Authenticity Part II: Guitars

I wrote part I of this series after a delicious, spicy meal at a tiny, hidden Vietnamese restaurant. The place was located in an otherwise bland suburban strip mall in Canada. Rejuvenated by this meal, it dawned on me that universal truth and meaning as well as inspiration can be obtained through that which is authentic. This premise applies to music, books, film, food and many other things including instruments.

The idea was to follow it up with a post about guitars while announcing my first ever signature guitar, which was being worked on. I didn’t expect it to take more than a year. There are many reasons for the delay, which I’ll explain in a moment. But first, the good news: the guitar is finally available. Introducing the Heritage “Alex Skolnick” Signature guitar.

I’m not asking you to buy one. Of course, I’m happy if you do, but I’m writing about it because this guitar relates to the concept of ‘authenticity.’

Since the early 90’s, a guitar I was once photographed in an ad for, the Ibanez 540P has been incorrectly listed as the “Alex Skolnick model.” This also happens on occasion with the the Ibanez 540S, the razor thin red guitar which I was most associated with back then. You can still find these instruments listed this way on-line and in stores. These were great guitars for me at the time and I don’t mind the association, except that it’s misleading.

My first and only official signature model is the new Heritage. This guitar is modeled after the Les Paul. Like Les himself, it feels ‘classy,’ and isn’t susceptible to becoming ‘dated’ or stuck in one style or time period.

This guitar, unlike a lot of others out there, doesn’t come adorned in flames, skulls, camouflage or confederate flags. There are no strippers or Hooters waitresses moonlighting as models for it and no other gimmicks, bells or whistles attached. Who needs them when you have authenticity?

Playing it, there is a sense that it is indestructible. Other guitars don’t hold up well to the rigors of touring and travel or even seasonal changes. They warp, twist, tighten become too stiff or too loose and lose that quality that initially attracted you to them.

I’ve used this Heritage in recording sessions where it has a sound that stands up to the best vintage instruments. Even one of the most brilliant and stubborn producers I’ve worked with (who shall remain nameless) agreed. After ‘A/B’ing it with the vintage Black Beauty Les Paul Custom purchased from Carlos Santana in the 70’s, which he’d wanted me to play, this Heritage ended up being used for the session. It was a close call but we won.

I own a few vintage guitars and my favorite, if I had to pick one, is the first ‘archtop’ I ever bought, a blonde 1976 Gibson L5, which I purchased in 1997. It looks just like the one Wes Montgomery is holding on the cover of “Full House,” which was recorded live in my hometown of Berkeley, Ca. At four thousand dollars, it was the most I’ve ever spent on a guitar (it’s now worth twice that). But I made myself a promise that if I didn’t get my jazz guitar playing to a professional level once and for all, that I’d force myself to sell it. So far it feels like I’ve made good on my deal, which is a good thing because I could never sell it.

For the most part, guitars like this just aren’t made anymore, except by Heritage. In fact, it’s possible that this L5 was built in the same plant where Heritage operates, the former Gibson plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The full story can be found on the Heritage Guitars Wikipedia page

Heritage is a tiny company at odds with most major guitar companies in the US who, in an effort to expand their markets while cutting costs, have suffered a disturbing decline in craftsmanship. It used to be that you could pick up a brand new Gibson Les Paul, Fender Stratocaster or other institution like model of guitar and though they’d all feel a little different, they were guaranteed to be of great quality. Nowadays, its more common for these instruments to be of a lower standard than their own imitations of years past.

For example, I recently played an old Ibanez Les Paul knock off from the 70’s and it was better then the new Gibson Les Pauls I tried off the rack in Guitar Center. Besides the Gibson logo and body shape, I didn’t recognize any of the quality associated with the great Les Paul (the man and the guitar). They were priced much higher than Heritage guitars, which feel authentic and have the standards that used to be applied to Les Pauls, Strats and other classics. For these and other reasons, I’ve chosen to officially endorse Heritage Guitars.

Heritage is run by about a half dozen nice small town, midwest folks who build great guitars. They don’t spend money on large marketing dept or artist relations to compete with the big guitar companies within the realm of advertising and brand development as they rely upon word of mouth and boutique guitar stores selling these one at a time.

In this way, they don’t want to emulate the supposed music industry “savvy” of a lot of those other corporations. Interestingly, most Heritage artists are, like jazz legend Kenny Burrell, heroes of mine that don’t tour much and are well past retirement age but really know the difference when picking out recording and touring gear. I see myself as a link to these guys and today’s players so spreading the word about Heritage is a natural for me.

