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"Once I Started I Never Stopped!”: Rory Lawford's Guitar Menagerie

Updated: May 13, 2023

By Aidan Orison & Will Yannacoulias

For over thirty years, performing live music has been Rory Lawford’s passion. Whether as a solo artist, with his former band Riff Raff or his current project Powerslave, Lawford’s brand of melodic, hard hitting classic rock and heavy metal has long been a regular fixture of the Saskatoon night life. Lawford’s live shows are a guitar-geek’s dream come true, where he showcases his stable of top shelf vintage and collectible instruments, all heavily modified and personalized. NSMZ joined Lawford at home to chat with him about his debut solo EP and share the stories behind his personal favourite instruments.

October 29th saw Lawford release Midlife Crisis, a five song offering of galloping guitar riffs, screaming solos and the operatic vocal style of the most colourful characters of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Self produced in Lawford’s home studio, the epic scale of the songs faithfully captures the fist-pumping energy of his fiery live sets. As we sat in the studio listening to the masters of Midlife Crisis, Lawford introduced the guitars that made the album, kept him company on the road for many years, and a couple oddball instruments too fun to forget.

Fender Stratocaster Standard “I got this guitar when I was only 14, it’ll always be my absolute #1. If I could only save one guitar, that would be it. It was made in Japan in 1984, the neck is unlike any other Strat I’ve ever played. It feels more like a Charvel or a Jackson, it’s very thin and flat and it has 22 frets; in the 80’s no American Fenders had 22 frets, they all had 21. I wanted to attempt making this stock Strat into a Dave Murray (Iron Maiden) Strat. Back then, access to aftermarket parts in Saskatoon was kinda limited so I went with what was available locally when I customized it. Music Box on Broadway was the big music store in Saskatoon at the time, the tech there Greg put in the Floyd Rose bridge and the bridge pickup. That pickup is a Fury ZP20 made in Saskatoon which I love, it sounds like a slightly hotter DiMarzio Super Distortion. The neck pickup is a DiMarzio, we did it ourselves on the road in a drunken stupor. I met a dude in another band who gave me that pickup and we used a cheap shitty Rambo knife to carve out the wood. That guitar has been thrown out of a third floor window, run over by our bus, swung around over my head and thrown across a bar, cigarette burns all over the headstock. It’s toured around the country, it cannot be killed. I retired from playing music in the early 90’s and got rid of all my guitars, the Strat was the only one I kept. When I started back playing again in the end of the 90’s that was the only guitar I had for a few years. It took a while before I decided to start buying guitars again, but once I started I never stopped!”

The Iron Maiden Guitars “These are both Jackson Adrian Smith Signature series. Adrian signed the tremolo cover and the case. My wife bought it (black pickguard maple neck) as a gift for me at a big guitar show. She’d bought me the other one (white pickguard) a few years earlier as a Christmas present. That one is stock, but I replaced the pickup in the neck on the other one (black guard) with a Hot Rails, the single coils are very low output and I wanted something a little hotter in the neck for solos. I like playing that guitar a lot, it’s probably my second favourite playing guitar I own.

The middle guitar was my cheap, crude attempt to mimic Dave Murray’s guitar cosmetically, for as little money as possible, while learning stuff like installing necks, levelling and crowning frets, installing a nut etc. The body is from a $99 guitar and amp package my late father bought my son when he was very little. The neck, nut, tuners, bridge, electronics and everything else were the cheapest bits I could find on Amazon. I figured at worst, I'd have a cool wall hanger to go with my other Iron Maiden guitars, and if I did a good enough job, I'd actually have something playable. Turns out it's just a wall hanger, but I did learn a lot.”

Bretton Love Wedding Guitar “This is the one I had hand made in Saskatoon by Bretton Love right after he had finished the luthier program. His parents are old family friends of my wife and he wanted to build me a guitar. My wife and I were married in Hawaii, and Koa wood only grows in Hawaii, so we had it inlaid in our wedding rings and I also chose it for the guitar. Koa is considered an excellent tone wood, this guitar body is solid koa, top back and sides. We bought the wood online, spec’d out the exact pieces we wanted. There’s a koa veneer on the headstock, the fretboard is ebony. The inlay is of the first tattoo my wife ever got, I reproduced it in a drawing and gave it to him to inlay on the neck. The body shape is half Gibson Jumbo, into a Taylor Grand Auditorium, which was really hard to find a case for! It’s absolutely one of a kind unique.”

Epiphone Les Paul Custom 3-Plus “This is kind of a cross between an Ace Frehley and a Peter Frampton. In 2004 Gibson and Epiphone both did a guitar of the month promotion where they released a unique spec guitar that was only made for one month. This one was originally all blacked out; black hardware, pickup rings, knobs, everything. I swapped it out because I’m not a fan of black fittings on a Les Paul. The middle pickup is stock, but I put a Seymour Duncan JB in the bridge and a Seymour Duncan ’59 in the neck. I love Epiphone Les Pauls, I own two others and I actually play them way more often than my Gibson. I love the neck, the carve is nice and the finish is thinner so you can feel the wood grain, it’s like holding an old gun stock. My Gibson Les Paul is a Traditional so it’s not weight relieved, it weighs about a million pounds, so the Epiphone is much more comfortable. This guitar was used on 95% of Midlife Crisis, I did a few overdubs with the Gibson and of course used the acoustic for the acoustic parts.”

Gibson Les Paul Traditional "The Gibson Les Paul is the same guitar I used for the cover of the EP. I went into Long & McQuade just to buy a set of strings, but had a yen to buy another Epiphone Les Paul, so I brought my wife along to keep me from splurging. As we waited at the checkout to buy my strings I said, ‘we have to get out of here quickly before I do something crazy like buy a Les Paul’. The sales guy overheard me and said ‘hey you have to check out this Les Paul we just brought in on trade!’ and brought the Gibson out of the back. I said 'it's very beautiful but I can’t afford that, I was joking about buying an Epiphone (which is much lower priced)- not a Gibson'. Then he showed us the price tag and my wife looked at me and said 'For that price, you're an idiot if you DON’T buy it'. So I did.”

Epiphone Goth ‘58 Flying-V "The Epiphone V was my first ever eBay purchase. I didn't know what eBay was all about, went on for the first time and of course looked at guitars. I saw that Goth V (which was all stock, all black hardware and everything) and just for fun bid on it, assuming I'd be outbid because I put on such a lowball. To my surprise, I won the auction and had to buy the thing! Once I had it, I went through the process of customizing it to give it a more vintage vibe, the black on black vibe wasn’t really what I wanted. I prefer a more traditional look- although I must admit putting in the Zakk Wylde EMG pickup set wasn't very traditional. At that time I only had one guitar, my Fender Strat, so this Flying V was kind of the start of my guitar hoarding habit.”

Rory and his guitars can be heard on the Midlife Crisis EP, which is available on all streaming services now. Rory will be performing a solo set at Cask 82 in Moose Jaw March 18 & 19.

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