Unearthed from the bowels of 1985, The Music Zoo brings you an urban legend that is the Charvel Phoenix. Lost in an era of guitars that seemed to replicate everything but the kitchen sink, the Phoenix is a guitar with an undeniable presence whether plugged in or not. At first glance, one can appreciate it’s fine craftsmanship, from the metallic paint with hand-drawn storytelling details, to it’s sculptured design, reminiscent of an 80’s Pontiac Firebird. And while the guitar spawns a love-hate relationship for most, it is undoubtedly the subject of lengthy conversation…and sometimes that in itself can be a testament to it’s worth.
The Phoenix was designed, built, and painted by Jim O’Connor, an artist whose painted and designed guitars for players like Prince, Steve Vai, Allan Holdsworth, Eddie Van Halen, and Gene Simmons, just to name a few. Renowned for his wild designs, O’Connor teamed up with Wayne Charvel in 1985 to build this now rare piece of music-making history. For many, the head-turning begins with the body. Sculpted into the wings of a bird and accented with a glowing metallic gold, the Charvel Phoenix is quite the spectacle. Move up the neck and you’ll find “Rising-Phoenix” inlays until you reach the headstock, where you’re greeted by a meticulously configured beak along with a special phoenix logo. But the fun doesn’t end here, flip the guitar over and a new story begins. A skeletal astronaut atop a space ship stands with a single arm among a field of stars and satellites in the background. Travel back up to the headstock, and the story unfolds as you view the astronauts dismembered arm attached to a wrench, implying that the astronaut may have been trying to fix his space vehicle in attempts of getting back home. Whatever the concept may be, the Charvel Phoenix is one guitar that definitely gets your brain turning.
On the funcional side, the Phoenix boasts a Kahler tremolo and a set of 3 EMG pickups that deliver the tone you would expect from a black and gold bird guitar. They will certainly provide you with a screaming tone when needed, but clean up just as beautifully. Best of all, if the gold-lined wings didn’t give you the stage presence you were looking for, flip on two switches on the body, and you’ve got an elaborate light show thanks to the accessory fiber optic cables in the electronics cavity. But all in all, the Charvel Phoenix accomplishes what it was set out to do…get us looking at it. So enjoy the photos below of the Phoenix in it’s natural habitat, and revel in all of it’s symmetrical glory.
This wild instrument is available to purchase on our site! Have a look!
It’s hard to take in the Phoenix for all it visually has to offer with just one glance. It takes quite a bit of time to connect subtle references found throughout the body of the guitar. The one-armed astronaut can be seen below.
The EMG’s and Kahler tremolo certify that this is definitely a shredder’s guitar.
The gold hardware coordinates well with the metallic-gold outline and hand-painted beak on the headstock.
Words and Photography by Walter Bryant