Heritage’s commitment to first rate craftsmanship is unyielding, something you have to tip your hat to. Maintaining this integrity while keeping the company running efficiently has not been easy. Since they put 99% of the energy into building handmade guitars they are at times a bit understaffed and overwhelmed when it comes to marketing and publicity. But from my perspective, I really appreciate the effort and the challenge I see for Heritage is a lot like the one I see for myself: to stay authentic while competing in an environment of lower standards.

As of right now, there has been minimal publicity about the instrument. The Heritage Guitars website has info on the signature guitar, but it takes a private detective to find it. However, Heritage is revamping itself with a new website which should take care of it. I can sympathize with them that it’s a constant struggle to want to focus most energy into building great gear and still make time for marketing meetings and web designer.

This guitar is, like many Heritage models, built “after” an order is placed. In this way, everything they make is custom shop hand-made quality. And the guitar is so great that it’s more than worth the wait just to own one. It does take a bit of time once you order it, in fact, I’ve been waiting months for my long awaited second instrument and really need it for the tour I’m on right now, playing for half a million people from now till January. But I suppose, like any rare jewel, these guitars are hard to come by, even for the guy whose name is embedded on the headstock.

You won’t find it in the catalogs of Guitar Center, Sam Ash and Musicians Friend.
There are specialized Heritage dealers who you can order it from, the largest being Wolfe Guitars .

Meanwhile, I’ve been offered full page ads, big pay checks, high profile clinics, tour sponsorship, life size displays and dozens of instruments by some of the biggest electric guitar companies out there. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined this as a youth drooling over guitars in music magazines and catalogs. But I’ve turned them all down to go with a company that has survived a challenging economic and commercial climate and hung on to its bootstraps and as if by a high E string.

I’m sticking to my principles on this one and placing my bet on the underdog. I’ve been called crazy and realize that may be true. But whatever the outcome, the way I see it, authenticity always wins out in the end.

Video of me describing guitar (very tired, as one comment adequately describes, lol)

32 Responses to Authenticity Part II: Guitars

  1. Well that is great news, does it gonna look like the one on Heritage web site, like the one on the photo of the blog? or like the one on the video of your rig?

  2. Hey Alex, cool post! I think I remember reading about this model being made back in the May 08 issue of Guitar World and I've been interested since actually (even though I really like my two Ibanezes, I'd love to try Heritage). Seeing the Rig Rundown just increased the g.a.s., damn you. 😉 Hehe, j/k.
    But yeah, out of the two Ibanezes I have, the vintage Les Paul shaped one feels better for me when standing than the RG, so I'm really interested in this. Pity the Heritage Skolnicks probably never will get to Sweden. 🙁

    Btw Alex, this reminded me. Is there any chance of buying lessons from you on future tours? 🙂

  3. Alex,

    I'm happy to hear that the guitar is finally available. I commend you and appreciate your integrity for putting your name on something that you honestly believe deserves it. It's nice to see in such a monetary world we live in that you choose to make the class move and not sell out, so to speak. Decisions like that keep many of us fans respecting you because you are a true artist and quality musician. I hear Gibson is in quite the financial trouble these days and sad to see after the loss of Les Paul. Best of luck to Heritage guitars. Although I don't like to buy guitars sight unseen, I'm sure that it is a great guitar to buy confidently.

  4. Thanks for the feedback (pun not intended).

    The guitar has several color/finish options, as do most Heritage instruments. You decide when you place the order.

    Not enough free time for individual lessons when on tour, sorry. I do have an instruction program coming out through Rockhouse that will be out early next year and will continue to do clinics, hopefully internationally as well as the US.

  5. Hey Gang,
    I'm the proud and fortunate owner of the Alex Skolnick Signature guitar #2. I sold a few assembly-line-made guitars (and have a few to go) to afford it. So glad I did. The combination of Heritage quality and Alex's expertise as a musician has produced an awesome axe for the ages.Timeless as he suggests.And there were a surprising number of options, too. Looking for more details? Go to It's where I got mine. Couldn't be happier.

  6. The guitar is beautiful. Thanks, on many levels, for supporting an underdog. So often today people are not appreciated for the quality of the work they produce, especially when the products are of their hands. Our reality-TV society places so much value on fleeting things, overlooking the importance of dedication and devotion to craft in favor of attention or money. Authenticity is sometimes imperfect, or less than polished, and we don't seem to tolerate imperfection well.

    Heritage may not have the "savvy" of the coasts, but from my small town Midwestern perspective, that may actually be a complement. From my heart I believe devotion to craft, or devotion to principles, regardless of the financial bottom line, is where true authenticity lies.

