Back in the seventies, any British musician that had attained rock star status had to go to Tony Zemaitis' workshop and place an order for a unique instrument that would inspire their next masterpiece. Gary Grainger, who played with The Faces and then with Rod Stewart, ordered his in 1973, a beautiful double cutaway guitar with a sculpted metal top. A few years later, Richie Sambora, guitarist of the Bon Jovi band, added that Zemaitis to his impressive collection.
Therefore, it was only logical that Sambora would be one of the first to get the call when japanese maker Greco decided to build new guitars under the Zemaitis brand. Sambora got at least two of these: a heavily decorated abalone one for the stage, and this uncluttered beauty for studio work. Back in his heyday, Tony Zemaitis also built a few simple less decorated guitars, and these would usually be the ones that sounded best.
This Greco Zemaitis is a smaller Les Paul with a florentine cutaway, a combination typical of the brand's heritage. It also sports a superb three-part flamed maple top, on which a heart-shaped inlay evokes Sambora's visual obsession. The 24-fret neck with diamond inlays at the twelfth fret is compulsory on a Zemaitis, as is the massive bridge and the engraved metal diamond that graces the headstock. Classy and powerful, just like its former owner.
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.