Sky Guitar

The major element which has allowed Uli Jon Roth to pursue his unique blend of classical and rock music is the Sky Guitar.

Uli Jon Roth has had five Sky guitars constructed by a British luthier Andreas Demetriou. To be able to emulate the high notes of a violin, all of the Sky Guitars contain extra frets. The first Sky Guitar (used on the album Beyond the Astral Skies) has 30 frets. Later versions of the Sky Guitar overcame the problem of the higher register frets becoming too narrow by widening the frets by whole steps for the highest notes. The guitars named Mighty Wing and Destiny each have 7 strings while the first three have 6 strings. The 7th string is a low B string. The September 2000 issue of Young Guitar magazine shows five different Sky Guitars: Sky I, Sky II "Purple", Sky III "Emperor", Sky IV "Mighty Wing", and Sky V "Destiny".

Here is what Uli had to say about his Sky Guitar: "Back when I was with the Scorpions, a guitar builder in Brighton offered to make me my own guitar any way I would like, and I thought, 'What a concept!'. I questioned everything that had come before and tried to improve on it. I wanted more range, so I came up with a body shaped like a teardrop, but it wasn't visually appealing, so I added an S shape to the teardrop to give it more balance. I had the builder put as many frets on the neck as he possibly could. On my current Sky guitar, the frets above the 24th fret are placed in whole tones because it is too difficult to play above there with the frets placed so closely together. I didn't want to lose the warm sound of the neck pickup, so we mounted the pickup under the fretboard," he continues. That actually worked and sounded good. My pickups (Mega-Wing) are made by John Oram, who figured out how to make a pickup that provides full-sounding tone and great sustain in the guitar's highest range. The next step was to add more range in the bass end, so I came up with the idea of a seven-string guitar."

Excerpt from the April 2001 issue of Guitar Player magazine:

"There are five Sky guitars in existence, — three 6-strings and two 7-strings," Uli Jon Roth says. "The 7-strings have a low B and a range of over five-and-a-half octaves. When you have more than 30 frets, it gets very awkward to play in the upper register because the frets are so close together. So one of my guitars is actually fretless at the top. On another, I space the frets out in whole-tone increments. I can still get the half-steps, but I have to jump over to another string to get them. The fretboards are scalloped — which is something I never did to my Strats back in the Scorpions. It's still a hindrance for playing rhythm, but I definitely prefer a scalloped neck for single-note work — it gives me much more control over the notes."

The pickups in the Sky guitars were made by John Oram, who designed the Trident mixing board. In fact, it was the EQ on those boards that got Roth interested in collaborating with Oram. "He offered to design the ultimate pickup for me", says Roth. "We call it the Megawing and it has four coils. It has incredible output, but cleans up beautifully. I can switch it from humbucking to single-coil, and change the output and EQ. This gives me complete control over the amp from the guitar. I even have one of the pickups mounted under the fretboard at the 24th fret. These are unique instruments. I still love my Strats, but I don't play them as lead instruments anymore."

In the Fair Warning video Burning Heart, it appears that guitarist Helge Engelke is using the third Sky Guitar, "Emperor" (take note of the star on the head stock and the paint on the body). A more recent video displays the current guitars Helge used for his album Aura, but the Sky Guitar is not among the shown guitars. However, there is a "melted" guitar which has a greater number of frets and the fredboard appears to be scalloped, similar to the Sky Guitar. [Side note: Uli has worked with several of the members of Fair Warning: Ule Ritgen, Tommy Heart, and Helge Engelke.

In 2004, 50 specially made Sky Guitars were designed by 17th Street Guitars, each created under the specifications and watch of Uli himself.

At the 2010 NAMM conference, Dean Guitars USA announced their Signature Artist model of the Sky Guitar, modeled after the Sky Guitar "Mighty Wing". The Dean Guitars website has a page dedicated to the limited line of 50 Sky Guitars they are producing.

In a March 2011 concert, Uli is using a new, white Sky guitar which has six strings and a star logo on the body of the guitar. The Get Ready To Roll website has several pictures of the Dean-manufactured Sky Guitars, including a white one.

For additional information, go to the official Sky Guitar page.