Multi-neck guitars have more than one fretboard necks and are available in acoustic and electric versions. The most common type in the contemporary music industry is the double neck guitar, which usually has 12 strings on the top or upper neck and six strings in the lower neck. There are also double-neck guitars that combine a six-string guitar and a bass guitar. The necks may be all on one side, or on either side of the instrument.
Whatever the configuration, the main purpose of multi-neck guitars is clear: to allow musicians to switch between guitar sounds (such as six-string electric to bass) easily and quickly without having to change guitars in the middle of playing a song. With multiple necks and different tunings available, guitar players can easily find alternatives for sounds and pitches.
Multi-neck guitars were first prominently used in the 1970s when guitarists wanted to make different tonal changes that could not be achieved with their guitar effects. These guitars continue to be used today even with the developments in sound effects and pedal technology. Some just use a double neck guitar for the performance or showmanship factor and not really for necessity. Well, to each their own.
Notable players and famous multi-necks
While there are many famous players who have been known to use multi-neck guitars, two stand out as the ones that brought multi-neck guitar playing to a whole new level: Steve Vai and Jimmy Page.
Steve Vai’s Heart Guitar features three necks. One neck has 12 strings while the other two have six strings each. One of the six-string necks faces away from him is tuned to a chord and uses a capo. The 12-string neck is also tuned to a chord but doesn’t have a capo.
Jimmy Page is the quintessential doubleneck guitar god who has inspired thousands of people to pick up the instrument and play “Stairway to Heaven” without stumbling. His cherry red Gibson EDS-1275 is hard to miss on stage.
Other musicians and popular multi-neck guitars include Rick Nielsen, who played a five-neck Hamer guitar; Boredoms’ Yamantaka Eye, who has a seven-neck guitar called the Sevena and plays it using drumsticks; and Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap. Impressive multi-neck guitars include the Rock Ock with eight necks; The Beast with six necks; and a 12-neck guitar created by Japanese artist Yoshihiko Satoh in 2001.
Are all those necks really necessary?
The more necks a guitar has, the heavier, bulkier and more unwieldy it is. Multi-neck guitars may have top scores in the functionality department or in terms of tonal range, but when it comes to performance, playability often becomes an issue, especially for guitars with three or more necks. Will you even be able to properly and comfortably reach the bottom neck of a four- or five-neck guitar? Well, as shown by musicians past and present, yes.
Tips for playing multi-neck guitars
Playing a multi-neck guitar is basically playing two or more guitars fused into one. The playing technique varies depending on the configuration you have. Play the 12-string neck as you would a 12-string guitar; play the bass neck like a bass guitar, and so on.
So, how do you make playing a multi-neck guitar easier, especially if your physical size limits you from doing so? The most practical idea is to use a mount to hold the guitar in position and take the strain and weight away from your body. It may not look as cool as holding the guitar yourself, but you have to choose: being able to play assisted, or not being able to play at all because you can’t handle the weight?
One last piece of advice: Whatever your reason is for playing a multi-neck guitar, avoid doing anything stupid, like this guy who wore a Stormtrooper helmet on stage. Make sure you can still see what you’re doing so you can play properly–otherwise you (and probably the rest of the band) will end up looking very much like a poser.