Warmoth and the Nightswan

Warmoth and the Nightswan

If you cut your guitar-playing teeth in the 80’s, you probably remember Kramer’s Nightswan guitar. You probably also remember the magazine ad that was so ubiquitous at the time: Vivian Campbell leaning against a white French door, hair perfectly teased, while a fog machine and a lightning storm rage outside. What you might not be aware of, however, is the role Warmoth played in the genesis of this iconic guitar. Time to get hip.

These days, Vivian Campbell makes his living slinging strings for mega-band Def Leppard, but his resume also includes gigs with Whitesnake, River Dogs (his own band), and most notably, Dio. It was his playing on the first three Dio albums that placed him on a world stage, and cemented his position at the forefront of guitar culture.

Blazing The Trail

In 1987, shortly after the release of Dio’s third album Sacred Heart, Vivian met Buddy Blaze, a luthier based in Dallas, Texas, known for building superb guitars. The two began discussing a custom guitar built to Vivian’s specs, and eventually Buddy agreed to create it. Buddy used a Warmoth body and neck as the starting point for the build, modifying them considerably to meet Vivian’s requirements. The guitar was completed later that same year, and christened the “Shredder”. It bore a Polka-Dot finish, and boasted some unusual features not available on other “S-Style” production models. The neck was 24-3/4” scale. The body was mahogany, with an enlarged cut-out in the lower horn for better upper fret access, and it had two humbucking pickups, one in the bridge position, and one in the middle. It had no neck pickup.

Polka-Dot Nightswan
The Polka-dot proto.

Enter Kramer

Not long after, Buddy was hired as a business associate by Kramer Guitars. During his transition into the company, Buddy completed another Shredder prototype. This one was also built using a Warmoth body and neck, and finished in the now-iconic “Lightning” paint-job. As part of Buddy’s arrangement with Kramer, the model was adopted into the Kramer product line, and renamed the Nightswan. The guitar was also outfitted with a Kramer decal at the headstock, probably so it could be used in promotional photo shoots.

Lightning Nightswan back

zviv21 zviv23

Before putting the Nightswan into regular production, Kramer incorporated a distinctive cosmetic change: a unique “diagonal dot” fretboard inlay scheme. (Warmoth offers a similar “Nightswan” fretboard inlay today.) Both of the necks on the Buddy Blaze prototypes have a standard dot inlay pattern, which makes them easily distinguishable. It is also important to note that Warmoth did not manufacture any of the parts for the production version of the Nightswan. Only the two original prototypes were built using Warmoth parts.

Hibernating Turtles

The Lightning prototype was in Vivian’s possession from 1987 through 1994, and was played enough to wear the finish off the back, by all appearances. At some point the middle humbucker was removed, and a single-coil pickup was added in the neck position. It is now owned by Justin Coffman, of JC’s Guitar in Chicago, IL.

In researching this article, I contacted Justin to ask him about details of the guitar, and to verify that the internet stories were true; that the body and neck were indeed made by Warmoth. Justin graciously volunteered to pull the guitar apart and take some photos of what he found. Sure enough, the famous Warmoth turtle remains branded into both the body and the neck.

 strangs bodyNeck


For additional images and information on the history of the Kramer Nightswan and its prototypes, check out the following websites:

Vintage Kramer

JC Guitars

Also, check out the cool Buddy Blaze 25th Anniversary Shredder VC-II Lightning Storm (these guitars are not created with Warmoth parts):

Buddy Blaze Guitars

Do you remember the Nightswan? Better yet, do you own one? How about one of the ultra-rare ones in Aztec or Holoflash finish? Do turtles actually hibernate? Tell us your story!

16 thoughts on “Warmoth and the Nightswan”

  1. Wow. Nice story, I remember this ad (probably from “Guitar Player” ), so it gives in my age (-: )
    I wish you had some “non curved corners” stratocaster bodies for sale.
    I dont like the “soloist”, I wish you had a “dinkey”, or something like the old HM Strat
    According to all models Charvel have now, we’re back in the 80s…
    So you should bring some too (-;

  2. It makes me feel better & validates what a LOT of builders of customs & tour guitars have known for years . YOU CANNOT GET BETTER quality , or choices , materials scale length , Stainless steel frets for extended life . I’ve built copies of musicians famous instruments , to avoid damage or THEFT of Iconic instruments , r iding subways to rehearsals .

  3. I had no idea! Buddy’s claim to fame is that guitar… never heard mention of Warmoth. Actually didn’t even know you guys were around then! I have a Warmoth strat-style that I bought from a friend and have played to death for at least 11 years… and it’s still amazing. Stainless frets, but not a lot of fret wear… still kicks everyone’s ass! It’s lasted longer without needing any maintenance than any expensive commercial guitar I’ve owned since my ’68 Les Paul Custom. I’ll be buying parts and making another one soon!

    Thank you Warmoth!

  4. Who is Vivian Campbell?
    I have a Warmoth bass. Nice stuff, I special ordered the neck and picked out an in stock walnut body. They are more expensive than what you would expect but you know what you have. i am about to update pickups so it is more in step with $$$ stuff from Fender or others. Nice stuff but, it shouldn’t take the endorsement of a name? artist to sell your stuff as it is the real [made in USA] deal and not Asian knockoff crap.

  5. BTW – You used to be Boogie Bodies and I have one from the 80s. No, turtles do not hibernate, they live in cases.

  6. Always though the nightswan was an ultra cool guitar. 24 frets and that Gibson scale length. Pretty cool we can build ones like this now with the warmoth 7/8 model.

  7. Is there any chance Warmoth will ever make Nightswan necks and bodies? Is there a copyright/licensing issue or is it just that you’re not convinced the demand is there?

  8. That’s a pity… A look around the Kramer forums I think shows the demand is there but if there’s licensing issues then I guess that’s probably the end of that. A pity, a new Nightswan made from new Warmoth parts would be something pretty amazing…

  9. I have a swan lightning bolt guitar. Bought it brand new almost 30 years ago. I have owned and played more guitars than you can imagine but I never get tired of the swan. Just look be the way it feels

  10. My first “proper” electric guitar was a 2nd hand nightswan, paid for in instalments over two years of paper round money. My mate and I used to bus with little battery powered Marshall amps – you can imagine my shock when the strap failed, the guitar hit the ground and the headstock snapped clean off. It was never the same again even after a pro repair and I sold it for peanuts 🙁

  11. As a teenager I was obsessed with this guitar after playing a Polk A Dot in a guitar store. I saved all my money for months and frequently visited that guitar until I ordered a lightning bolt Nighswan for myself. I still have this guitar today, 30+ years later. I have owned many guitars over the years but I still love this guitar. The was it looks, the way it sounds and the way it plays. I never get tired of it. I get the same feeling every time I open the case.

  12. I have a purple/blue flake nightswan. Friends of mine bought the woodworking machines and left over bodies and necks from the Kramer factory. The neck is 5 pieces of wood which may turn some people off but man that thing absolutely never needs adjustment. I assume due to the opposing grains. Spring cavity was never drilled for a cover nor the truss rod cover or tools on the headstock drilled. We wired it for two push pull coil tap volumes rather than volume and tone. Over all it’s a pleasure to play. Fast and easy and sounds great every time I pick it up. Pretty neat to get a little more history. Thanks!

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