"The one guitar that Steve Carr really did correctly was transform an otherwise ugly 1979 Tobacco Burst Les Paul, which weighs 10.5 pounds and is essentially a boat anchor, and gave it a pink sunburst finish. That pink Les Paul has been on every recording I have ever made with Twisted Sister. In fact, it is synonymous with myself and Twisted Sister."
Jay Jay French, Tone Quest Report, December 2005
The Pinkburst Project was my way of calling attention to the virtually unknown disease called Uveitis. In a world of cookie-cutter fundraisers, I wanted to do something that was different and really exciting. Something that would get lots of attention in the music instrument industry, something never done before (and probably never again) and something that could hopefully raise a lot of money, if done right, at auction.
I commissioned the custom shops of the world's top guitar electric makers to replicate the color and style of my actual Les Paul. To anyone even remotely involved with this industry, this dream would seem crazy as all these companies are highly competitive and many have even sued each other over the slightest attempt at copying anything that the other was doing. It really meant that I was asking Fender, Paul Reed Smith, Epiphone, ,Gretsch, and Martin to put aside their differences, jealousies, and egos for something greater and, in the real world, very important to me. I was asking them to make their most iconic models look like my Les Paul. It took 3 years and many conversations and pleading with some of these companies to do this. My first thought was "Hey, I'm not Eric Clapton - why would any of them do this?" Some of my friends thought that the idea was great but there was no way these companies would do this. All I could do was ask, right?
Of course the easy way to do this is to just buy the guitars and give them to a guitar luthier and ask him to do this. What's so unique about that? Not much. I wanted the companies to agree to have their custom shops do it so they all would be "official" one- of- a- kind guitars that collectors would want.
First off, I offered to pay each company for the work they did. Some donated, but those who did are irrelevant to this story. The reason why I paid to have all the guitars made is that, when you pay, you can demand certain things. When it's donated, you are so grateful you become timid. Not that I really had to get tough with anyone mind you. I can't really say enough and thank all the companies and custom shop representatives who were involved.
In 2007 the idea to do some kind of fundraiser for the Ocular Immunology and Uveitis Foundation started to take shape. I approached John Cruz at Fender at the NAMM show that year and asked if he would replicate my Pinkburst Les Paul on a Telecaster. I told him that I wanted to have the exact paint formula used by Gibson, a rosewood fretboard with trapezoid inlays just like a Gibson, and the word "Fender" in white pearl on a black headstock just like a Gibson. He looked at me like I was nuts. No one ever asked him to do anything like this. It was basically a challenge that I made to him. It is at this point that, if one believes in divine providence, one could say that I was given the spiritual nod to go ahead with this idea:
Standing next to John Cruz that day at NAMM was a guy who heard this whole conversation I was having. Iím not sure if he was a friend of John's or was just standing within earshot. There is a little back story here: The very first Pinkburst Les Paul that I owned was, in reality, a 1978 tobacco burst, Norlin era, 10 1/2 pound boat anchor that was painted Ppinkburst by a Long Island guitar luthier named Steve Carr (not the guy from Carr amps). Steve Carr had made the first stage guitars for KISS. I heard about him and asked him to do something special with my Les Paul. On the very day that re-painted Pink Les Paul was delivered to me - it was brought to the parking lot of a club called the Mad Hatter in Stony Bbrook, Long Island. I had the kid who delivered it open the case in the parking lot and hold up the guitar. I them punched the guitar making a huge gash near the bottom close to the volume controls. The kid looked at me stunned. he said "What the fuck are you doing?"
I said, "Hey, I paid for it so I can do anything I want to it and besides, it's going to get scratched as soon as I get on stage so I may as well get it over with now!"
That kid was the guy standing next to John Cruz at NAMM. I hadn't seen him since that night in 1978. He retold the story of my Pinkburst to me and John Cruz. At this point I think John thought I was some kind of hard core rocker who he should pay attention to. He then agreed to make the Pinkburst Tele. He has become a great friend and has since gone on to make 4 of the guitars (Tele, Strat, J-Bass, and because Fender owns Gretsch, the 6120) in the collection.
