There's no more iconic a guitar in Dave Keuning's hands than his 1976 Ibanez Destroyer. And no surprise that Eddie Van Halen built "The Shark" from his Destroyer. From indie to full-on metal, it looks sharp, and cuts like a knife. Quite literally, this is an axe!
From The Killers' debut Hot Fuss all the way through to Wonderful Wonderful, the 1976 Ibanez Destroyer was Dave Keuning's go-to guitar - in the studio, on video, and live. This may seem an odd choice. Pick up a Destroyer - or the Gibson Explorer on which it was originally based - and you're picking up a guitar that screams "Rock Of Ages". With the Explorer centre-stage with behemoths like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Cheap Trick, ZZ Top, The Scorpions, Kiss, Metallica and Mastodon, and the Destroyer that Eddie Van Halen modified into "The Shark", this is hardly your retiring, indie shoe-gazer. But by the 80s, it wasn't just rock and metal gods that saw the potential. There was an alternative. The Edge bought his first Explorer when he was just 17, and Explorers have been in his hands ever since. U2 spawned and inspired a new generation of guitar gods. And it's no stretch to imagine the young U2 fan, Dave Keuning, dreaming about the futuristic angular guitar that he saw in the hands of The Edge . . .
Problem is, they aren't cheap. First launched in 1958, Explorers were so far ahead of their time and market that Gibson built only a handful in the five years before they discontinued production in 1963. Try and buy one of those today, and you're looking at 100s of 1000s of dollars. Look around, though, and you'll find Ibanez launching the Destroyer in 1975 - with the no-hiding-it advertising slogan "Explore The Destroyer". An almost perfect replica of the original Gibson Explorer. So good, in fact, that it triggered Gibson to launch their own "Limited Edition" Explorer in 1976. And later to whack Ibanez with a copyright lawsuit - specific to Ibanez copying the Les Paul headstock design, but you can imagine that Ibanez were going to revisit their other models to make sure that didn't happen again. Any Destroyer from 1980 onwards is distinctively different to the 70s Destroyers.
So, here it is. A "lawsuit" era Destroyer. Looking at it, I've a feeling this one saw more rock than indie action. The previous owner replaced the original Super 70s pick-ups with a Gibson Alnico T-Top at the neck and a high-output Dirty Fingers Ceramic PAF at the bridge. The Dirty Fingers PAFs were introduced into Gibson's own Explorers at the start of the 80s, a direct response to the wave of demand from thrashers and shredders. With a brass nut and industrial-grade strap locks, this is the guitar of an acrobatic axeman. And it shows. You might pay a small stack of cash to get a relic'd Destroyer. Or you might just pick this one up, distinctively and naturally road-worn. It's an icon, an absolute blast to play, with a staggeringly low action - and, finally, the perfect guitar to master that Mr Brightside riff that started The Killers off on the road to megastardom.
See & Hear It In Action
Mr Brightside, The Killers, Lollapalooza (2017): The song that started it all when Dave Keuning and Brandon Flowers first met in 2001, performed in one of Dave's last appearances with The Killers in 2017. The one constant - that 1976 Ibanez Destroyer.
Number of Frets
Sen (Japanese Ash)
Gibson T-Top & Dirty Fingers Humbuckers
Standard Stop Tailpiece
First up, the wood. Called the "Korina" Destroyer, that's a reference to the wood that Gibson used on those original 50s Explorers - and Ibanez went out of their way to create a damn good replica. But the body is actually made of Sen, a close relative to Japanese Ash. Either way, it's a beautifully grained piece of wood, with a depth enhanced by the woodstain and heavy lacquer finish.
This is no perfect original. A (or the) previous owner has gone to a lot of trouble to create the spec of early-80s Explorers. The star-etched Smooth Tuners have gone, replaced by mini-Schallers; the Super-70s pick-ups have been pushed aside by a coupling of 1980 Gibson T-Top and high-power Gibson Dirty Fingers PAT. NO. Humbuckers; and, even if not quite an Explorer spec, the original white plastic nut has been replaced with a brass nut - which, with those pick-ups, gives you sustain you can serve a prison sentence to.
All of which enhance rather than detract from the power and tone of this guitar. Even in clean mode, you can hear those Dirty Fingers growling for more.
More structurally, that previous owner was not a fan of the sharp front edge on the lower bout and has sanded it down. It's beautifully rounded, but there's no refinish to make it look planned, so it's now a very unique feature. And, dare I say it, it really does make for the smoother playing experience the owner was after.
From then on, it was high voltage rock and roll, always on the road. With which hard-rocking band, I don't know. The case has a small screen-print with the name "Sunrise" on it. The only near-contemporary band I've found with that name is 70s German sugar-poppers Sunrise . . . If it's them, then they must have cut one hell of a deal with the devil in the late 70s.
Roll forward to 2019 and a house-clearance in Germany, and this guitar turns up in a cupboard. In its original case, but not entirely happy having been locked away for who knows how long. So, we've given it some love - replacement screws and knob position markers, a fret dress, a good clean inside and out. And it's a beauty!
What we haven't done is refinished it. It's a road-worn guitar - and it's staying that way. If you love completely clean vintage guitars, then this one isn't for you. But if you want something with bite, experience, and the scars to show for it, look no further. Perfectly set up and a joy to play, it's no wonder Dave Keuning kept coming back to this one. Wonderful wonderful.
Sources & Links
The Destroyer Guy on the Ibanez 2459 Destroyer: Absolutely indebted to the fount of knowledge that is The Destroyer Guy for all the info about the 1976 Destroyer.
1976 Ibanez Catalogue: Some lovely archive material from Ibanez themselves, featuring the 2459 Destroyer as cover star. Scroll down through the catalogue, and it's not hard to see why Gibson might have some reason for taking issue ;-).
Eddie Van Halen's Destroyer: And how he turned it into The Shark. This one may have had its top edge sanded down, but it takes Eddie Van Halen to take a chainsaw to a guitar. It's in French, but the pictures tell the story.
Soundfly Gives The Lowdown On the Lawsuit Era Guitars: Which happily identifies this one as one of those lawsuit guitars. And a must-read if ever you're offered a "lawsuit" guitar.
Gibson's Dirty Fingers Pick-ups: "The critical union between power and dirt". Yep, that's it.