Four days off in Tokyo, Japan. All for a short radio show of only about 5 songs. I can’t explain how fun it was to get paid to party four days in a row, in such an awesome city. We would nap after dinner and start the night at about midnight. Heading toward Roppongi, we would bar hop until the sun came up. Check out this sweet Chevy bicycle I found, even though there were no Chevy automobiles.
Amidst the epic partying, I had to make time at least one day, to wake up at a decent hour and head over to the ESP custom shop. This was the coolest factory I have ever been to, even cooler than the Smith & Wesson gun factory. The people at ESP were amazing, and totally treated me like a rock star.
Norikazu Ishii totally hooked me up and gave me the grand tour. He showed me the entire process of building custom guitars at the ESP factory, and let me noodle on the display floor for hours. Check out these guitars, how amazing. The detail is incredible, like nothing I had ever seen before, and of course every single one of them played perfectly, like a custom ESP should.
This bass however, didn’t play so perfect for me. I didn’t even know what to do with all those strings. An 8 stringed bass, geez! You’d need three arms to play this thing!
Here’s the main man who works on fully custom pieces with tools and parts galore to fabricate anything imaginable from scratch. This guy does it all depending on the custom order.
Here is the custom paint and artwork department. This guy is working on a flame piece. You can also see the dragon picture in front of him for the other order he’s working on.
The painting booth, where they spray base coats and layers of custom work, like the flame detail seen before. The smell in here is exactly what you’d expect, I kind of had a buzz just walking thorough this room.
Here are the custom necks in progress for the through-bodies and bolt-ons, as well as all the tools and sanding blocks for these beautiful maple and ebony necks. You can see the beautiful pearloide inlays on some necks hanging in the back, and the piles of blank wood blocks waiting to be sculpted into the next most amazing guitar you’ve ever played. One of the coolest days in my career. I learned so much that day, met so many cool people, and played so many beautiful axes.
The whole day reminded me of the first custom guitar I ever built with my dad at age 14. It was a Washburn Randy Rhodes style Flying V, and it was extra large compared to a standard Jackson. My dad and I convinced his friend to sell us an old body and neck for $40 and then with parts my dad had laying around we threw the guitar together in about 2 weeks. The final stage in the design was a formica laminate on the face of the guitar. It looked like real marble rock, detailed & epic. It was amazingly beautiful but it sounded a bit like cardboard. One day I threw it down in disgust and anger while rehearsing for a recording session. Later that night, after a recording session for some of the guitar solos for the Approaching the Darkness album, the guitar was stolen in a matter of seconds out of the back of the truck. While parked at a convenience store I lost it, and it changed my life forever. On that day I learned two very valuable lessons.
I realized you can’t stop crime but you can definitely help prevent it. Crime is opportunity and motivation. Seeing as I cannot change the motivation for those I haven’t met, the best thing to do is decrease opportunities. This has repeatedly proven to help me in life, all around the world. Secondly, this was my first real experience with what some might call “karma”. On that day I really began to appreciate the things I did have and tried to focus my efforts more towards a positive energy to myself, to others, and to the universe. I found myself happier. I grew more appreciation for my life and life’s opportunities. I began recycling more to help the planet, and being more kind to others. I still never found an old lady to help across the street though, but I’m young.
This is another guitar I built a few years after my Rhodes V got stolen. This one took a lot more work. It was a small cube of mahogany that I cut in fours, book matched, planed, and then shaped. To get the body shape I just free handed a drawing on a large brown grocery bag, cut it out and then used it as a template against the wood, and the basis for my free hand sculpture. This guitar came out amazing. Notice the rounded curves on everything making it very easy to hold and handle. The sharp head stock also looks totally wicked. This guitar is the lightest guitar I have ever played because its all mahogany with a small neck and headstock. The strap buttons were placed perfectly and make it very ergonomic to play. Plus the sound of the mahogany body and the EMG custom pickup set (SA, SA, 60) I installed, make this guitar sound perfect for so many uses. I even custom wired this guitar with push-pull volume pots that function as kill switches for the single coil pick ups. Allowing me to have a totally unique variety of tones. Including all three pickups, the neck and bridge pickup only, plus all the usual 3-way and 5-way toggle switch settings.
