-string, 12-string, 6-string. The strings at left are a harp section. There are 42 strings in total.

The instrument has a state of the art piezo pickup system, including a hexaphonic pickup on the 6 string section so Metheny could trigger his Synclavier computer system.

Pikasso? Brilliant name, and I'm not going to argue with Pat Metheny about guitars.

Linda has her own Wikipedia page. And come to that, so do I.

Left: The Medusa three-neck acoustic harp/guitar: 2014

This three-neck harp/guitar was built by Canadian luthier Linda Manzer for Henrik Anderson of Denmark. It is called 'Medusa' and has 52 strings. From top to bottom: 6-string fretless guitar, 8-string baritone guitar, 6-string guitar with 4 resonating strings. Running roughly vertically are the strings of a harp section. At the left are two more harp sections.

You can see Linda holding 'Medusa' and describing the guitar in an excellent video here, dating from 2014. Don't miss her website at manzer.com.


FOUR-NECK GUITARS

Left: Four-neck solid guitar:

From top to bottom (each with rosewood fretboard on maple neck).

  • Four-string bass guitar with two full-sized bass pickups
  • Eight-string mandolin with a single-coil mandolin pickup
  • Five-string banjo with "fully adjustable rosewood bridge-truss rod in neck."
  • Six-string guitar with two full-sized P-90 guitar pickups

Left: Four-neck solid guitar:

The same guitar from a different angle.

Left: Four-neck solid guitar:

Guitarist Michael Angelo Batio strikes again (see double-neck section above) with a less than practical 4-neck guitar. You can see him playing it on YouTube.

The guitar was built in collaboration with Gibson, and Wayne Charvel in California. The top two necks have seven strings, while the bottom two have the usual six strings.

Left: No, it's still a four-neck solid guitar: pathetic

This is a rubbish Photoshopping of the picture just above, presumably intended to fool us into thinking it's an eight-neck guitar.

Clues:

1) The hands are in precisely the same position as in the picture just above.

2) The bodies of some of the 'guitars' overlap with the pickups on the adjacent guitar.

I am not impressed.


FIVE-NECK GUITARS

Left: Rick Nielson of Cheap Trick and his five-neck guitar:

From top to bottom: 12-string, 6-string, 6-string, 6-string, 6-string fretless. Rick is wearing a guitar strap, but I suspect most of the weight is being taken by a stool out of view at the bottom of the picture.


SIX-NECK GUITARS

Left: Bill Bailey with six-neck guitar 'The Beast': 2011

Bill Bailey is a musician and comedian (and a very good one too) so this is not a partcularily serious attempt to expand the bounds of musical expression.

According to its creator Gary Hutchins, this is ‘The guitar that should never have been made’. One sees his point. It weighs 17kg, and has also been called "A crime against God and nature". According to some accounts it was commissioned in 2008 by Macari's Music of London (a famous instrument shop) and was displayed in their shop window.

From top to bottom: 12-string, 6-string, 5-string bass, 4-string bass, 7-string, 6-string.

Note that Bill is not wearing a guitar strap, but is resting the guitar on a small black stool.

Left: Six-neck guitar for sale: 2021

As of March 2021, this guitar was up for sale at auction. Bidding was to start at £1500; it is not currently clear if the guitar was sold.


SEVEN-NECK GUITARS

Shockingly, not a single example of a seven-necked guitar has so far been found.


EIGHT-NECK GUITARS

Left: Eight-neck guitar: 2021

This is a real instrument; it is not a product of Photoshop. It was designed by artist Gerard Huertawas and built by Dan Neafsey of DGN Custom Guitars on a commission from the National Guitar Museum as an exhibit. It is claimed to be the largest fully playable guitar, but I think a fairly elastic interpretation of 'fully playable' is required.

From left to right: a 4-string ukulele, an 8-string mandolin, 6-string guitar, 4-string bass, 4-string fretless bass, 12-string guitar, 6-string baritone guitar, and a 7-string guitar. That is a total of 51 strings and 154 frets. It weighs 40 pounds. (18kg)

(A baritone guitar is a 6-string, long-scale guitar, with heavier strings and producing a lower range of notes than a standard guitar. A baritone guitar is typically tuned B to B, which is a perfect fourth lower than a standard 6-string guitar tuning of E to E)

It is called the Rock Ock, which I assume is short for 'rock octopus'.

As a truly beautiful finishing touch, there is still a strap peg at the top of the body, as if somebody might try to hold it up and play it normally.

Left: Eight-neck guitar: 2012

In 2012 the Rock Ock made its TV debut with the band Biohazard,

Left: Eight men playing the Rock_Ock eight-neck guitar: 2021

There is a YouTube video of eight guys playing it, one to each neck. Remarkable.

This is a still from the video.


NINE-NECK GUITARS

Left: The nine-neck Fender guitar: 2018

This nine-neck guitar was built as a curiosity by Fender for the 2018 NAMM show, which often shows odd ideas.

It's not entirely clear what we have here, but from left to right it looks like: 4-string ukulele, standard 6-string, baritone 6-string (?), two standard 6-string (?), 6-string bass, 4-string bass, 4-string bass. The duplication of very similar 6-strings indicates this is not a serious musical instrument- as if the matter was in doubt. Apparently it is called 'The Monstrosity'.

There is a bit more info here.

Left: Three men playing the nine-neck Fender guitar: 2021

There is a Facebook video of three guys (sort of) playing it. The musical results are not impressive.

This is a still from the video.


TEN & ELEVEN-NECK GUITARS

Nothing found so far...