    Wait. Duh. I think I just described you…

  7. 'Real' nice article and genuine endorsement with sincere intent. I think you could probably play any guitar and make it sound great! I think like Les Paul, you Alex have left a mark on guitar playing that is bona fide and reflects what is authentic. Einstein said, "If you are out to describe the truth,leave elegance to the tailor. He recognized truth requires no exaggeration and needs no adornment. I think it's more about creating bells and whistles rather than having them to start. Authenticity, is often overlooked. Many don't pay attention to details of a thing that tells a bigger story and they get away from what is real, or, maybe it's misconception, perception or set of expectations they select by that can prove different outcomes. Congratulations on this endeavor! If played guitar, would definately buy one of these, but will pass it along to those that do. KUDOS!!

  8. Hi Alex.

    No words….simply authenticity !
    Alex,can i make you a few questions,since i´ve sow you with that heritage i´ve ever wondered.

    1- You played with your Ibañes 540S for long time…what made you changed to that Heritage Model?
    Was some advices from anyone?

    2- Why did you never play it anymore(Ibañes)…It was many years playing it,did you get bored?

    3- Last time i sow you playing it it was in " tribal by fire " LIVE IN LONDON 05…it really fits you well,why dont you ask that model to Heritage with the same aspects that your actual guitar as?

    4- Comparing Ibañes 540S with your Heritage,what are the diferences…does that Ibañes "own" your new Heritage in any aspect?

    5- Since you ever were related to that kind of Ibañes model and ever misconfused being you signature.
    Did in any time of Testament,but especialy in those times,Ibañes contacted you to endorse you and propose you a signature model?

    Man…I love to see you with that thiny beatifull guitar….especialy in Red…..I´ve played with some of those… just scream without me touching…eheheh

    thanck you again,I know that you´ve got a lot of work now and if by any thoughts you cant answer me those questions….it´s ok.

    Big hugs from the sunshining land of Portugal

    Nuno Guerreiro

  9. It's Ibanez, no "ibañes", I have 2 of them (one of them actually red, just like alex's one) those are great and sound great, but I have a Goldtop Lp too, and I realize that it has a better tone, a bigger sound, probably alex realize of that too..

  10. Great News Alex !
    Congrats 🙂 Well Deserved
    I've known Heritage guitars for a while now, great company. i'm lookin forward to have a tour inside the factory in Kalamazoo & get to know the people there.

    too bad those big guitar companies are now going into this direction,makin cheap quality & OverPriced guitars.

    I've recently acquired a handmade Guitar from Netherlands that's largely based on the red Ibanez guitar you played + John Petrucci's Music Man.totally in love with it ! it's made by BO~EL Guitars.

    some other companies worth mentioning are (John Suhr) & (Tom Anderson) Guitars.

    I'll definitely buy one(or more) of your signature Heritage Guitars :),it sounded incredible @ both TSO/Testament Live Shows.Great Tone & Sound Quality

    I'm glad to read about them out they have a booth @ NAMM This 2010 ?


  11. Modestly written!!, and did I hit pay dirt, is this your guitar?

    Alex– Rock the Casbah!
    Sounds like you are making good on your promises in a time of great disappointments…that does make you authentic, musical people are truely gifted, therefore you're a giver!

    CONGRATS!-that childhood -someday is here!

  12. Congratulations!
    It's a very beautiful model.
    I wish I could get one but technically I'm too far from that and my partner will be worried about paying the electricity bill.

  13. Nice words about authenticity, and We (that play guitar) have several other reasons, personal , to choose this ou that.

    Young musicians, desperates, to buy Gibson,Ibanez or other great factory, the name on guitar hand, don´t make a difference when you play, cuz you have a Fender don´t sign that you are good, as supposed some guys. The reality is that you build good instrument with your luthier. If you read about, and knows, you make your "signature", maybe without Gibson glamour but, in final, an instrument personal, good.

    Still that I buy your signature, I dont play equal you, still that use your guitar, with your effects, I don´t make sound equal your ! lol

    As any form, to know that you build together engineer that instrument, give me sensation that not is only wood and strings.


  14. The pure woodgrain of this guitar is truly gorgeous, absolutely authentic! The sound must be just as true. Keep believing in the mid-western work ethic.

  15. HI Domingo Vial@

    Your right…how can i said such stupidity.

    Thanck you for correcting me,of course it´s Ibanez not Ibañes.

    Sorry too Alex.

