Got the Blues: Zakk Wylde Talks Pelham Blue Custom Guitars
Zakk Wylde – one of the more prolific rock star Tweeters – recently shared some photos online of a pair of new guitars that were unmistakably Zakk, yet with an interesting twist. Although they sported the signature graphics of his other, more established guitars, these custom axes were finished in Pelham Blue, a sleek metallic blue not typically associated with the Black Label Society frontman and former Ozzy Osbourne shredder.
Past ZW fiddles have typically been black and white, in the case of his Bullseye Les Paul and ZV models; construction-worker orange, in the case of the Buzzsaws; and even a dark camouflage pattern underneath the famed Bullseye pattern. But Zakk’s recent Pelham Blue obsession actually goes back further than even his legendary Grail Les Paul, to his very first Gibson guitar.
“The first one I actually had was Gibson Pelham Blue SG Firebrand,” Zakk says, referring to a rare SG variation which was sold in the late ’70s and early ’80s, usually in a natural walnut finish and only very rarely in solid colors. “It was actually really cool. I ended up getting rid of it because I wanted to save up for a Les Paul Custom or something like that, but it was a kick-ass guitar. When I look back, I wish I’d saved that thing. It was also unusual because it didn’t have a rosewood fingerboard – it had an ebony fingerboard, and it had just round inlay markers. That was a killer guitar. I had to have been maybe 15 or so when I got it, and I probably had it until I was maybe 16, 17, something like that, before I decided I had to get that Les Paul instead.”
It wasn’t until quite a while after he’d sold the guitar that Zakk’s thoughts turned back to the one that got away. “I remember that it wasn’t until after I got rid of the guitar that I realized it was really unusual, because it’s a killer color guitar and I’d never seen that many of them. As for Pelham Blue, they’re making them again now, and Antique Pelham Blue as well, which is cool because the Pelham Blue turns green and it really gets nasty-looking as it gets older. It’s like when a white guitar fades to that yellow. It looks super-cool.”
When Zakk decided to revisit the color scheme of his youth through his new customs, he had Gibson put a decidedly Zakk Wylde twist on the new instruments. “They did one of my ZVs with the Buzzsaw graphic,” Zakk says, referring to the hybrid SG/flying V shape, which first made an appearance in his touring arsenal toward the end of his Osbourne tenure, and has been available in Gibson Custom and Epiphone versions since. The new guitar features Zakk’s signature EMG active humbucker set and a Les Paul Custom-inspired neck with the requisite block inlays and binding.
“And then I have another Les Paul Custom where the whole guitar is Pelham Blue – the front, the back, the neck – and then they put the black bullseye on it,” Zakk says. This instrument also features the EMG humbucker set but the look is finished off with gold hardware instead of the black of the ZV.
Keen-eyed Twitter followers would note that when Zakk first received the guitars, the Les Paul was strung traditionally, but it didn’t take him too long to string it using his regular “over the tailpiece” method, which reduces the break angle over the bridge saddles, lessening the string tension when bending. He also notes that he breaks far less strings when he sets up his guitars this way. Zakk calls his two new Pelham Blue custom axes “the Blue Balls” and he insists that “they sound totally killer.”
The fan response to Zakk’s new guitars has been predictably enthusiastic. “For me they’re just one-offs, but on the Black Label Society website everyone’s asking if they’re gonna make them part of the Zakk Wylde line of guitars,” Zakk says. “I said to them to talk to Gibson about that.”
Zakk isn’t the only well-known guitarist to be swayed by the lure of Pelham Blue. Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters chose that color for his signature Gibson Inspired By series DG-335 model. Interestingly, like Wylde, Grohl’s guitar is also inspired by a sentimental favorite: his Trini Lopez Standard, which was originally produced between 1964 and 1971.