TWELVE-NECK GUITARS

Having got this far, you are probably pretty sure no-one's gonna push this any further. Wrong!

Left: Twelve-neck linear guitar by Yoshihiko Satoh: 2002

This is essentially an artwork, called 'Present Arms'; it was made by Yoshihiko Satoh. I think it should instead be called 'Present Necks'. It is certainly a real artefact, having won the Kirin Art Award 2002 Grandprix, though whether it can be called a real guitar is, I think, less certain. Its dimensions are 1800 x 980 x 65 mm.

This is clearly not a serious musical instrument as it provides twelve identical 6-string guitars; why would you want to switch from one to the other? Even if they had different tunings this sounds very silly. It is not known if it is a real guitar in the sense of having real pickups, guitar strings, and fretboards etc. I do like the way a vibrato arm is fitted to each guitar.

You can learn a bit more here, but it will help if you can read Japanese. Aaah, here is the English version.

Left: Twelve-neck linear guitar by Yoshihiko Satoh: 2002

Another view, as someone attempts to play it. Wisely, he keeps his face hidden. I would too.

Left: Twelve-neck circular guitar by Yoshihiko Satoh: 2003

I think that this sculpture, by Yoshihiko Satoh, can be safely assumed not to be intended as a practical musical instrument. Note that nonetheless, it is plugged into a guitar amplifier.

It is called "Glory Arms".

Left: Twelve-neck circular guitar by Yoshihiko Satoh: 2003

It sort of suggests a lifebuoy.

Left: Twelve-neck linear guitar: 2003

This is another creation by Yoshihiko Satoh. Once again, a vibrato arm is fitted to each guitar.

It doesn't appear to be plugged into anything, but there is an intimidating loudspeaker at extreme left.

Left: Twelve-neck arc guitar: 2011

When I first saw this picture, I was sure it was a Photoshop job. Well, I was wrong. Yoshihiko Satoh strikes again!

This is called "Present Arms / Arc Type" and was made in 2011. It measures 230 x 118.5 x 6.5 cm.

Left: Twelve-neck arc guitar: 2011

The arc-type may be (marginally) easier to play than the linear version.

Note that it IS plugged in.


HARP GUITARS

Left: Jacob Saxtorph-Mikkelsen plays a harp-guitar

This is a combination of a 6-string guitar/lute and 6-string harp; note that the harp strings cannot be fretted and there is a small auxiliary sound-hole under the harp strings.

The Danish Wikipedia has a page on Jacob Saxtorph-Mikkelsen; Google Translate copes very well with this.

Left: 'Professor' DeMain Wood with his harp-guitar: 1906

The March 1906 issue of The Cadenza (the publication of the American Guild of Banjoists, Mandolinists & Guitarists) shows this picture of 'Professor' DeMain Wood and his Orchestral Guitar. The contraption he is holding is a standard Washburn guitar that Wood converted into a mechanically-operated one-man-band. The instrument survives, and was sold on eBay on June 2004. The strings under the long decorative cover have a sort of reverse fretboard- so it probably counts as a multineck guitar rather than as a true harp guitar.

According to the Scientific American the guitar was fitted with four extra strings, a mouthpiece that fingered a string, a mandolin effect, and a vox humana, which "enable the player to combine the tones of the guitar, the mandolin, and the zither and to rival the finest vox humana effects of the organ or the violin." Vox humana (human voice) is an organ stop, and it seems unlikely there were a bank of organ pipes built into the guitar somewhere. What vox humana means when applied to a violin is not clear. Contemporary pictures of the instrument have been found and confirm that there was a lot of mechanical complication.

The mouthpiece for string fingering is the curved thing level with DeMain Wood's chin. The mandolin effect is currentlly wholly obscure. The box at the bottom of the guitar appears to contain a clockwork motor that drove a small wheel bearing multiple picks to give a mandolin effect (reapidly repeated notes) when engaged. It does not seem to have worked like a hurdy-gurdy wheel.

I am not convinced that DeMain Wood was actually a professor. However he was not dismissed as a nutcase or a novelty act; the evidence is that he was a respected performer, and that his mechanical guitar worked very well. It was said to have been developed over twenty years.

Source: Scientific American 28 August 1897, pp 137-8

Left: Double harp-guitar: 1915

No, not Photoshop. This is real. It was invented by Paul Gardie of Chicago, a blind musician. The guitar neck is fixed to the upper part of the body.

It combines a 6-string guitar and 8-string harp. It was not a one-off; it appears that eight or nine examples were made, of which four appear to survive.

Note that the harp string tuning pegs are at the top of the instrument.

You can find a great deal more information here.

Left: Paul Gardie with his double harp-guitar: 1915

Gardie took out a US patent for his instrument. (1,183,369 dated May 1916)

Left: Harwood double-hole harp-guitar: circa 1900

This is a Harwood harp-guitar, its most arresting feature being the double-soundholes, which gives the instruement an undoubtedly lugubrious look. While my guitar gently weeps...

There are 6 guitar strings on the right and 12 harp strings on the left. There are no frets on the left neck so it must have been just a structural support. The instrument was made by J W Jenkins’ Sons Music Co. of Kansas City, Missouri. Harwood was simply a brand name and not a person.

It was designed to withstand the tension of steel strings.

There is a mass of further information at harpguitars.net.

Left: Harwood double-hole harp-guitar: circa 1900

The Harwood harp-guitar as portrayed in their catalogue, giving dimensions and details.

I have to confess I have heard of none of the worthies listed as playing Harwood harp-guitars.


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