#2 – Emerald Guitar Company Steve Vai Ultra Electric Guitar
This next guitar is almost quite literally from out of this world, and has an awesome story behind its creation.
We know the vast majority of our readers are more than likely familiar with Steve Vai. Guitar World Magazine voted him the 10th Greatest Guitarist, he’s sold over 15 million records and has won 3 Grammy’s.
The man is a guitar legend.
If you’re familiar with his work then you’ve undoubtedly seen this album cover:
The Ultra Zone was Steve’s 6th studio album, and consisted largely of instrumentals, with a hand full of complete songs featuring vocals. The album is notable for featuring tribute tracks to both Frank Zappa on the track “Frank” and Stevie Ray Vaughan on the track “Jibboom.”
Alistair Hay, now the president of Emerald Guitar Company, owes basically his entire career to Steve Vai. While in college in Ireland, he made a friend who was a guitarist who showed him a Steve Vai CD. After hearing Steve Vai for the first time, Hay says “it was the music I had been looking for all my life but never knew existed. Instantly I was hooked and it inspired me to go out and buy my first guitar within 2 weeks.”
Later on in 2001, Steve Vai finally made a stop in Dublin, Ireland while on his Ultra Zone tour, so Alistair went to the show with the same college buddy who introduced him to Steve’s music. Steve Vai came out on stage dressed like the alien on the cover of his The Ultra Zone album, with a huge banner behind him of the alien holding the Ultra Zone guitar, and Alistair says he instantly thought “[Steve] needs the real guitar.” He began drafting his designs and building the guitar from the album cover.
Then, while at the NAMM (National Associates of Music Merchants) trade show in 2002, Alistair approached Steve while he was signing autographs and told him he was building the Ultra Zone guitar. A little skeptical, Steve gave him an email address that he could send pictures of the guitar to were he to ever actually build it.
Upon meeting his hero, Alistair was inspired to finish the guitar and went home and completed the project.
Once it was complete, he emailed the pictures to Steve’s assistant Rich Pike a few times but never heard anything back. A little discouraged, he finally got a response from Rich who told him that they didn’t think the guitar was even real and could have been photoshopped. Rich agreed to show the pictures to Steve and make arrangements so Alistair could bring the guitar to him.
He didn’t hear anything back for a few weeks, but finally got an email on a Wednesday morning saying that Steve would like to meet him on Saturday morning – IN LOS ANGELES. Alistair instantly booked his ticket from Ireland to LA and flew out on Thursday to bring Steve Vai his Ultra Zone guitar.
He met Rich Pike, who took Alistair to meet Steve at his house he called “the Harmony Hut.” When he arrived, Steve looked at the case and said “well let’s see what you’ve brought.” Alistair opened the case for Steve and he simply said:
You can easily see why –
Alistair Hay absolutely NAILED it. Steve Vai was blown away, and even grabbed an Ultra Zone CD to compare it. When Steve asked him what he planned to do with it, Hay told him it was his to keep. Reluctant at first, Steve insisted he buy it from Alistair.
Alistair refused, and instead negotiated to trade the guitar for a jar of Steve’s Fire Garden honey.
The rest is history, and Steve has even performed with Alistair’s guitar, having taken it on tour.
Steve said of the guitar:
“Occasionally I receive very thoughtful gifts of uniquely crafted guitars from talented luthiers, but nothing could quite prepare me for the 6 string piece of art history that Alistair Hay presented to me. It was based on an Aaron Brown illustration of the Ultra Guitar as displayed on my “Ultra Zone” album cover.
At first look I wasn’t sure if I should plug it in and play it or crawl inside of it and fly it to Venus, so I did both… at the same time. After handling it, it was obvious to me that it was not just a masterpiece extravaganza of a carving frenzy, but it was also a very well crafted and playable instrument.
It was apparent that a tremendous amount of time, creativity, and passion went into it’s design and construction and I was touched that it was inspired from my work.
In the years following my receiving the Ultra Instrument, Alistair has continued to create unique guitars that are constructed from original designs and materials that produce stunning visual and audible heights, but mine is the only one that can fly to venus and back without missing a beat.
Now how about a guitar shaped like light itself!”