In 1996 after having been a G&L endorser for 9 years I took Jerry Donahue’s suggestion to move over to Fender, as Leo Fender had passed away and G&L had been sold to BBE. Although still satisfied with the quality of the G&L guitars, their new artist relations department left much to be desired. At the time I’d been using a G&L Comanche prototype (given to me by Leo himself) for feature Hellecasters’ numbers like “Son Becomes Father” and needed certain features to be able to perform these songs.
Del Breckenfeld had offered the 3 Hellecasters the chance to design a guitar in their yearly Limited Edition Series, which would be introduced at Winter Namm in 1997 and available for one year to dealers. I took this opportunity to create the “Hellecaster” model and carried over my favorite features from the Comanche. These included a maple Strat-shaped body, 2 pivot point vibrato tailpiece, treble and bass roll off tone controls, 3 Seymore Duncan pickups patterned after G&L’s “Z Coils” with 2 half coils in each position that would “humbuck” each other with the main difference being Alnico magnets as opposed to the ceramics found in G&Ls.
A 5 way switch plus a push-pull pot gave all possible pickup combinations, and the visuals included gold plated metal parts, “black sparkle” (sable-colored actually) finish with a gold sparkle pick guard. The larger style left handed headstock gave a bit of a Hendrix look and a subtly different string tension, and the Hellecasters’ logo was inlaid at the 12th fret. Definitely a blingy guitar!
Between 450 and 500 guitars were built during 1997 (and a bit into 1998 too, as Jerry Donahue convinced Fender that the dealers needed more time to order the guitars once customers saw them in stores) and I have ended up playing mine quite a bit over the years on Elton John tours and recordings, the Hellecasters’ “Hell III” album, and nearly all of my solo electric shows. I found that the Alnico pickups had a sweeter tone for clean playing than the ceramic, and a unique distortion tone too.
Due to a factory error, the total run of guitars ended up with an extra resistor on the bottom tone control which made the guitar sound as is if the treble was completely rolled off. After getting many enquiries about the tone of the pickups (my personal guitars were prototypes and didn’t have the problem) I finally had the chance to compare a factory model side by side to my own, and was dismayed to hear the difference in tone! Luckily the remedy is very easy, just unscrew the pickguard and clip out the resistor closest to the bottom of the guitar and voila, it sounds as intended! Most players and owners by now have already done this, but I do believe that this error initially hurt the sales and image of the model. Now 20 years later it has achieved a bit of a cult status, and new players continue to discover the unique tonal qualities of this flashy axe!
An old live clip from the iconic Sant Monica venue McCabe’s