Greg Interviews Cynosure (2020)
One of the most incredible guitars that designer Oliver Andrew aka Cynosure has created for the next instalment of the RAM Gallery in 2021 is the 'Dio' guitar, commemorating the life and work of rock and metal legend Ronnie James Dio.
Q. Where do you feel Ronnie sits in the pantheon of great rock and metal frontmen?
A. “Ronnie James Dio was one of the most prominent figures in rock'n'roll and metal history, and absolutely pioneered the shaping of the genre itself and also what goes along with the music – the imagery, and the lyrical content. He was an iconic figure who created a whole mythology around rock and metal. It wasn't just flippant music for the sake of music, it had really deep meaning, a whole ethos behind it, every human emotion, history, literature, and the legacies of cultures. He helped really define the concept of this music, not just from a musical standpoint, but from the imagination. For me as with everyone else, he's such an iconic figure due to his efforts creating this genre. I definitely think he achieved such a stance and such a platform due to his sheer creativity. He was definitely one of the more adventurous people in music and his legacy lives on, within the music, the artwork, and the social, community, and cultural aspects. He was a pioneer.”
Q. How did you discover his music?
A. “I started to get into Dio primarily through Black Sabbath. I was brought up with Black Sabbath so I always had a propensity towards this type of music. I gravitated more towards Dio because I preferred his vocal range and his voice in general to that of Ozzy Osbourne, and he had a lot more to say. One of the first albums that I listened to which helped me recognise Ronnie was actually 'Heaven and Hell', and the iconic title track. From that point onward I discovered his other works with Rainbow, Elf, and that again brought up a whole new lexicon of thoughts and ideas which appealed to me.”
Q. Ronnie re-united with his former Black Sabbath band mates under the banner Heaven and Hell who were scheduled to perform at Bloodstock in 2010, although tragically Ronnie passed away just months before. It was a great loss for Bloodstock and for the metal community worldwide.
A. “Part of his legacy would have been to perform at Bloodstock and it would have been amazing for the festival. However, his legacy does live on within Bloodstock, not least in the naming of the main stage as the Ronnie James Dio stage. I was always a fan of Ritchie Blackmore as well and his work within Deep Purple, so there's a lot of crossovers with Ronnie, and he definitely elevated the bands which he performed in. It's very important to mention. Of course Black Sabbath already had a very high profile career but Ronnie took them – and Rainbow - to another level. Everything just had a new platform on which to create and to move forward. I definitely think that his attitude helped influence a whole generation of other bands. He's definitely one of these figures that had some sort of mysticism around him. His legacy will always continue.”
Q. How did you come up with the overall design for the Dio guitar?
A. “Paul [Raymond Gregory] and I had a back and forth about things, but I guess everything came down to what Ronnie James Dio was really known for, and essentially the guitar is a 3-D carved representation of the iconic hand gesture which he helped popularise. As he stated in so many of his interviews, the idea for this gesture came about when he joined Sabbath. Ozzy was well known for doing the peace sign during concerts and Ronnie wanted to connect with fans in a very similar fashion but with his own signature twist.”
Q. It must have been extremely challenging to turn the concept into an actual piece?
A. “It was a pain in the bloody arse! Ha ha! It was exceptionally difficult, but we could not think of anything more iconic and synonymous with Dio. It's instantly recognisable. If you walk into a gallery and see this guitar on the wall, you don't need to be close to recognise what it is. But in terms of playability and ergonomics, it was a complete pain! We have the base structure, which is the hand, which is carved. As you can imagine, that would be slightly top-heavy, so I had to formulate a way to make it comfortable and recognisable as a guitar. I did this by using a flat piece of iron and bending it and bolting it to the wood itself. So we have this hand gesture surrounded by a flat iron bar and that creates the edging. So it does look somewhat like a Fender Stratocaster but with two hollow sides, the spaces between the wood and the metal. That allows for a lot of the other creative aspects of the guitar. For instance, the volume control and the input jack are actually on the side of the 'wrist', I guess you would call it, not where you would expect on regular guitars.”
Q. What can we expect in terms of materials, colours, finish and, of course, electrics?
A. “It's 25.5 inch scale, and the fretboard is wenge wood which I've used throughout the RAM Gallery guitars. The body is zebra wood which I think should be called tiger wood as it's more like a tiger than a zebra. It's a sandy colour with dark striations and flecks of brown and black. A pattern like this was used with Dio's 'Holy Diver' music video, and you see Ronnie wearing a patch or strip of what looks like animal fur. There's just one humbucker pick-up to allow for the carving of the fingers. To add any more I would be routing into the fingers and it would destroy the design. The overall design definitely affects the the hardware which is quite a contrast to the wood. The fret marker inlays are actually comprised of abalone, which is a sea shell, and it has a natural rainbow effect within it, which again contrasts with the colour of the wood. Ronnie was very well known for the contrasting elements within his music, heaven and hell for instance, these polar opposites, and that's something that's represented in this design. It's a very simple set up. One pick-up, one volume, that's it! But it's a show-piece. It's something that's made to be played on stage. The humbucker, the tuners, and the bridge are rainbow coloured. It's slightly garish but not too much! So it's all very contrasting and there's no other guitar like this in the entire world!”