The Ski Channel presents the Top 10 Ski Guitars

Posted By: The Ski Channel on February 24, 2010 3:33 pm

We at The Ski Channel are into music.  Lets just say that we are super dee duper into music.  In our offices there are no less than 50 incredible guitars…Strats, Tele’s, Vox’s, a Buck Owens, a 1960 National Westwood, a Ferrington Baritone…  We have a recording studio and we make our own music.  We are also big fans of Surf Music.  But, we are very jealous that surfing has a sound – The Ventures, The Beach Boys, Dick Dale!  There is a quantifiable sonic backdrop that states its purpose in the first bar – sun and fun!  Surf music also has specific goto instruments.  The Fender single coil guitars to start make up an overwhelming amount of surf sound.  Strats, Mustangs, Jazzmasters and Jaguars were and are everywhere in surf.  There were some Tele’s out there as well.  Other brands like Danelectro and Teisco could be found in the surf world and then there was of course the legendary Mosrites, which were played by everyone in the surf world.

It is one of our main goals at The Ski Channel to create a sonic landscape for skiing and we have some big announcements coming up.  We would be lying if we could tell you what the hell that is right now, because it hasn’t been built yet.  There is no “ski sound” like in the surf world.  Ironically, artists like Jack Johnson have almost created a second surf sound before we even have our first.  The greatest skier/guitar player is legendary pop star John Oates.  The guitar slinger who has lived in Aspen for 25 years is one the world’s best telemark skiers and obviously a beast on the guitar as well as one of the most successful pop artists of all time with his band Hall and Oates.

Ski racer Bryon Friedman is nothing short of a genius songwriter and you will likely be hearing him on the radio soon.  You will certainly see him on our air, as we have a show coming out on Bryon and his music.  Seal is an avid snowboarder.  The band The Fray grew up on the slopes.  These are skiers and riders who play pop songs as opposed to skiers and riders who play ski songs.  We need a damn ski sound!  And, again that is going to be a huge goal of ours.

If you are at all a fan of The Ski Channel, you will know that we love lists.  We make them all the time.  Top ski towns for singles.  Top 100 gnarliest runs.  Our top 250 most influential people in snowsports took nearly 2000 hours to complete.  Our resort rater is made up of hundreds of lists.  So to feed our appetite for list making and to hopefully create an understanding of what tools should go in the tool chest for creating the ski sound, we are making a list of the top 10 ski guitars.

Obviously, this was more of an art project than a science project, but we factored in a lot of variables.  We traced roots of luthiers.  We called music stores and pawnshops in markets with high skier density like Denver and Salt Lake.  We went through famous skiers and musicians and charted the guitars they play.  We went through the history of a lot of instruments to find some origin ties.  If we were a betting man, our initial thoughts are that the sound lies somewhere in between a Strat and a White Falcon.  It is likely playing through a twin reverb, a bandmaster or a Princeton on a fairly clean setting or something creamy.

And after all that…Tah Dah – The Ski Channel Top 10 Ski Guitars


#10 – Mosrite

Yes, if this list was for the top 10 surf guitars, the Mosrite would probably be #2 behind the strat.  Kurt Cobain, Johnny Ramone, Joe Maphis, Tommy Tedesco…not exactly John Denver meets Hall and Oates.  But guess what, Semie Moseley, the founder of Mosrite learned how to build guitars under the direction of German Luthier Roger Rossmeisl.  That same German Luthier learned his trait starring at some of the best skiing in the world in the Alps of Germany.  And the same characteristics that make the Mosrite a great guitar as a backdrop for someone riding the slope of a wave of water – make it a great guitar for the soundscape of someone riding a slope of frozen water.   It can handle a lot of the sonic area that the strat commands.  The Mosrite is to the strat as Billy Carter is to Jimmy Carter.  Billy had his own beer.  Jimmy was President.  Billy gets left in more places than Jimmy and Jimmy stays in tune a little better.




