MY GIBSON J- 45 SKULL GUITAR BY WILL RAY
This was once a Gibson J- 45—we think. Now, it looks like a cross between Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” and the townspeople in Tim Burton’s
The Nightmare Before Christmas. Pretty cool, wouldn’t you say?
Ihave an artist friend named Brian Davis with whom I used to trade guitars when
I lived in L.A. One day he showed me a
Gibson J- 45 flattop he had acquired in
a trade. Brian said, “Some idiot painted
it refrigerator white. Got something you
wanna trade for it?”
We both looked at it and laughed at the
kind of fool who would take a ’60s or ’70s
Gibson acoustic and not just paint the body
appliance white, but paint over the entire
headstock too, forever obscuring the logo
and serial number—jeez!
So I ended up trading him some guitar
parts for it, not completely sure it even was
a Gibson. However when I got it home and
played it, I was pleasantly surprised that
it actually did play and feel like the other
Gibson acoustics I had owned over the
years. But it sure was ugly.
In a moment of inspiration (or temporary insanity), I decided what the guitar
really needed was some black skulls to
In a moment of inspiration (or temporary insanity), I
decided what the guitar really needed was some black
skulls to offset all the white.
offset all the white. So I borrowed some
paint from my artist wife Gayle and spent
the afternoon painting skulls all over it. It
seemed like a good idea at the time, plus it
was really fun to do.
Next I found a local guy who sprayed
what amounted to many layers of lacquer
clear coats over my sloppy, uneven paint
job that I was now strangely proud of.
What little acoustic tone it had before was
diminished even more after all the clear
I then decided to mount an inexpensive
Martin Thinline pickup under the bridge
saddle so I could amplify it at gigs. The
only problem is, I never had the balls to gig
So how does it sound? Acoustically,
not as bad as you would think. And when
plugged into an amp, the sound is actually pretty decent. The neck is straight, the
action low, and it’s actually a dream to play.
It’s also quite a nice conversation piece.
Bottom feeder tip #239: If a guitar is really ugly and you have nothing to lose, go ahead
and have some fun with it. Get creative and
see what happens. You can always find a good
therapist or repairman later if need be.
WILL RAY is a founding member of the
Hellecasters guitar-twang trio. He also does
guitar clinics promoting his namesake G&L
signature model 6-string, and produces
artists and bands at his studio in Asheville,
North Carolina. You can contact Will on