When genius luthier Tony Zemaitis made a name for himself in the swinging London of the late 60s, rock stars of the time where ordering both electrics and acoustics from him, such as Eric Clapton's famed 12-string nicknamed “Ivan The Terrible”. Those acoustics were highly distinctive due to their beautiful intricate inlays but also thanks to their heart-shaped soundhole.
Zemaitis himself died in 2002 but his legacy carries on thanks to the Japanese company Greco who bought the rights to his name and keeps on building instruments worthy of their prestigious heritage.
This Zemaitis acoustic was made in the Japanese Custom Shop of the brand. It was built for Richie Sambora and comes from the personal collection of the Bon Jovi guitar hero. It sports a huge jumbo shape, Tony's personal favorite and the one he had used to make George Harrison's Zemaitis. Sambora's guitar obviously sports a heart-shaped soundhole but the heart is also used for the fretboard inlays (mixed with Sambora's cross), the finely engraved metallic truss rod cover and the rosette around the soundhole. Even the four-leaf clovers on the headstock are made from four hearts. The shape of the bridge, huge and classy, is typical of the brand, just like their choice of premium woods. The fretboard is ebony, the body and binding are Indian rosewood, the neck is mahogany and the top is Sitka spruce.
This Zemaitis produces a big warm round sound that is particularly inspiring for strumming Bon Jovi's best ballads. And should you decide to play those ballads on stage, that beautiful guitar comes already equipped with a pickup and a preamp controlled by the two knobs on the upper bout.
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.