#9 – Hofner HVC Verythin Classic Electric

Yeah their bass guitars are the bomb with a wide berth of uber cools using them including Paul McCartney, Will Lee, Tom Petersson and Lee Sklar.  But widely overlooked are their archtop electrics, which the 123-year old company has been building since the 50’s.  With a minimum of 3-year air dried wood going into every guitar, you can certainly bet the German guitar builder outside the Lusatian Mountains is pushing quality out the door.   Outside of James Bond, the Beatles “Help” was one of the best uses of skiing in cinema and Fab Four were huge Hofner players.  Besides McCartney, George Harrison and John Lennon were both Hofner players in the early years upgrading model after model when they could afford to from their gig money.  Even when Stuart Sutcliffe joined the band as the bass player, he was using a Hofner.   So the Hofner roots are pretty close to the snow.




#8 – Duesenberg Starplayer TV

We start in ski country Germany with a semi-hollow, tremlo’d work of art that is often played by Ron Wood as well as Mike Campbell.  It’s got an arched spruce top, gorgeous piped headstock, a single coil near the neck and a humbucker near the bridge.  Somewhere we believe the ski sound might be lurking between hollow and solid.  This single f hole sucker could be it.  It sounds dreamy, stays in tune way better than the rest of the world with a tremolo.  You can jump on that tremolo with both feet and it somehow stays at 440.  Every Duesenberg is a museum piece.  Quite possibly a ski museum piece.




#7 – Fender Jazzmaster®

When photographer-adman Robert Perine wanted to shoot a skier packing an electric guitar for his famous 1960s-era “You Won’t Part With Yours Either” ad campaign for Fender, he chose a model as sleek and cool as the day’s best downhill run—the Jazzmaster.  Designed by Leo Fender to be a solid body guitar that jazzers could switch to from their archtops, the instrument never really clicked with buyers and was scrapped as a Jazzer tool by Fender.  But then came “My Aim Is True” by Elvis Costello.  One of the greatest guitar ads of all time and Fender didn’t pay a dime.  Elvis Presley meets Abbott and Costello all rolled up in one dude.  He was the new Buddy Holly with a little bit of fuzz.  Since then the Jazzmaster has perfectly stayed and played on the fringes.  Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Robert Smith of The Cure, Gavin Rossdale…the guitar has always been the quirky alternative to the Strat and the Tele.  The Ventures jumped into the guitar with both feet and it anchored their surf sound.   The ski sound could easily be locked up in these single coils as well.


#6 – Fender Telecaster®

The word ski originates with the Old Norse skið, meaning “stick of wood.” And what is an electric guitar at its most basic? Fender’s first, most basic and most elegantly enduring stick of wood is this model, the Telecaster.  Leo Fender’s Mona Lisa for the guitar world started out as the Broadcaster, but a threat of legal action from Gretsch over their drum set, ‘the broadcaster’ forced Leo to change the name.  And the Tele was born.  Springsteen plays a Tele.  The Edge, Andy Summers, etc.   Hows about old Keith Richards?  Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, James Burton, G.E. Smith – all Tele twangers.   Although the Tele twangs, all kinds of players have gotten different stuff out of it.  Joe Strummer of the Clash made it sound unique.  The Edge isn’t exactly your chicken pickin twanger.  The ski sound could easily lie somewhere in the girth of the Telecaster.


#5 – Gibson 335

Gibson teamed up with Marker Volkl USA to build some custom ski guitars.  So Gibson is actually in the ski biz.  They did up a Les Paul and a Flying V with some uber cool custom graphics.  They also did up some custom pianos for the winter Olympics.  Way to go Gibson!  We are however going with the 335 though for these purposes.  Although skiing doesn’t have a sound yet, it is more likely coming out of a cool hollow guitar with rockin F holes than it is a Les Paul or a Flying V.   Probably the ski sound isn’t going to come out of anything you play through a Marshall or John Denver will be pissed.  But the 335, now you are talking.  Put that sucker through a twin reverb with fresh tubes and you could be in business.