To get Martin Guitars involved, I went down to the factory at the urging of one of my best friends and Sam Ash guitar guru Steve Pisani and long time legendary Martin sales rep Ralph Chreiman. I met Danny Brown and he brought in some of the guys from the custom shop and brought the Gibson Custom Shop version of my original Pinkburst that I had Gibson make in 2002 for the Twisted Sister reunion tour (that keeps on going and going). I asked the guys at Martin if they would make me a Ppinkburst 000-18. I told them the story of the Pinkburst Tele. I think they all thought I was nuts....until I pulled out the Tele. That did it. The competitive juices among those guys seemed to erupt.
After that, the whole picture began to take shape. I went back to Gibson (thank you Henry Juskewitz, Dave Berryman, Lou Vito, Shannon Chaiken and Steve Christmas). They responded with the 335, SG and J-200.
My company, Epiphone, came to the party with the Jay Jay French Elitist Pinkburst Les Paul and Epi president Jim Rosenberg surprised me by having a Pinkburst Thunderbird Bass made for this.
Paul Reed Smith came in with a Custom 24. (Thank you Paul, Bev Fowler and Winn Krozak).
I always loved Ruokangas guitars hand made from Finland. I didn't think about them at first because this was all about legendary iconic guitars. My girlfriend suggested that I have one future iconic model. Juha Ruokangas was in NY at about this time. We went out to dinner and I told him about the project. He really wanted to help out. He made a beautiful guitar although he didn't have access to the exact paint so he had to mix his own. I know that he spoke to John Cruz as well.
The only iconic company that is not represented is Rickenbacker. I had one rule that I was unwavering about - if the company couldn't make an official guitar through the custom shop, I didn't want it. Rickenbacker has no custom shop and, although they offered to sell me a guitar to have it refinished by an outside luthier, I passed.
Getting the amp companies involved was a whole other story.
It seems that the tolex covering of each amp company is unique and special to that company. Somehow I knew I had to find some kind of tolex that they all could agree on. Through several contacts including , David Wilson at Tone Quest magazine. I got to know Dave Noss, the owner of the Avatar Speaker Cabinet company. In a conversation with him a couple of years ago, I remember him telling me that just about all the tolex that is manufactured for the industry comes from one source. I called him up last year and he gave me the name of the president of Kayline industries, the maker of most of the tolex that you see. The guy, Harley Hoffman, was one of ther nicest people you could ever talk to. He had made a small amount of tolex for a Marshall project for Marshall that did not develop. It was a magenta tolex that he thought would be perfect and there was just enough to cover the amp collection. I have yet to meet him and yet but he got on the phone and personally contacted Fender, Marshall, Vox, Mesa, Orange, Hartke and Diamond for me.
I have used Marshall Amps for 35 years. Danny Thomas at Marshall couldn't have been nicer to deal with. They even did the grill cloth in a Ppinkburst style. When I first talked to Orange at last years NAMM, they didn't seem interested but then Alex Auxier, the artist rep realized that his best friends girlfriend had Uveitis and they wanted to help (they did an amazing PiInkburst Orange with matching grill cloth).
Sammy Ash (Sam Ash owns Hartke) along with Larry Hartke are friends of mine and they said that whatever I needed just let them know. Mitch Colby at Marshall/Korg (another old friend) came in with Vox. Erin Ashow at Mesa came on board. Alex Perez and John Cruz got Fender on board.
The only company that I contacted that never returned my calls was Peavey.
I needed one more amp. That's when I realized that the mate for the future iconic Ruokangas guitar would have to be a future iconic amp. After long conversations with Tone Quest Report editor David Wilson, who was among the half dozen or so friends of mine whose ears I had been bending over the last 3 years for advice (along with Steve Pisani, Photographer John Peden and former Guitar Center vintage specialists Mike Cattarino and Drew Berlin) we came up with Diamond amps. Sam Austin at Diamond was so into this that we got the newly created Positron model (serial number PTA10001, the first one built) for the collection.
While all the guitars and amps will be auctioned separately, all the guitars and amps were designed to match as pairs if one was to bid for something really unique.
Guitar players will understand immediately when they see the photo of suggested pairings.
Tommy Dougherty at TKL made custom guitar cases.
Torry Pendergrass at Red Monkey made custom Straps.
Bert Le Cato at IN Tune guitar picks made custom picks.
John Peden, the best damn guitar porn photograper in the world, took the photos.