Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Odyssey (part 2)

ken parker and I had a fine conversation. I told him how much I loved the parker fly. how much I adored the way it played. I asked about the possibilty of customizing a parker to my needs. ken graciously put me in touch with Will resulting in my first phone conversation with Axel Ruddich. what ken parker is to guitars, axel is to wires. an electronics genius, axel had already begun modifying parkers for customers who wanted midi capability. he had his own company outside san francisco called AR Design.

no sooner than axel and I had begun serious discussions about the perfect parker for me, I learned the company was being sold. ken parker was tired of running a business. I didn't blame him, he is after all an inventor. naturally he wanted to cash out and get back to his real love: inventing. parker guitars were sold to washburn guitars. they moved to chicago. a fresh dialogue with new people ensued. happily I found out they were fans and in fact they wanted to produce my baby as a signature model! during all my years of playing stratocasters I had hoped fender would make an adrian signature model but they didn't. now my dream was coming true. (I still love you, fender)

I gained a great new friend in John Vitale who became the artist rep and champion of my signature model. and the odyssey began. axel was fanatically detailed in his approach. along the way we decided to add in a new wrinkle: my guitar would have the Sustainiac, yes, and necessary midi pick-up, yes, but also would include the electronics for the Line 6 Variax.

the Line 6 Variax is a remarkable new technology which gives the guitarist a wealth of sounds unlike ever before by faithfully reproducing the sound of 25 different instruments. Les Pauls, Strats, Telecasters, Rickenbacker 12-strings, Martin acoustics, Gretsch, Dobro, a plethora of Gibsons, you name it, the variax even includes a Coral sitar and a Gibson banjo! all of which sound and react like the real thing. (software, phew! I'm in the wrong business.) if you had a semi-truck and an unlimited budget you could carry around all the expensive vintage instruments I now have access to with one knob on my parker fly. and yet axel's design would have fewer knobs (only 3!) than a regular parker fly. an incredible feat of engineering which took two years, a hundred e-mails, and endless phone conversations and alterations.

nothing was changed about the actual parker fly which was already revolutionary and perfect.
but the added electronics take the guitar far into the future of guitar technology.

two Christmases ago, axel had a fender bender. no one seemed hurt. no broken bones. just a slight accident. but in the weeks to come axel began to black out. the accident had in fact caused some strange neural damage. over time he was unable to work more than a few hours a day. eventually he could no longer drive a car. his work days got shorter. couldn't use power tools for fear of blacking out. it was taking longer and longer for my dream to appear. axel fabricated several keys parts of his design. he hand-made them.

january of 2006 was supposed to be our first face to face meeting. me, john, and axel were going to meet at the NAMM convention for parker's unveiling of the new guitar. axel had made 3 prototypes that were nearly complete. working at the parker factory outside chicago I had chosen 3 colors. the paints were custom car colors, 12-stage paint jobs that looked like you could bite into them.

but axel could not come to the NAMM show. he was not well enough yet. I was able to take home 2 of the prototypes so axel and I could fine-tune them over the phone.

I took one guitar to Joe Glazer. joe is considered one of the very best guitar technicians in the whole country. when he opened the back of the guitar his jaw dropped open as well.
"how did he get all that stuff in there? that's brilliant!", said joe.

we were getting very close now to having the guitar ready for production when john called.
the unthinkable had happened.
axel had committed suicide.

I have the 2 prototypes. that's what I play when you see me in concert.
the third parker prototype is in chicago where parker guitars are trying to reverse engineer axel's miracle working. remember, axel hand-made some of the parts.

and that's where the odyssey stands as of today march 1, 2007.
soon I hope to see the first production model Adrian Belew Signature Parker Fly.
I hope you can see it too. I only wish axel could.
in my humble opinion it is "The World's Best Guitar".


