Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #133. Subscribe to our print edition here!
To celebrate the long-awaited finale of fantasy epic Game Of Thrones, HBO and Fender have teamed up to deliver three tie-in guitars fit for royalty.
Words by Alex Wilson.
With the the most popular show in HBO history rolling towards a much‐vaunted finale, all eyes are on fantasy extravaganza Game Of Thrones. And let’s be real – the creators and producers are spending big to make sure you know the final episode is on its way and to have your eyes glued to the proceedings. The show that brought White Walkers to London is certainly not short on ambitious ideas, the latest of which is a brand partnership with the venerable Fender. Introducing: the Sigil Collection. These three “deluxe, one‐of‐a‐kind guitars are built to order via the Fender Custom Shop and embody the true essence of Westeros’ most iconic families”, according to Fender themselves.
The House Stark Telecaster, House Lannister Jaguar and House Targaryen Stratocaster are extremely upmarket instruments that range from an eye‐watering $35,000 to a soul‐crushing $50,000. As you’ll read below, it turns out that Game Of Thrones creator and showrunner D. B. Weiss is a guitar fanatic, and when he was paired with Fender Custom Shop’s Principal Master Builder Ron Thorn, the sky was the limit.
The result of the collaboration are guitars boasting lavish, unique aesthetics. They’re a testament to what is possible with a creative and skilled team who are able to push the artform of lutherie into new realms. No doubt as the legacy of Game Of Thrones is cemented by history, these will be extremely valuable collector’s items for those who are lucky enough to get their mitts on them.
Australian Guitar had the privilege of speaking to Thorn for the story behind these unique instruments, and what’s required to bring such an ambitious project to fruition.
How did this project originally come to be, and can you describe the concept phase of creating these instruments?
The Game of Thrones creator and showrunner, Dan Weiss, and Fender CEO, Andy Mooney, are acquaintances. Dan has been a guitar player for most of his life, spending a large portion of his limited free time playing – often on location. He and Andy started discussing the possibilities of a collaboration in 2017.
Together, Andy and Dan decided on the concept of a three‐guitar set, each one representing one of the major ‘Houses’ on the show. Next, they determined which House would be applied to which Fender model, and Dan provided his thoughts on that – brilliantly. The Telecaster, always considered the working‐man’s guitar, would be used for the House Stark. The Jaguar, Fender’s “fanciest” model fit the bill for the Lannister’s portrayal. This left the House Targaryen, so the Stratocaster, with it’s sleekness, curves and tremolo, seemed perfect.
Jeremy Taylor, Fender’s Vice President of Global Brand Creative, then digitally rendered the first original concepts, and I have to say, the end results weren’t too far off from these. Now that we had a basic idea of what they should look like, it was my turn to determine how to build them.
So D.B. Weiss is a known Fender fanatic and an avid guitar nerd himself – what were your early discussions with him like, and was he very hands-on in the creative processes for these guitars?
Dan caught me completely off-guard. I knew he played the guitar, but I wasn’t sure how “into” the guitar he was, so my initial email pertaining to the guitars’ construction was very basic and simplified. He came back asking for specifics on fretwire, fingerboard radii, saddle materials and so on, which was such a pleasant surprise!
When he visited the shop, he was more excited to tour the facility than anyone else I’ve shown around. He wanted to see it all – the metal shop, paint booth, sub‐assembly – he’s a genuine fan of the product. We ran every change by him, and his input was invaluable. Dan and I were in constant communication – I would send him progress photos along the way until I was about a month away from completion. At that point, I stopped sending them as I wanted him to see them completed in person for the first time and get a genuine reaction out of him.
What was the process like in deciding what characteristics each guitar in the series would embody, and how they would represent what fans know and love about Game of Thrones?
Studying the armor, weaponry and costumes on the show was extremely helpful for me and provided the greatest inspiration for each guitar. We aimed to match colors, materials, and even the amount of wear and tear, accordingly.
For example, the gold hardware on the Jaguar was originally all what we call “NOS”, meaning brand new. However, while watching various episodes, I realised that there isn’t really anything made of gold that truly looked new on the show. Even the crowns and ceremonial armor are knocked down a bit, showing tarnish and patina. I then changed the hardware to our Closet Classic patina; slightly worn, tarnished and showing a bit of wear.
The Stark Tele had to be dreary, weathered and distressed, yet still exude strength and power. I chose to use raw nickel silver for the control plate, pickguard and other components because it was a perfect match for the Stark’s armor. I hand‐selected the body spread to have an almost wolf’s fur grain pattern. All the hardware is reliced, much like everything in the North.
The Targaryen Strat was a challenge. The dragons have a unique scale pattern to them, which we could only truly replicate by carving it into the wood. I planned on carving the first one by hand, but with the possibilities of more than one of these being made, I decided we should bite the bullet and spend the time now to draft and program the scales for the CNC. That turned into hundreds of hours of drawing and programming – a total of 2,800 surfaces and a run time of 19 hours on the CNC.
The aesthetic design of each of the instruments is really striking. Were there ever times that your artistic ideas posed challenges to the tone and playability of the guitar?
I mentioned that the Stark Tele’s control plate and pickguard were made from nickel silver – I had our machine shop also stamp two Tele bridge plates from the same material so that it would all visually match. When I strung it up for the first time, I could tell something wasn’t quite right as I tuned to pitch unplugged; it sounded very thin, and plugged in, I received the same results. I sat back, looked at the guitar and thought about everything I had done, and the only non‐proven element was the bridge plate material. From there, I swapped it out for a normal steel bridge, and as I tuned up the first string, I knew we were back on track. I swapped it out for a bridge plate that was unplated, raw, and patinated it to match as closely as possible to the rest of the nickel silver components.
Was there a house guitar that, overall, was the most difficult to bring to life?
The Jaguar went through a few iterations. First, there was an entire metal front that was to be heavily hand engraved. I was up for that challenge, but engraving by hand is extremely time consuming. We redesigned it to a celtic design that I would hand‐carve, then paint gold. Dan and the HBO team felt it didn’t really match the Lannister look, and they provided us with a very intense heraldry design. Mike Whelan came to the rescue and suggested we laser engrave it, so I tossed out gold leafing and lasering through that, and within an hour, my team member Adam Ehrig laser engraved a small test piece which ended up being perfect. From a time standpoint, the dragon scales took a tremendous effort to draft and program to look “real”.
Do you have a personal favourite of the trio? If so, what is it about that guitar that just makes you tick?
The House Stark Telecaster is all me. I’m from the Great White North, have long hair, and most of my wardrobe is in the dreary gray realm... I’m not sure why Dan didn’t use me for an extra to guard the wall.