In 2008, superstrat superstar Richie Sambora got together with ESP to make the LTD SA-2, a guitar that took the world by surprise since its design had nothing in common with the more traditional instruments usually favored by the Bon Jovi legend. Some even suggested the look had been ESP's idea, but it is quite the opposite: the guitar has been fully designed by Sambora and his guitar tech Chris Hofschneider, who made a prototype two years before the deal with the Japanese brand happened.
This is the prototype that has just arrived at Matt's Guitar Shop, sold by the family of Bon Jovi bass player Hugh McDonald along with pictures of Sambora playing it extensively. That first version saw some heavy stage use, since this is the only way to truly see how good a guitar really is. This prototype makes a very cool appearance in the Lost Highway: The Concert DVD, a live show from 2007.
This prototype is a fascinating insight on how a model can evolve from a unique one-off piece made by a luthier for an artist to a mass-produced instrument. The yin-yang look created by the pearloid pickguard on a black body was kept for the definitive model, just like the matching headstock with both colors featuring the Sambora name - even the production model did not feature the brand on the headstock. The twin humbucker configuration has remained the same, even though they were controlled by two knobs on the prototype instead of the four-button Les Paul-like layout of the ESP model.
Finally, the big difference lies in the bridge. Sambora has picked a Floyd Rose SpeedLoader Snapshot for his prototype. That evolution of the Floyd Rose came out in 2003 after more than ten years of development. It allows for a better tuning stability, but the musician has to use specific strings since the SpeedLoader renders tuners useless. For that reason, ESP used a more traditional Floyd Rose bridge on their model, which forced them to give up on the naked look on the tunerless headstock. This guitar is an instrument used by a great musician, but it also is a fascinating preview of how the music business works and an important piece in the Richie Sambora gear history.
Band : Bon Jovi
Main guitar : Fender Stratocaster signature
Compulsory listening : Livin’ On A Prayer
Such is the history of rock: for every Mick Jagger, there is a Keith Richards. For every Steven Tyler, there is a Joe Perry. For every Robert Plant, a Jimmy Page. For every superstar that gets the crowd going, there is a moody, infinitely cool guitar player that has the singer’s back and only takes the front of stage for quick assaults of thirty seconds.
Richie Sambora joined the New Jersey band Bon Jovi in 1983, a few months after its creation. Right from the start, Sambora’s playing and personality perfectly matched the image of founding singer Jon Bon Jovi. Together, they created a songwriting duo that would come up with hard rock classics that remain mainstays of every radio station playlist. The true explosion happened in 1986 with the Slippery When Wet album, on which Sambora co-wrote nine out of ten songs, including mega-singles Livin’ On A Prayer, You Give Love A Bad Name and Wanted Dead Or Alive. The guitar hero’s virtuosic, precise and energetic playing are in full force on that album. Sambora has integrated Van Halen’s influence to his style like any soloist of the time, but he added his personal twist to it. His talent for arranging can be head on the twelve-string parts of Wanted…, the pitch shifted solo to You Give Love A Bad Name or the talkbox for Livin’ On A Prayer.
After the release of the album, the band gets huge and starts touring around the world for sold-out crowds of entranced fans. Bon Jovi’s genius is that they achieved mainstream success at several points in their career, which makes them relevant to several generations of fans. They once again topped the charts with Always in 1994, then with It’s My Life (co-written by Sambora too) in 2000. That last song earned them a new audience that still follows them to this day.
A victim of his demons, Sambora had to quit the band in 2013 in the middle of one more world tour. Since then, he has launched the RSO band with his ex Orianthi. Over time, he seems more and more interested in the Telecaster and the Esquire, whereas he was the poster boy for superstrats in the glory days of Bon Jovi. Sambora’s musical future probably has a few great surprises in store.