#4 – Hagstrom Viking Deluxe

Elvis played a Hagstrom Viking and he played some of his best concerts at the base of the Heavenly Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe.  Frank Zappa also diddled the Hagstrom.  Hagstrom was born in one of the worlds great ski countries – Sweden.  Where was the company’s second headquarters – Denmark.  Where was the third – Finland.  Hagstrom is about as Nordic as the Winter Olympics.  And, the juicy Viking Deluxe with its double cutaway, piped f holes and geometric tailpiece is a dream instrument with Nordic roots deeper than a lost glove at Mammoth Mountain before next weeks 20 foot dump comes.  You don’t find these on every street corner, but the sound could be it for sure.


#3 – Veillette Gryphon

Alright, we are allowed to venture off the path here…way off the path.  Joe Veillette is a luthier out of Woodstock, NY.  Remember the Veillette Citron’s baritones back in the day… John Sebastian?  His Veillette Guitar Company is just a handful of luthiers putting out way high-end pieces.  And way high end they are – craftsmanship like you dream about.  As we speak today, there is no ski sound.  If we could make it sound like it came from a Veillette Gryphon, it would be a damn good one.  This soprano master is an 18.5” scale 12-string quilt top strung in unison pairs like a mandolin.  When you strum the guitar it makes an old song sound new.  It makes standard chord voicing’s feel like unique voicings.  It is nothing short of a genius musical instrument.  In short, if you are an artist trying to become the Dick Dale of ski – go get one of these and futz with it.  It is possible the sound is sitting in one of these guitars.  Our personal favorite finish…the blue quilt top.



#2 – Gretsch White Falcon™

As white and as pure as the driven snow.  It’s as if the Nordic Gods who first bestowed the art of skiing to the ancient Scandinavians designed a guitar of mountainous majesty and named it for their mythic raptor companions.  Or as Randy Jackson says, “it is the bomb!”  There is hardly a cooler guitar in the history of guitars?  The fact that this instrument is so branded in snow pushes it up to the top.  The plethora of gold trim feels like the edges of a ski…only a $20,000 ski that you want to hang in your living room and never click into because it is so cool.  It is the ultimate cool.  It is the ultimate drool.  Go to YouTube and check out that freaky dude with the hair going straight up, pick it and you want to rush out and get one.  Playing a White Falcon is the ski equivalent of bombing a groomer on your last run down from the top while your legs are too tired for bumps and hot girls are waiting for you in the lodge bar.   And the lodge bar has a mechanical bull.  Few things in life better than this guitar.


#1 – Fender Stratocaster®

Drum roll please and the greatest ski guitar of all time is the Fender Stratocaster.  Granted it is the ultimate surf guitar.  Basically, the Fender Strat is greatest guitar of all time period.  And sure Yngwie Malmsteen is a Swedish Strat slayer, but the reality is if the very essence of skiing were somehow crystallized in the form of a guitar, it would be a Stratocaster. Sleek and fast, with curves both gentle and dangerous, and to be used in ways from elegant to outrageous.  If the Hahnenkamm was a guitar, it would be a Strat.  It is a guitar imbued with the very soul of adventure, designed not merely to travel the beaten path but to go well beyond it.  It is the most versatile guitar ever manufactured.  When you look at the top horn on a strat pointing back behind the recess in the top of the instrument – it is like skiing down the back side of a great mountain and catching untracked powder at Noon on a back bowl after the sun has come out.  Bryon Friedman’s first guitar was a Strat.  What guitar does John Oates play…a Strat.  We called a number of music shops and pawnshops in and around ski areas and by far and away the most requested and most sold guitar – the strat.  Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan…we could name names for the next hour.   The Strat is probably the greatest production musical instrument of all time…that’s including guitars, drums, horns, woodwinds, strings -  you name it.  The Strat is the gold standard in the guitar world and in our world, we believe it is the white standard.