Zemaitis MF 500 Skull Guitar

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Zemaitis Skull Guitar

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In the early 70’s, luthier Tony Zemaitis experimented with setting metal sheets on the fronts of his guitars, reducing unwanted pickup noise and – bonus – creating a big blank metal canvas for engravers to create art on. Thus was born the MF series, with one seminal prototype made for Tony McPhee of The Groundhogs.

Today, the MF series guitars come with a variety of design options for the front plate, from ornate leaves to the jolly roger engraving shown at left. ARRRRRt! Sure, these metal plates look fantastic, but they’re functional, too: the metal cuts down on unwanted pickup noise. And that skull is a labor of love: each MF series guitar is individually engraved by hand, leaving little doubt as to why Zemaitis’s tagline is “Art with Strings.”

The gorgeous designs are created by master engraver Danny O’ Brien, who also engraves shotguns.

Zemaitis’s guitar has the firepower to back up its looks, too. The MF-500 boasts a 3-piece Honduras Mahogany body with a 22-fret ebony fretboard. The dual humbuckers are custom wound Dimarzios with plenty of power and muscle—and they maintain articulate response even when swamped in overdrive. You could drop a duck out of the sky with this thing.

Zemaitis Skull GuitarThe Zemaitis Story

Zemaitis’s founder, Tony Zemaitis, took a liking to playing guitar in the 1950’s but was unable to get his hands on one suitable for playing. So, using what he had learned as a cabinet maker and woodworking apprentice, he poked and prodded at a friend’s classical guitar, took some measurements, and then the young Tony Zemaitis took off to build his own design so he’d have something to play. Gotta love that D.I.Y. spirit.

Over time, Tony made more and more guitars, in the early days selling them to friends for the cost of materials so he could fund his next design experiment. The great sound of his handcrafted guitars caught the attention of local players in the folk and blues scene, and before long Tony was making a healthy income from his creations. By 1965, Tony Zemaitis took the plunge and became a full-time luthier.

There’s no shortage of famous guitarists playing Zemaitis guitars. Keith Richards plays an offbeat 5-string Macabre model in the Scorsese film Shine a Light. You can see one of the MF “Tribal Tattoo” models in action on the Journey-Live in Manila DVD. And Eric Clapton auctioned off a beloved Zemaitis “Ivan the Terrible” 12-string acoustic for charity, fetching £130,000. Other famous Zemaitis players include Johnny Winter, Bruce Springsteen, James Hetfield, and George Harrison.

Zemaitis S22ST Ring GuitarUpgrade!

Just in case metal isn’t fancy enough for you, hotshot, Tony Zemaitis responded to the popularity of the MF series by creating a new line: the PF (Pearl Front) series. These feature a body completely inlaid with abalone mosaic on the front. The results are visually stunning, as you can see.

What will those crazy luthiers do next? Embed guitars with prismatic lights that glitter and shine in response to frequencies?!

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Nicholas Tozier

Nicholas Tozier is a book hoarder and songbird from the woods of Maine. In 2012 he made a small cameo in Songwriting Without Boundaries by Berklee professor Pat Pattison, and was named one of CDBaby’s top 10 Songwriting Resources to follow on Twitter.

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