By Pete Dreyer
Manson Mirror Kaoss
Hugh Manson is name that comes up more than once in this list, thanks to his reputation for innovating with technology within the luthier industry. This guitar is one of his many creations for Muse frontman Matt Bellamy, and it's fairly unspectacular, outside of looking like it might have a musical genie inside.
The screen on the bottom of the body is a XY MIDI Screen Controller, used to create magical audio effects via the touchpad, a feature of Muse's music that has helped to make them both unique and phenomenally successful.
Link: Manson Guitars
The Chameleon guitar is primarily an academic project, the brain-child of MIT student Amit Zoren who wanted to build an instrument capable of creating a complete range of different sounds, but combining digital and acoustic technologies.
Specifically, a computer inside the body of the guitar reads the acoustic information that resonates from the wooden 'heart' (each heart is subtly different, like the body of a regular acoustic guitar), then uses that information to create different sounds and effects. The heart can actually be made of different materials, it will always be a slightly unique in shape, size and density, and the result is a myriad of different sounds, giving the Chmaleon guitar almost infinite sound possibilities.
Link: Chameleon Guitar
Ulrich Teuffel has fast created a reputation for incredible guitar design, and it all started with the Birdfish guitar - so called because of the shape of the main aluminium components. Aluminium is used all over the guitar for it's ability to transfer vibrations without interferences, whilst the tonebars on top are made from American Alder and Michigan Maple respectively, and aligned horizontally to react very sensitively with the strings.
The Birdfish looks as much a piece of abstract art as it does a guitar, but every component is crafted and fitted with specific sound and purpose in mind. If it didn't have strings, we'd be nonplussed as to what to do with it, but if it's good enough for bonafide rockstars like Kirk Hammett (Metallica) and Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), then it's good enough for us.
Or it would be, if we had a spare £8,500.
Link: Teuffel Birdfish
Gene Simmons Axe Bass
The design was Simmons' own, a reflection not only of his prowling on-stage character, but also the simplicity of the guitar. There is one volume knob, one tone knob and a single pick-up, with the emphasis being on the macabre design itself - a design that helped to make KISS one of the most identifiable bands of the last 50 years.
Simmons' took his design to renowned luthier Steve Carr, who built the original from scratch. Companies such as Kramer and Cort have both made similar models since, but there are thought to be less than 1,000 of the original Kramer models in existence today.
Emerald Guitars Bahamut
Proud Irishman and luthier Alistair Hay runs Emerald Guitars - a guitar company with a superb reputation for custom builds and attention to detail.
The Bahamut was a custom creation built for Taiwanese superstar Wang Leehom, as the centrepiece of his giant tour of Asia. The treble-cleff body is made from a special foam, then covered in carbon fibre and special chrome paint. The red lasers installed as the eyes of the dragon are a simple but spectacular addition, testament to the superb craftsmanship and attention to detail that Emerald is well known for.
Gibson Firebird X
Gibson are synonymous with electric guitars, so it's only right that they are one of the companies leading the way in guitar technology. The new Firebird X is packed with revolutionary features.
Sliders on the face of the guitar let you seamlessly switch between effects, and thanks to the switching choices, over 2,000 pickup combinations are possible, all creating different sounds. All this variety is handle and processed by the new Pure Analog audio engine, which is infinitely updateable and even user-replaceable. Additionally, app developers can create apps and patches forthe new audio engine, for distribution through Gibson's app store.
Link: Gibson Firebird X
The Robot was revolutionary for it's approach to guitar tuning. In it's normal position, the silver Master Control Knob acts as a volume/tone knob, but pulling it out lets you select from 6 customizable tuning presets. Select one, and the LEDs on the top of the knob will tell you which strings are in tune, and which are sharp or flat.
This information goes to the PCB on the back of the headstock, and this initialises Gibson's servo-motor 'Robo-Tuners', which will automatically fix the out of tune strings. When the LEDs flash blue, the auto-tune is complete and you can play to your heart's content.
Link: Gibson Robot
Kaoss Manson Lap Steel
At one time, infamous luthier Hugh Manson was in fact the lead bass technician for Led Zeppelin, and responsible for the guitars of former Zep bassist John-Paul Jones. The 8-string, sparkly pink Kaoss Manson was made personally for Jones by Manson.
Below the 8 strings of the guitar, you'll spot a small screen. This is actually, as per the name, a Korg Kaoss Pad - a touch-operated MIDI controller and sampler, which effectively allows Jones to create all manner of psychedelic tomfoolery on-stage.
Link: Manson Guitars
Teuffel Tesla Midi
The Tesla MIDI, like the Birdfish, separates both the MIDI to converter and pickup to amplifier signals, so that the tone of the guitar is not affected by the MIDI converter.
The controls for the MIDI converter are found on the face of the guitar, along with knobs to control the tone and volume of the synthesiser, acoustic and magnetic pickups. Most striking, as with all of Teuffel's guitars, is the design, and the build quality, including an ebony string-rest for optimum damping and tracking.
Link: Teuffel Tesla
The Niwa is built from a solid block of American Alder wood, known for it's profound bass and mid-range sound, "responsible for that well-known Hendrix sound". It is then shaped to give it the body-hugging contours that you see above, so that instead of swinging around whilst you play, the guitar sticks to your body.
At $9,150, these don't come cheap, and they're increasingly hard to get hold of as Teuffel only builds limited number of all of their guitars. But when they go to such lengths as sealing the pickups in a high-vacuum chamber to protect from microphone feedback, and putting high-grade shielding on all the electrical components to protect from magnetic and electric interference, it's no wonder these guitars are so expensive...
Link: Teuffel Niwa