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Famous Guitar Gear

Nigel Tufnel and Spinal Tap

With 11/11/11 marking the first, and possibly only, Nigel Tufnel Day, it seems appropriate to honour one of guitar’s true innovators with an analysis of the gear that makes the man tick.

Nigel Tufnel

A portrait of Nigel (photo: AllMoviePhoto.com)

While Nigel has more traditionally been associated with Gibson Black Beauty Les Pauls and Flying Vs (as made famous in 1984 documentary This Is Spinal Tap), the band’s continual success has enabled him to branch out in terms of axes.

Nigel Tufnel's Ernie Ball Mr Horsepower

The Mr Horsepower: speedy (photo: Wolfgang Guitars)

Perhaps the most famous of these custom-made models is the Ernie Ball Music Man Mr Horsepower. As is customary with much of Nigel’s gear, everything about this guitar screams “one louder”. It boasts four humbucking pickups, pickup on/off status lights, stainless steel exhaust headers, a gear stick instead of a whammy bar plus a tachometer which measures the attack on strings while playing. However, the most outlandish addition to this hod-rodded instrument comes in the form of key signature inlays on the fretboard, negating the need to learn music theory and instead allowing more time for ROCKING. You can see Nigel making good use of Mr Horsepower below.

Next in the ranks is a six-string which is among the loudest guitars of all time: the Marshall/Jackson JM001. The stack-style body was custom-made by Marshall, while the neck and headstock come courtesy of Jackson. It also features a maple neck-through-body design for increased sustain, as well as a luxurious ebony fretboard and Seymour Duncan humbucker. Of course, if the guitar isn’t quite loud enough, Nigel can add an extension cabinet for more power, as seen in the clip below.

Finally, the most recent addition to Nigel’s collection is the Ernie Ball Music Man Global Warning, especially made for Spinal Tap’s performance at Live Earth 2007. Nigel designed the guitar so as to highlight the growing plight of the world’s climate, as referenced in the lyrics to modern Tap classic Warmer Than Hell.

Nigel Tufnel's Ernie Ball Global Warming

Global Warming features stunning craftsmanship with a conscience (photo: Ernie Ball)

The guitar’s features include “Tuf Temp”, a thermometer giving the current temperature of the surroundings; custom “globe” graphics; Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa pickup switches; Egyptian Pyramid volume knob and a stray iceberg as the tone knob. There is also a genuine Al Gore snow globe attached to the front of the guitar, to constantly remind us all of the dire state of the world’s health.

This goes up to 11

Nigel's amps go up to 11 (photo: This Is Spinal Tap)

The ability to go to at least 11 is essential for all of Nigel’s amps. This disregard for the audience’s hearing became so popular that, in 1990, Marshall’s JCM900 was modified to go to 20. In a promo for said amp, Nigel discusses his own approach to amplifiers as well as future songwriting that could potentially necessitate an amp that can go to 30.

Since I’ve been unable to find out exactly what Nigel uses on the floor, I thought we’d take a quick look at one of his many inventions, in this case the “amplifier capo”. Once again, there’s an emphasis on time efficiency here: any musician using the capo no longer needs to learn all the scales in all of the positions. Instead, he or she can simply place the amplifier capo around their amp and raise the pitch that way. This final video forms a fitting tribute to the genius of a guitarist never afraid to think outside, or indeed inside, the box.

To read more about Nigel’s guitars, see these pages on Mr Horsepower and Global Warming.


About Michael Brown

Michael is a journalist, musician and general guitar geek who works for Total Guitar and Guitarist magazines. He also freelances on the side, most often for Drowned in Sound. You can view his work here.


One thought on “Nigel Tufnel and Spinal Tap

  1. I want one

    Posted by Neil Ramsden | November 14, 2011, 2:00 pm

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