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The following Ibanez guitars were built for Steve Vai by Performance Guitar or at least using their parts. All were built before his Ibanez contract and announcement of the JEM guitars at Summer NAMM 1987. None were mass produced or resold to the public, except the Flame Guitar.

[After Vai's Guitars were stolen] he went out and bought a bunch of necks and a bunch of bodies at Performance Guitars and built four of his own in a week, just in time to make the tour. All the guitars have Floyd Rose tremolo systems recessed into the body to allow the strings to go sharp (a Vai trademark). He use DiMarzio pickups with the five-way switch setup and prefers D'Addario strings., .009 through .042. Of the four Performance guitars, one has a maple neck, one has a rosewood neck and two are mahogany. One is decorated with a blue and red dot spray motif, another is orange, one is splattered with pictures of naked ladies from vintage Playboys and another has excerpts from the Playboy comic strip "Annie Fanny." (GW - 3/87)

These ads ran in guitar mags from 1986-1987.​

Performance Custom

Performance Custom

Performance "Anny Fanny" Custom

Next is the "Annie Fanny Guitar", another Steve/Elwood original. The entire ax is covered with Annie Fanny cartoons from Playboy. The fingerboard is maple as well. According to Elwood, "Steve says that's the last maple neck he ever wants to use". (GW - 1/87)
Performance Stratocaster

Performance Guitar is a guitar shop in Hollywood, CA where Vai bought some custom guitars and parts. One of the earliest (if not the first) guitars Performance built for Vai was a Stratocaster clone. As you can see by the incomplete picture, this guitar was different from Vai's other guitars and future Performance Guitars. It had one volume and tone knob, with three humbuckers, but otherwise had a vintage strat type look. I couldn't resist keeping Vai's pic in with the guitar ;-> If you have better pics of this guitar please e-mail!

"The performance guitar has 3 humbuckers with split coils that go in and out of phase. I can't use that live because when I jump around I hit the five buttons unintentionally." - GFPM 3/86
The coil splitting would have been a great addition to the JEM lineup. Ibanez could have used a pull/push pot for the Volume & Tone knobs to avoid extra switches!

Performance "paint spotted" Guitar

This paint spotted guitar was one of Vai's earlier custom performance models. It has the large monkey grip and standard JEM features such as bolt-on neck, the hum-single-hum pickup configurations, including the pink ones. It has only 22 frets however. It is unknown at this time who built, painted and cut the grip in the guitar.

Two other similar axes are used as backups in case a string breaks, one white with different colored spots and another green. Both axes have rosewood fingerboards and the above-mentioned hardware. (GW 1/87)
Performance "Playboy" Guitar

As seen in the Vai Guitar Extravaganza TAB book. This is a pre-Ibanez guitar, built by Performance Guitars for him. I think you'll agree that it's backside is impressive! Included are pictures of Cathy Lee Crosby (3:00 position), Cathine Bach aka "Daisy Duke" (6:00) & Brooke Shields (11:00). Ted Mims submits: "the girl at the 5:00 position is Charlene Tilton from the show Dallas." If anyone knows the rest or who is in the picture with Jack Nicholson (3:00 by tremolo cavity) e-mail.

When the green Charvel is sick, Steve's choice has been the "Playboy guitar" which is one of four axes assembled by Elwood after Steve's gear was stolen. The bodies were built to Steve's specs by Performance Guitars: soloist-shaped, alder wood routed for two humbuckers, one single-coil and a recessed Floyd Rose. No pickguards are used, since the controls are loaded in the back side. The rest of the parts for these four axes came from Performance Guitars. The Playboy guitar has a rosewood fingerboard and the finish is actually covered with nude women from Playboy. (GW - 1/87)
"Flame" Guitar


owner - Worth Davis


Vai's Flame​

Picture - body closeup (owner - Larry Menshouse)
Picture - body closeup 2
Picture - rear body closeup
(owner - Larry Menshouse)
Picture - headstock
Picture - paperwork/sales catalog
Picture - Guitar World Buyer's Guide '87-88 entry
Picture - with Ibanez neck


As seen on DLR Going Crazy Video and the Eat Em & Smile Tour. Vai played one regularly prior to his Ibanez deal. This guitar is basically a strat shaped body cutout in the shape of a flame. Perhaps the coolest Vai guitar until the multicolor Universes appeared.

Here are the facts on this guitar. There were allegedly about 16-20 of these guitars made by Performance Guitars, two different ones are pictured above. Despagni designed the guitar and built them for Steve. According to sources, Performance Guitar bought the exclusive rights to use make a few of these flame guitars strictly to be sold overseas in Japan. All Performance Flames have the performance black headstock and "JEM" stenciled on the headstock. Apparently Despagni continued to make Flame guitars himself, often piecing them together from various RG necks and other shop leftovers. The exact count is unknown, but reportedly "Joe was pressing them out like crazy". Joe apparently modified the lower cutaway, which was very fragile. He made a few flame bass guitars too, one going to LI phenom Randy Coven.

Simon H. Garlick provides the following info on Vai's flame guitar: "Vai's Performance Flame was, last time I looked, hanging on the wall (at end furthest from the door) at the Honolulu Hard Rock Cafe. It has "You guys are too much - Steve Vai" written on it in black marker.

The custom flame-shaped guitar is used in alternate tuning - the low E is tuned to D. The body was sculptured from a Strat body by Performance Guitars. This ax is fitted with a maple fingerboard and one humbucker. Surely one of the most visual axes on the tour, this ax is a centerpiece in the band's second video, 'Goin' Crazy." A yellow Jackson soloist has recently been used in alternate tuning as the backup for the flame guitar. This is the only ax Steve has on the road that's equipped with a Kahler tremolo unit. (GW 1/87)
"I've also got a flame guitar that one of my best friends, Joe Dispagni, made me: it's good for a song here and there, but it's a little hard to play." (GP 10/86)
 
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