Greg Interviews Cynosure (2019)
Guitar designer and maker Oliver Andrew aka Cynosure has been part of the RAM gallery every year since the inaugural exhibition at the Bloodstock festival in 2014, designing and building a range of visually stunning and technically amazing instruments. For 2019, he has created no less than five guitars, three of which have been inspired by this year's festival headliners. Arguably the most outlandish and extreme of these pays tribute to Sunday's top attraction, Scorpions.
“This was such a huge honour because for me the Scorpions, they're one of the greatest and most legendary bands in rock and metal history, so it was amazing to create something representative of such a huge legacy. Generally the process for me is to get inspiration from the band's name or the lyrics or the imagery the band uses – the general symbolism. For the Scorpions, this guitar was a very literal eponymous interpretation so as you can imagine with a name like that, it had to be a scorpion! I submitted several designs all of which featured a scorpion in one sense or another, whether crawling through the body or tangled in the body shape of a regular guitar. It came down to the fact that Paul Gregory, who as always commissioned the guitars, likes things that are bigger than life itself, so the more insane the design I came up with, the more he liked it. We ended up with a massive, massive scorpion body with the neck as the tail and the headstock as the stinger. As you can imagine, it's pretty intimidating in itself as a design. But it's also one of those things that really stands out, it's iconic and easily recognisable from a distance. If you played this on stage you'd automatically associate it with the band.”
Q. How familiar are you with the band's music and how did that feed into the creative process?
“The Scorpions are a very successful band so I obviously knew all the bigger hits but I did have to go back and do some research and listen to all the different types of albums they've produced, all the different songs on each album. That gave me a little inspiration for how I wanted the guitar to look; the textures, the layout, the features. I was always a fan of Michael Schenker as a solo guitarist, and also Uli Jon Roth, both of whom were in the Scorpions at one point or another. I have a lot of respect for those guys as groundbreaking guitarists.”
Q. Both Michael Schenker and brother Rudolf are fans of the flying V design, and Uli of course has his famous Sky guitars, so a combination of classic and custom guitars.
“Uli's is almost not so much like a teardrop, but a cutaway which enables him to play all those high frets. Last year one of my Judas Priest guitars was based on one of Glenn Tipton's signature models but this year I wanted to do something completely different. I did want to create something that was similar to the Scorpions signature sound but in terms of the design itself, I wanted to steer away from perceptions. For example, I know that Rudolf Schenker generally plays a flying V style guitar, but I've made so many flying Vs in my life! I wanted to do something completely original and I've never seen a scorpion guitar in my life.”
Q. Tell us more about the construction, the hardware, the electronics, and how the guitar actually sounds.
“With building a guitar, it's all mathematics. Positioning all the electronics and the hardware, planning that out is essentially the first thing I do. The design has to be featured around the electronics and hardware. Trying to figure out how everything is going to be ergonomic and playable, that's paramount before I really get into the design. It's all about the playability. The design is secondary so you know that if it looks good, it sounds incredible. Each guitar I build is always a challenge for one reason or another, and I don't know why I keep doing this but every year my designs get even more weird and crazy and extravagant and ridiculously difficult, which always leads to more complications. I always get very stressed, but it's a constructive type of stress which leads to create new avenues and find new techniques which I would not normally do or find. That's good for me as a luthier and an artist. The carving on this one alone took, like, six weeks, because I'm using basic hand tools and a drill with attachments. But everything is hand made so it does take that level of input to create a spectacle. The guitar features two humbuckers, high output, heavy rock with elements of metal. I didn't want the electronics to be anything too flashy or too crazy partly because the guitar is such a crazy design in itself. I don't want anything to compete with that. It has a three-way pick-up switch and one volume control and a string-through bridge, so the strings actually go through the wood, which is always good for resonance. In the twelfth fret I personally inlaid the Scorpions logo and that took bloody forever! Like, a week, I think. I cut that from a slab of aluminium, so to get it that small and that intricate was a task in itself. It's not like a laid out design I can replicate a thousand times. But each of my guitars is like an alchemical process, very experimental.”