  1. Wow, nothing worthwile is easy or painless... I am sorry to hear about Axel but I can not wait to see a Belew FLY.

  2. Hey Ade, great blogs about the guitars and the people you met along your journey related to the instruments. You and I have something in common in that I'm a drummer (trained percussionist in college as well), but I've always loved the guitar. I played my last kit year ago and now at the age of 45 I have a shiny new Strat hanging on my wall. So I guess I'm a want-to-be drummer turned guitarist. I'm determined to learn to play that sucker and I'm really getting into looking at fine guitars and learning about their craftsmanship. These blogs were a great read for me!

    P.S. How the heck do you play Three of Perfect pair so darn fast? :)

  3. Wow, I've been wondering what happened with the signature Parker. I'm very sorry.

    I saw the "Tangerine Belew" in one of the guitar mags. (Nice ad, by the way. Cool use of color and b&w.) Then one of my buddies linked me to an unfamiliar site that had the Belew Fly for sale, or so the site claimed, for a big number. Something discounted down in about half from an MSRP of fourteen grand, if memory serves. Yikes! I'm sure it's worth every penny to an aspiring Belewster, especially if it was a prototype that someone got their paws on.

    Here at this amatuer's home the Korean-made P-42 into the Line 6 Toneport UX-1 with Gearbox software gives me more tonal range than I can hope to get a handle on. Even on the budget Parker, the neck is mighty nice. I hope that signature is out there soon for the pros and collectors who are sure to love it.

  4. So sad about Axel. But, genius lives on. And I love gear talk...

    While enjoying, very much, the Trio in Dayton 2 weeks ago, I caught you still reaching for the occasional signature neck-bend... old habits die hard? Perhaps the only bag you've had to give up?

    Of many opps I've missed to scarf great axes for cheap, this one still stings: My local store had a slew (jar? zip?) of Flies years ago, and the prettiest one, a transparent emerald Classic, had taken a whack from a piece of their display falling on it - they were asking about 30 cents on the $ for it, and I let it slip away... Ouch!

  5. OMG. RIP Axel. Good luck Washburn/Parker. - S.

  6. Adrian, thanks for the story on the signature Fly - I had gone looking for info on it, and couldn't find much except the NAMM announcement. Sorry for the dreadful path, but glad for you that your "baby" will go out into the world.
    I am an amateur, so I think that I will have to admire the A.B. Fly from a distance once it comes out, at least until my evil plan comes to fruition and I gain control of all the music stores in the country... MWAH HA HA!
    The overall blog is great... Hearing all your stories about your life being immersed in music inspires me to get active with my own again.
    Also I love looking at your ebay auctions. Unfortunately, I didn't see your recent ones until too late. Rats!
    I had to pass on the Fernandes bass you listed some time ago.
    My favorite Live Adrian story: when I saw you play in Pittsburgh i n 1991 or 92, in one song, you played a goofy "beginner" guitar solo. It was hysterical, because it was so lame in comparison to what else you do. But on the other hand, I was thinking "oh man, that's what I sound like!".

    Cheers from Endwell, NY

  7. That is an amazing story Adrian. So sad to hear about Axel.

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  9. Hello Adrian,

    A friend told me few days ago about Axel passing away..........

    I'm so sad.

    I only knew him virtually via mails.
    I'm french and far away from USA.
    Axel worked on 2 of my Parkers.
    He started to work on them in 2004.

    I have some of his mails telling me that he was preparing your 3 Parker prototypes. He also told me that he was my rewiring Sustainiac pickup at the same time that he was doing yours.
    I felt lucky because I like your music.

    Like you, I never met Axel.

    We started to talk about other things than music.
    He knew I was painting historical figures and participate to lots of big European Shows (England, Italia, Spain.....).
    I told him I'll come visit him when I'll go to US shows. But I was waiting to improve my level (I'm master level but need to improve more).

    I guess, like you (he couldnt come to see you), that we did not have the luck to meet him.

    He told me about his car accident in November 2004 and about his difficulties to work as he used to.

    I'm sad because I did not know how difficult and painfull it was for him......

    Goodbye Axel my friend.........


  10. Hi Adrian. Just catching up on your blog. I wanted to post here the story I told you in March 2010. Axel added a 13-pin out to my Fly SC-2. He was a great person. The loss is sad.