    Nuno Guerreiro

  16. Congratulations Alex. This is great news. Guitar looks great and at the same time, seriously, without any ridiculous figures. Are you planning to release training programs on DVD? That would be excellent, because not everyone has the opportunity to visit lessons and clinics of such a great master as you are. But if it will be possible to buy your lessons on DVD, it will be just great.
    Thank you for your unique style of play, music, talent and creativity. Know that you have fans even in such small countries like Moldova. Cheers!

  17. Hello Alex,

    Nice post. Nowadays a company like Heritage is hard to find. Most companies just want to make money and engage in mass production, often to the compromise the quality. Finding the right guitar for a certain person can be a challange. The very same guitar sounds differently to 2 peoples' ears. Me and my sister cannot agree about the sound of a particular guitar/instrument or amp for that matter! Glad you found the perfect guitar for you. Congratulations on your signature guitar!
    Kind regards

    Sandra Jesus

  18. I give you beyond tons of credit for going with a smaller company. (Even more so one out of Michigan 🙂 kudos!) I've only ever played a Heritage acoustic.. we had it at the music store I work at, very nice. Never played one of their electrics though.

    Also, I LOVE vintage guitars. My boyfriend bought me one for Christmas… (even though I've already seen and played it, oops) 1987 B.C Rich Gunslinger, in blue… it needed a couple minor things fixed on it, but found it at a hole-in-the-wall music/pawn shop. It plays so much better than most guitars I've ever held. Which was weird to me, the first guitar I ever bought was a Warlock.. and it plays o.k at best.. but its a guitar that I didn't take much thought if it got dinged up. So I was beyond pleased.

    Guitar Center isn't really impressing me a whole lot anymore. It's good for general things that I need like strings etc. Even though it's to the point I can get nicer stuff at work for less. It's too commercial for me. Like you said authentic. That place doesn't cut it for me. I only ordered one guitar from there.. of course they didn't have specifically what I was looking for, so they ordered it straight from Gibson and had it shipped there. *shrug*

    All the rest of my guitars I've found at small music shops and pawn shops. And, it so happens one of the guitars I picked out a few years back, Schecter stopped making. So I felt like I hit the jackpot for that one. (its a Schecter semi-hollow 12 string electric)

    Ok! I'm done rambling. Great post!!


  19. I completely agree about the Midwest- things may be a little slower and more 'down home,' and that's good. Midwest sensibility, integrity and credibility are things we can all use reminders of from time to time. I'm an East Coast resident proudly carrying these Midwestern guitars around the world

    I'm glad you all like the guitar and the post. I ended up changing the last few paragraphs to reflect a company that is 'surviving' rather than 'struggling' which definitely seems to be the case.

    It looks as though two more are being built and this next 'batch' is ready to be shipped out to me next week. They're also building me a new Sweet 16 'jazz box,' with a spruce top. (the H575 I've used for years, and is excellent, has a maple top). I'm excited to try a different sound with trio. Also should be great for solo chord melody pieces, a la Joe Pass.

  20. Congrats on the release of your signature guitar!

    A genuine labor of love! More than a vision, reflection, or expression, it’s truly the personification and embodiment of you.

    Heritage Guitars is a great choice and a good fit for you. (The spirit of an underdog and an abundance of heart go a long way in my book!) Get the impression; they were willing to work with you, instead of you working for them. That’s what you needed most. A company willing to give you the freedom you desired to do what’s right according to your standards, principles, and ideals. In addition, Heritage appears to have the foresight to recognize value is perceived in ways beyond the bottom line, stock prices, cost cutting, or marketing glitz. Heritage Guitars complements you well. May this be the beginning of a wonderful venture.

    As always – nothing but excellence from the Skol!
    Keep trusting in yourself!

  21. Hi Alex,
    Another great post.
    I'm really interested in getting one of your signature guitars. I cannot find any dealer in Portugal but I may buy it in the U.S.
    I have just one question: Which colour is the guitar pictured on the 1st and 3rd photo of this post?
    Thanks a lot.


  22. in the interest of metal authenticity I think the Skol model should either be really pointy or only available in black or red 🙂

  23. Greetings from a fellow Heritage player! They really are great guitars.

    I've got three of 'em, and my H-157 Black Beauty is my main player. A friend and I recently had the chance to compare it to a very nice 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom Black Beauty, and we both thought that the Heritage was the better instrument.

    Heritages are truly handcrafted guitars, and an experienced player can really tell the difference in all the little details.

  24. hi alex,

    i saw you with tso saturday night. are you using your heritage guitar during the show? i thought the one you were playing looked really similar to the photo you posted.

    great job on all of your musical accomplishments, by the way. i have a bit of a music crush on you :o)


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