Like the Fender Stratocaster that inspired it, however, could it be approaching a new stage in its evolution, where aftermarket modding augments the design for hard rock and metal styles?
But you need some high-profile trailblazers for the idea to catch on, and on that count, Neal Schon is way ahead of us, having recently taken his limited edition Nebula Silver Sky and given it the Superstrat treatment.
Schon has swapped out that immaculately voiced single-coil at the bridge, rerouting it for a humbucker, and fitting it with a Bare Knuckle. And there you have it, an HSS Silver Sky.
But the Journey guitarist went a few steps further. Look closely and it seems he has swapped out the stock middle and neck pickups. From the pictures it is hard to tell what the swap is. The big modification, however, and one that makes his Silver Sky truly Superstrat-adjacent, is the removal of the meticulously engineered PRS steel tremolo unit, with a double-locking Floyd Rose vibrato appearing in its stead.
This, says Schon, is “the Schonasized PRS Nebula” and featuring the handiwork of San Francisco-based luthier Gary Brawer, it’s one of the coolest modding jobs we have seen in yonks.
We would pay good money to have Paul Reed Smith’s reaction, or indeed John Mayer’s. The Silver Sky might have been a controversial proposition when it first launched in 2018 but Mayer has always struck a conservative tone when discussing its evolution.
That it was ever offered in the polychromatic Nebula finish was huge news in and of itself – and it sold out in quicktime – but Schon’s custom opens up a whole new world of potential for the model, just so long as people are comfortable with performing such drastic work on a high-end electric guitar with a price tag north of two grand. If you’re swapping out those pickups, just be mighty careful with the solder.
Schon has never been scared to dramatically alter a guitar. His Gibson Les Paul Deluxe, aka the Don’t Stop Believin’ Les Paul, was transformed by the addition of a Floyd Rose vibrato. Many will regard him as the first to have added a Floyd to a Les Paul, with Alex Lifeson of Rush following suit.
Speaking to MusicRadar in 2011, he was more than a little miffed that Gibson and Lifeson collaborated on the Axcess Les Paul – a design he said he helped pioneer for a signature production that ultimately did not come into fruition.
Gibson released a Custom Shop Neal Schon signature model, limited to 200 instruments worldwide, fitted with a Fernandes sustainer. But the design elements he says he worked on ultimately got exported to Alex Lifeson’s Axcess Les Paul.
“[Gibson] rubbed me wrong, man,” said Schon. “I worked very hard with them on my signature model that we did several years ago, and we got Les’ blessing and everything – Les was a good friend of mine. We changed the heel on the guitar, changed the angle of the neck, showed them how you put a Floyd Rose in a Les Paul without the thing sticking five miles out. We did a lot.”
The Custom Shop Neal Schon Les Paul was released in Ebony, White and Gold finishes. They were not cheap.
“They ended up telling me that my guitars wouldn’t sell because they were too expensive, even though every one of them sold out – this, despite the fact that they put some ridiculous price tag on them, like $10,000 or $12,000 a guitar,” continued Schon. “So they took my ideas and stuck them on the Axcess model, which is a cheaper edition of what was my guitar. We got into it legally for a moment about the heel of the guitar, which was very much like a Schon. Eventually I just said, 'I'm gonna let this go. Forget about it.’ So I walked away, and I'm glad I did.”