This guitar has a little tribute to the Flying V that was stolen. The back panel for the electronics cavity has the same marble formica finish as the Flying V. Check out the output jack placement, sort of a unique idea that worked out pretty well. It forces the cable to go through the strap, preventing any damage to the jack as well as not poking your leg while playing sitting down. You can also see in the last picture the push-pull pots and even the scalloped fretboard at the upper frets. I stole this idea from Yngwie Malmsteen. Its kind of cool but I only did it for a small section of the fretboard. It’s a lot harder than you might think to do a fretboard scalloping. Look how far the cut away is, it goes well beyond the fretboard. This allows super easy access, in conjunction with the scalloped frets, to shred in the upper register at ease.
Just before leaving ESP I stopped to shred for a bit on one axe that really caught my eye. A Randy Rhodes style V, custom 24 fret ebony wizard neck with a Floyd Rose bridge. This is the Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom) custom model. This guitar played like butter, kinda oily and yellow. This picture of me was also used on the cover of the Miracosta College catalogue, published a few years ago. How funny and cool, that they used me as a symbol of success to attract new students. The irony was that there was a hole in my pants right in the crotch, that we had to Photoshop for the catalog cover picture. That actually showed a more true representation of the grueling road life, but we found it inappropriate for a college campus catalog. Even to this day when I go back to Miracosta, where I received 6 technical vocational degrees and certificates, people still recognize me from that picture. I guess I was one of the most aspiring students in the school, and it felt great to lead by example. Even with my holy pants.
Seeing as this was my first time having multiple days off in Tokyo, by the last day, I could barely find any food I could tolerate. Although there was some awesome sushi just down the street from where we stayed, there was also some horrible sushi. The markets were lined with fish heads and plastic food all through the window displays. I eventually caved in and went to McDonalds for something simple and familiar, little did I know that even their hamburgers had fish and wasabi in them. Pretty much everything on the menu had wasabi in it, but honey badger didn’t give a shit, he’s pretty badass. Got three breakfast sandwiches with only one napkin, slammed ‘em down, and went for one last journey.
This was a sight I saw as I came out of the subway after breakfast. Can you believe this is one road way intersection?! The cars came from about 6 directions and the people came from even more. It’s like the lights just went walk, and everybody did a square dance in whichever direction they chose, and then the cars had their turn. I guess it’s more effective and efficient for the people, but very few other cultures have that much patience. In NYC, they just pile drive right through the pedestrians, with very little regard.
The people of Japan were very respectful to their history and culture. Here is a beautiful temple I found at the top of a hill, near our hotel. Out of fear of being sliced & diced by a Samurai, I elected to not take pictures of any children. Although seeing the kids all dressed up for the special Holiday was amazing. All the three, five and seven year olds were all decked out as little Samurais & Geishas. That’s an awesome tradition; I would’ve loved to dress up like a ninja when I was that age. In fact, I just did it last Tuesday.
Growing up I spent a lot of time in Oregon with my father; I used to go up there for summer and winter while school was on break. One summer I decided to take courses at Oregon State University, even though I was only ten. The only University classes I’ve ever taken are drawing and origami. Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding. “Ori” is the Japanese word for folding and “kami” is the Japanese word for paper. Origami began in China and spread to Japan during the sixth century. There was very little paper available so only the rich could afford to do paper folding. The Japanese found useful purposes for their origami, like gifts, decoration and food storage. For centuries the directions were taught to each generation and then handed down to the next. This form of art became part of the cultural heritage of the Japanese people. Check out this crane I did recently for fun, just to see if I still had the skills. Got a little carried away though with the balloon, boat, and plane, it’s very therapeutic.
Japan is like nowhere else on earth, and if you can tolerate the food, it is an incredible experience. Even at 5’10”, which is considered the average height for an American male, I felt like a giant in Tokyo, towering over everyone in the streets. It seemed that myself and the other people in my group were the only non-Japanese people to be found in public. It made it very easy to find each other. Except there were often two of everyone, must have been the sake bombs.
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