Greg Interviews Cynosure (2020)
Guitar designer and maker Oliver Andrew aka Cynosure has been an integral part of the RAM Gallery since the inaugural exhibition at the Bloodstock festival in 2014, designing and building a range of visually stunning and technically amazing instruments. His range of creations for 2020 kicks off with a piece commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of guitar pioneer and legend Jimi Hendrix.
Q. Tell us about the genesis of the Hendrix guitar.
“Paul [Raymond Gregory] approached me last year while I was in the RAM Gallery and he reminded me that the following year would be the 50th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix's death, which is an extremely important thing to take into consideration, This rock'n'roll icon essentially reimagined the playability of the electric guitar, and he deserves a commemorative piece himself. For me, Jimi was just one of those iconic figures, as I'm sure he is for everyone who enjoys electric guitar, or just music in general. He completely reinterpreted the electric guitar and its functionality, and opened up several different avenues in music itself, in terms of genres and the possibilities for the creation of music. He's an inspirational, influential character who made a huge impression on me. So, for me to be able to do this is not only a luxury and a honour, but definitely something I think will help define the RAM Gallery, and possibly me as an artist as well.”
Q. Do you think younger rock and metal fans fully appreciate Jimi's influence on the development of heavy music?
“When you get that first impression, and then think how time has moved on, and now there are so many different styles and genres and capabilities... but I don't think everyone appreciates the advent of that person and his style at that particular time. It like when a horror film comes out – say, 'The Exorcist'. I don't think now it has the same impact as it did when it first came out. You really have to get an appreciation and understanding of that time period and what it meant to people on a social level. But ultimately, I think when you first come into contact with something or somebody you get that initial impression, but as time goes on and you revisit it, I honestly think you get a different level of grounding and appreciate that person even more for what they've contributed.”
Q. How did you approach the initial design of the guitar?
“His iconic instrument was the Fender Stratocaster, a very iconic visual in itself, and I will go so far as to say that I am not a fan of the Strat, ha ha! The reason is that it is just so iconic; it's the silhouette of what an electric guitar is, on many levels and by many standards. Throughout my career as a guitar luthier I always wanted to get away from that, and I promised myself I would never build a Stratocaster, ha ha! But here we are! So, that was the inspiration, and because it's so iconic and has that very firm relationship with Jimi Hendrix, it only made sense to create a Stratocaster. But there will always be alternatives to the norm, and this is a Stratocaster which is completely different from a regular one, in terms of its construction, its visuals, the whole aesthetic. Although it does remain distinctive in its own concept, it does pertain itself to the idea of a Stratocaster. So in its shape, it's a Stratocaster, but in terms of everything else, it's very unique. It's all about functionality as well, Personally, I cannot play a Stratocaster, and the reason for that is the three single coils in that particular configuration. For me it really precludes the playability. I really admire people like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Hendrix who've made it their instrument, but for me, I knock the middle pick-up with my pick. I can't help that. Maybe it's just my style of playing, I don't know. So for this one, I really had to reorganise the configuration of pick-ups.”
Q. So, despite the variations you still feel it has the Stratocaster spirit?
“Well I guess the iconic imagery of the Strat is the shape itself, and I'm assuming the configuration of the pick-ups and the wiring. Beyond that, any modifications are open to interpretation, whether it's a Strat any more or not. I know for instance Steve Vai has a lot of Strat-type guitars with Ibanez, and he produced the JEM, which is a sort of Strat-looking thing, but in terms of its electrics, it's completely different. As for this creation, I would consider this a Stratocaster as it's based on one.”
Q. When would someone first notice the differences?
“Well, you will notice the differences absolutely immediately. Some things are more subtle, some are a lot more prominent. I've called this guitar 'Purple Haze', after the iconic song. The paint is a sort of iridescent, purple sparkle, which alludes to the regal representation which mirrors Hendrix's expertise and playing proficiency. So, the rich regal colour really represents Jimi as an artist. He was a king of rock'n'roll and that's really what I want to state.”
Q. Tell us more about the construction and the look.
“The construction is a semi-hollow body with GFS pick-ups which are absolutely incredible. I wanted to create that sort of 1960s rock'n'roll sound. Sort of bluesy rock with a slightly harder edge. There is one single-coil in the neck position and a humbucker in the bridge position. So it's three single-coils essentially but in a configuration so you have that space in between, so anybody like me can actually play the thing, ha ha! The body itself is a multi-laminate, several strips of wood, comprised of purpleheart, maple, and wenge. All these woods have different properties of tone and strength. The headstock is unique to me. It's quite serendipitous because I sort of created it by accident. Initially I based it on a BC Rich ASM headstock which is absolutely alluring, I love it. So I initially created this Hendrix guitar with that headstock but then realised it was too spiky for the body. So I redid it as something more curvaceous but when I was routing it out, I accidentally slipped, and it created a gouge in the headstock. So I sat back for a minute to see what I could make of it and I realised that I actually loved the mistake. And now I absolutely adore it! The whole back is removable as a backplate. It has brass panelling with elaborate designs, including Jimi's face, which are actually drilled into the plates themselves. There's also a floral pattern very synonymous with the 1960s, the pop culture of the time. There are also two sections of brass panelling on the front. The fret markers also light up in purple, controlled by a three-way switch for three different configurations. It's very eye-catching, so it's not just the paint that draws you in.”