I just spotted this on the Juliens Auctions website last night while cruising for cool old auctions to geek out about: David Bowie’s custom Steinberger, serial number 7712, which sold at auction for $12,500 in 2009. Bowie seemed to like his headless guitars – you can see him playing a red Hohner in the video for “Valentine’s Day” from The Next Day just a few years ago – and this one has a particularly interesting story which, like a lot of great Bowie-related guitar stuff, has a lot to do with Reeves Gabrels.
According to the auction description, Reeves Gabrels had asked for a ‘tin’ guitar to use in Tin Machine, but the silver Mylar covering on the neck and frets made it pretty much unplayable. As Reeves told Steinberger World, “I came up with the idea because I wanted a distinctive guitar to use for a video we did for a song called “One Shot,” the first single from the second Tin Machine album. …unfortunately, they didn’t really chrome it but covered it with a chrome/silver mylar and put a sealer on the entire guitar, frets included. Every time I bent a note it scraped some chrome slivers off. Eventually I scraped enough of that off so I could play it (but the mylar made it impossible to bend notes on it). I used it only once, live on ABC In Concert filmed at L.A.X. on one song only. Luthier and friend Danny Ferrington put black nubbed fret dots on the side of the guitar neck so I could see and feel it. Even if it had been a really playable instrument stage lighting would have made it impossible to use. It just became my $1800 (that’s what it cost me) video and TV miming prop.”
Reeves continues: “David saw mine and decided he wanted one like it. My guitar tech, Andy Spray, called the factory in Newburgh to see if they could make another chrome L series. Apparently, they had a guitar they used as a test run for the chroming process. That one had a normal fretboard (it did not have a chromed fretboard) making Bowie’s copycat completely playable while mine was not. The non chromed fretboard is the easiest way to tell them apart. Oh and another thing. His was free…” (Read the full thing with plenty more detail here).
Reeves’ guitar ended up at the Hard Rock Cafe in Shanghai, where Reeves notes it was erroneously being displayed as Bowie’s. But the Hard Rock Cafe in Atlanta now appears to have this guitar, and it’s displayed as being owned by Reeves Gabrels. (Photo by Michael Rivera, thanks to Al Effendi for the heads-up!)
Bowie used his Steinberger guitar for the 1991-1992 Tin Machine tour, as well as during recording sessions for Tin Machine II. You can also see it in the video for Tin Machine’s “You Belong In Rock And Roll,” where its shiny finish comes in handy as a mirror.
By the way, Reeves continues to have great taste in unique guitar designs: check out his Reverend Reeves Gabrels Signature and Reeves Gabrels Spacehawk models. You can of course hear these guitars in action with Reeves in The Cure as well as on the self-titled album by Reeves Gabrels & His Imaginary Friends, which you can buy on Bandcamp here.