John McLaughlin & Rex Bogue
Creating the 'Double Rainbow'

By Leonard Ferris

(Reprinted from Guitar Player magazine: May 1974)

The word was out, "McLaughlin's got a new guitar!" It obviously wasn't the familiar Gibson double-neck. In fact, it wasn't a familiar anything. But its beauty and sound were turning heads wherever Mahavishnu John McLaughlin performed.
Rex Bogue of San Gabriel, California is the luthier who created the breathtakingly beautiful guitar. "I brought McLaughlin one of my other guitars when he was at the Whisky," Bogue recalls. "He looked it over, then tried it and asked me to build him a new double-neck. It was as simple as that."
The decision may have been simple, but the construction of this "Double Rainbow" was anything but easy. The project pulled Bogue away from all other guitar construction for exactly one year, July 18, 1972 to July I 8, 1973. Bogue says, "Building a double-neck takes about two-and-a-half times as much effort as a standard guitar." The inlay work alone took more than eighty hours, cutting meticulously with carbide dental drills and hairline jeweler's saws.
The three-way matched body was handcarved from the finest available aged eastern fiddleback maple. Mirror-image symmetry formed the basic design concept for the matching of woods as well as the pairing of the inlaid fingerboard design. The nine-piece laminated necks are constructed from Brazillian rosewood and maple, while the fingerboards, at McLaughlin's request, are Gaboon ebony instead of rosewood. There are two truss rods in the 12-string neck and one in the six.
To place the frets with precision on the 24-3/4 inch scale fingerboards, Bogue turned to a friend who wrote a computer program at U.C.L.A. for each fret position at various lengths. And when the placements were established, a special jig was built to saw the fret slots.
The elaborate matching inlay on the fingerboards is perhaps the guitar's most striking visual effect, with its various colored abalone leaves and flowers for position markers. "McLaughlin and I discussed the design," Bogue says, "but he gave me a free hand. I'd say I was primarily inspired by the banjo inlay work of the late S. S. Stewart, and by the art of [Frenchart noveau painter] Alphonse Mucha." To Bogue, the flowing mother-of-pearl vines represent the musician's "tree of life," symbolizing his progress in striving to achieve his ideals.
Similar philosophical considerations led McLaughlin to want the words "Guru Alo" inscribed at the base of the fingerboards. They mean "He who leads from darkness into lightness."
There were a few other special requests McLaughlin had, though he did leave most of the artistic decisions to Bogue. "He wanted the neck to go to high D instead of C#," according to Rex. "And he asked for Gibson-style humbucking pickups." Bogue rewound each pick-up, adding coil divider taps, inter-coil phasing and adjustable quad-coil phasing. He used some Gibson parts, others were specially machined. The output signals of the four pickups are routed to a switching network and then to a hybrid integrated circuit pre-amp. The luthier framed the pickups in rosewood, then glued the units to the back of the body. He claims, "That way, they're not adjustable at all. That's so no repairman can mess with them. My guitars come with lifetime guarantees, so if anything goes wrong I'll travel to the musician and fix things free for as long as I Iive."
The instrument has various volume, bass, and treble controls, a power bypass switch, and more. The bypass switch gives the output signal a variable 20 db boost or the standard output. A built-in integrated circuit pre-amp provides for a higher signal-to-noise ratio and increased frequency response, and allows the guitar an enormous amount of gain and sustain. An extra side effect can be created by the sympathetic vibrations produced when one neck is played while the other's pickups are turned off. (McLaughlin plugs his guitar into a volume pedal, a wah-wah, a power booster, and a phase shifter, running it all into two modified 200-watt Marshall tops with four cabinets.)
Bogue claims that the guitarist is still experimenting string sets and gauges, but since he "uses the lightest he can find," Bogue installed a Darco custom set ranging from .008 to .038.
An interesting problem was created by the fact that Bogue wanted the guitar's two halves to appear virtually identical, but one head had to hold twelve tuning machines while the other would hold six. The solution was found in reversing the position of every other one on the 12-string head so that only six are visible from the front. Custom gold-plated Klusons are utilized on the 12-string, and re-plated (for additional durability) Grover Imperials are used on the 6-string.
One would think that all of this plating, inlay, and wood would make the guitar a bit heavy. "A bit!," Bogue exclaims, It's the heaviest guitar I've ever felt. It weighs about thirty pounds; and with the heavy-duty case the total is close to 130."
The Double Rainbow, with a value in excess of $5,000, is anything but a traditional guitar-either electronically or artistically. "I approach every guitar as a conceptual art piece," says Bogue, who was with the Ren Ferguson guitar company in Venice, California when the instrument was built. "There are no plastic inlays or other cheap imitations. I hand build every part expressly for each guitar."
The current project of Rex Bogue Guitars (125 N. Del Mar, San Gabriel, CA) is an equally valuable double-neck for ex-Weather Report bassist Miraslav Vitous. "It'll look a lot like McLaughlin's instrument," Rex explains, "but with a 4-string bass and 6-string guitar. Each string will have its own transducer for bass and treble, making a total of twenty pickups."
So it's clear that there's a design revolution brewing, and Rex Bogue is right in the middle of it.