Bird Of Prey
Powys-based luthier and airline pilot Neil Morgan is a regular contributor to the MusicRadar forums. In his previous incarnation, Morgan Custom Guitars, Neil specialised in finely-crafted instruments with classic stylings that garnered a cult following and soon saw a long waiting list develop due to the sheer volume of custom orders.
2010 sees Neil rebrand with the launch of Morgan Guitar Works and the Bird Of Prey; a futuristic V-shaped instrument that has already found some very famous fans. Across the following pages, we take a look at the Bird Of Prey and find out how one found its way into the hands of Mastodon riffmeister Bill Kelliher. In addition, we get the inside story on how Morgan Guitar Works came about...
"As Morgan Custom Guitars I got to design and build a lot of very highly spec'd unique custom guitars using exotic woods and finishes," Neil explains. "[This was] very exciting and rewarding but each one was effectively a prototype requiring a lot of test set ups and proof of concept mini-builds which ultimately took a lot of time, required multiple suppliers and a lot of stock holding for the size of the endeavour at hand.
"This in turn led to a huge backlog of several years which whilst I was obviously happy at attracting the customers, meant I spent a lot of time communicating with them and managing their expectations and frustrations at such long lead times. I also believed that you can only truly refine a design by building multiples thereof."
The Bird Of Prey also seems to hint at a love for all things rock: "I work to music, all the time I'm in the workshop the music is playing, I can't always hear it but it's there. It's loud and hard, some classic rock but mostly hard rock and metal. This is where my heart lies and where I'd like to my instruments to make their music."
"The Bird of Prey came about because of a friend's need for a guitar that looked the part but could perform the very highest level," says Neil. "I noticed most of the really technical players were playing versions of a Superstrat for one reason or another - upper fret access, scale length, the way they sat in the mix etc.
"So I took an Iconic shape that screams 'rawk' and evolved it into my vision of what such a guitar should be - Fender scale length for clarity and separation especially when using for down tuned heavy riffing. Woods chosen to help the guitar sit in the mix and cut through without overpowering etc.
"Huge stainless steel frets for durability and feel. Minimal controls, just a volume knob and selector switch - this is metal, right! Custom-voiced handwound pickups, bridge from TonePros, tuners from Steinberger and all other metal parts machined in house from 6061 aircraft grade aluminium. All supplied in a pro flight case fitted with a toolkit supplied by Packhorse UK."
Neil: "I wanted to build a Rock/Metal guitar that could perform at the very highest levels straight out of the case. I also wanted to make it different, light and comfortable to play on stage all night and that's where the shaping and contouring came in.
"Once I started to give the upper wings anhedrel to make more comfortable on the forearm I got carried away with the whole spacey thing and it's a cross (in my mind anyway) of a Klingon Bird-of-Prey and those huge battle cruisers in the opening sequence of the first Star Wars movies - Which leads me nicely on to Bill Kelliher..."
"I'm a big fan of Mastodon," explains Neil. "I was introduced to them by a really good, guitar-playing friend and never looked back. I was showing said friend my designs for the guitar and its sci-fi feel and he reminded me what a huge star wars fan Bill Kelliher is; tattoos on his arm, massive figurine collection etc...
"So it seemed to me like kismet - Bill's interests, my starship guitar, me a huge Mastodon fan and believe or not my wife's grandfather, Stuart Freeborn, designed and made Yoda, Chewbacca, Jabba The Hut etc. Emails were sent and I managed to hook up with the band on the opening date of their UK tour in Wolverhampton, Bill checked the guitar out during the soundcheck, playing it for what seemed an age and pronounced that he loved it and he'd use it during the show..."
"The band kindly invited me to spend the rest of the day with them and we retired to pub with Bill, Brent and both of the guitar techs - Warren and Paul.
"A few Guinesses later we went back to the show and true to his word Bill used it to open the show - which goes back to my wanting to supply a guitar that could perform to the very highest levels straight out of the case. I talked some more with Brent and Bill after the show and I'm working on a couple more, different style, guitars for them at the moment."
The Bird Of Prey's ebony fretboard, featuring hugo jumbo fretwire and Bird Of Prey inlays.
Locking Steinberger tuners don't disrupt the headstock's elegant lines.
Take it to the bridge
Along with a TonePros tune-o-matic-style locking bridge for rock-solid performance, there's another nod to spaceage aviation in the outline of the aluminium stringplate.
The Morgan Guitar Works Bird Of Prey starts at £2875 for the 22-fret six-string version, with 24-fret and seven-string versions available at a premium, alongside custom options such as gold hardware and custom colours. Visit Morgan Guitar Works online for more information.
Liked this? Now read Mastodon's Bill Kelliher: The MusicRadar Interview
Get MusicRadar straight to your inbox: Sign up for the free weekly newsletter