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.
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.
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.
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.
For additional images and information on the history of the Kramer Nightswan and its prototypes, check out the following websites:
Also, check out the cool Buddy Blaze 25th Anniversary Shredder VC-II Lightning Storm (these guitars are not created with Warmoth parts):
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!