When Chris Haskett, former member of Rollins Band and gun for hire by Bowie, Reeves Gabrel, Jah Wobble and more, wanted a guitar with the low strings coursed like a 12-string and the high strings left single for soloing, he was amazed that one hadn't already been produced.
"Apparently nobody seems to have done this before, though I can't imagine why as it's such an obvious idea," Chris told us. "It was meant to give the signature tonalities of a 1275 double neck but on a single neck. And it does."
"There have been guitars coursed the other way, with the high strings doubled; Vox made one in the 60s and there's a BC Rich that doubled the D,G,B, and E, but none like the one Rich Hannon [of PRS] built for me."
Intrigued, MusicRadar dug a little deeper.
How long have you had the idea for this nine-string, and how did it come about?
"This idea's been kicking around in my head since the 1990s. I wanted to be able to play Zeppelin's Bring it on Home and Mahavishnu's Dance of the Maya but NOT have to have 23 pounds of mahogany ruining my spine!
"I wanted to be able to get the sound of a 12-string but still be free to solo and bend on the high strings. To me the really signature sounds of a 12-string are the octaves between the E-A-D and G strings, doubling the B and E just means you always have tuning problems and can't bend. So I thought this was a pretty good solution.
"I wanted to be able to play Zeppelin's Bring it on Home and Mahavishnu's Dance of the Maya but NOT have to have 23 pounds of mahogany ruining my spine!"
"I have a strat XII which I played without the G-B-E doubled strings but it never really felt right. The string spacing was wrong and the fingerboard really isn't wide enough to solo on as a 9-string. So the idea kind of hung around as a partial fantasy for a while before I finally got in touch with Paul Reed Smith in 2013."
What did the guitar start out as, and how was it customised?
"Rather than starting entirely from scratch, it made more sense to do a proof-of-concept by modifying an existing 12-string. So Rich Hannon over at PRS used one of their remaining custom 22/12 guitars. He filled in the high side tuning peg holes, shortened the headstock and then re-drilled it so the 4 tuners on the high side were symmetrically spaced opposite the gaps between the low side tuners. It looks very elegant.
"Most importantly, they recut a custom nut which spaces the G-B-E strings correctly. This is what makes it play properly. The custom 22/12 also had a middle single coil pickup. I really, really don't like playing over a middle pickup so Rich disconnected it and screwed it all the way down into the body to get it out of my way.
"After I got the guitar and had been playing it a while I did some more tweaking. I took out the middle pickup and put a wood block in the hole. I put the two remaining pickups out of phase. I also had the front humbucker tapped so I could have it as a single coil and then converted the tone pot push/pull to act as a single coil/humbucking switch (up is single coil, down is humbucking). It opened up a lot of tonal colours.
"The humbucking out of phase sound harks back to some of those really thin tones Jimmy Page used in Zeppelin while the single coil pickups dial in more of a Rickenbacker world. You get into a really interesting tonal universe with the pickups out of phase and the tone control between 0 and 4; very subtle honks that really bring out the octaves on the wound strings.
Did PRS experience any difficulties in making it?
"You'd have to ask Rich and Paul but I don't think so. Once the idea was clear, it was pretty straightforward what to do. The biggest hassle was probably respraying the back of the neck but I think that's actually one of Rich Hannon's specialties. Let's face it, they're ever so slightly totally excellent at their job.
Has there been any talk of a production model?
"I don't think so. It's kind of amazing to me that in 50+ years of the solid-body electric guitar nobody has done this before but I guess that's because there's not a lot of demand. Strangely, there HAVE been a few 9 and 10 string guitars done before by Vox, BC Rich and others but they were all laid out the opposite way: with the wound strings left single. As far as I know, nobody's laid out an electric guitar this way before. It's kind of amazing because when you look back at all the totally kooky things that people have done to guitars, I'd have thought this would have been pretty obvious.
"It could probably save Jimmy Page some chiropratic appointments, but I doubt he needs any more guitars..."
"The only person I know of who's planning on getting another one is ME. That said, when Soundgarden were last in town, Kim Thayil borrowed it but the songs he was going to use it on got cut from the set. Mike McCready happened to be there too and his general take on it was positive. Blackbyrd McKnight seemed to dig the pictures I put on Facebook but, no, there doesn't seem to have been a massive groundswell of demand.
"I imagine Rick Neilsen might want one (which would be SO cool!) It could probably save Jimmy Page some chiropratic appointments, but I doubt he needs any more guitars..."
Are you planning to use the guitar on any future recordings?
"Happily, the guitar showed up JUST as I was finishing up overdubs for my last record "The Courage Born of Conflicting Terrors" (check it out on iTunes, Bandcamp etc). So it just snuck in, prominently on a few tracks. I'm using it as my main guitar at gigs along with one of my CE 24s. Right now it's my main guitar so yes, it'll be on my future records. Currently this is a covers EP featuring music by both Sun Ra and Montrose (which kind of sums up my psyche nicely). Should be out in the Summer.
What's your playing background?
My background? I've never practiced enough. Man, what a question! When I was just starting out, my main influences were Keith Richards, Johnny Winter and BB King. Later on I went through Nicky Garrett (UK Subs), Paul Fox (The Ruts), Hunter and Wagner and on into Red/Lark'sTongue era-Fripp as well as Mahavishnu. Then I got utterly derailed by Sonny Sharrock and James Blood Ulmer. Throughout my career my style has been defined by my utter inability to emulate any of them...
How did you first get involved with PRS?
In Rollins Band in the late 80's I was mainly playing those Van Halen-looking Kramers as well as my old SG. I'd go through about one Kramer per tour and then have to replace the neck (the SG, by way of contrast, is still intact and plays as well as ever). Bonni Lloyd was doing artist relations at PRS at the time and contacted me, I'm not sure how or why, and offered to send me a guitar to check out.
"We were out with Jane's Addiction at the time (this must have been early 1991) and I remember when it showed up it was the greatest guitar I had ever played except that it looked like a coffee table. It was coffee colored and had this wide swirly grain. I loved the playing guitar but I was SO not into looking at it. I'm a very meat-and-potatoes guy when it comes to guitars: I like them simple and I like having to figure out what each guitar is good at, where its sweet spots are (and aren't!). So I got them to build me a much simpler guitar than most of their then production models.
"What they built were basically stripped-down CE 24s: 24 fret bolt on necks, two humbuckers, a Gibson-type three-way toggle switch instead of the rotary switch and no tone control. In place of the tone control I had them wire the two humbuckers for a single coil option and put a mini toggle single coil/humbucking switch where the tone control had been.
"The main ones also have opaque finishes (one black, one white) which, sadly for the guitar-appreciating public, cover up the beautiful tops underneath. And those are still my main guitars today. I have three that I keep on rotation. and they just keep getting better and better. The black one sings the best, the white one is the meanest and the brown one is the sweetest. Every once in a while they need a refret but other than that I try to keep them as unchanged as possible. The bridge saddles are worn smooth and the pickup coils are green from corrosive sweat. I also have a very early McCarty, an SEII and, of course, the 9-string.
"I have lots of other guitars which are specialized and I use as needs arise, I mean, when you need a tele or a 335, anything else isn't going to cut it, but mostly the PRS's are my sound. They're my go-to guitars, what I write on, what I grab for a last minute session and what I trust.