Ever since the bizarre-looking Birdfish guitar was first shown at Frankfurt's Musikmesse in 1995, there's always been a certain buzz surrounding new releases from acclaimed German luthier Ulrich Teuffel. The recent Summer NAMM in Nashville played host to a new high-end, light gray version of the teardrop-like headless Tesla guitar - featuring three custom pickups with noise controls, aircraft grade aluminum hardware and pickup covers, control knobs and fingerboard made from exotic timber.
Teuffel has been designing and crafting guitars since 1984 and in 1988 he started his own company to bring his ideas and concepts to life. After studying industrial design at the University of Art & Design in Kassel, Germany in the early 1990's, he emerged with some novel ideas for guitar creation. The first "out there" concept made reality was the award-winning but frankly odd, yet instantly recognizable, Birdfish. Its tone has won fans in many famous names, including ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons and Metallica's Kirk Hammett.
The curvy Niwa was next in line, with a sunken groove for the pickups and bridge and a body shape that hugs the body. Then came the Tesla, which sports contact points and buttons on the body to dial in different sounds and was originally designed as a seven-string model, as the long body and punchy, low end tone is said to lend itself to a bottom B string. A six-string version was made at the request of customers.
The latest developments from Teuffel's workshop are high-end Prodigy versions of the classic guitars, differing from their older siblings in the choice of hardware and tonewoods.
"The Prodigy series are each one-of-a-kind models with high-selected timbers and spot colors which I don't offer in my standard series," says Teuffel. "The Prodigy series is not limited but I only really make a few of them per year."
The latest is the Tesla Prodigy - described as a combination of a studio and classic model. The instrument's body is shaped from red alder, and the through neck is either Birdseye or Flamed Maple with a fingerboard of selected exotic woods like macassar ebony or ciricote, which are also used to cover the pickups and controls.
"All the hardware parts except the tune-o-matic bridge is made by me," Teuffel told Gizmag. "The headless tuner is made from lightweight aircraft-grade aluminum with steel thread inserts. The leg rest and the solid jack plate are also made from aluminum. All screws such as pickup screws, jack plate screws, strap pin screws, and so on, go into metal thread inserts in the body. It's very rigid. The headless locking nut is made from hardened brass. The action of the compensated nut is adjustable."
Teuffel also makes the wood-covered pickup - including the bobbins, wiring and magnetizing. The bridge pickup is a hot humbucker, and both the mid and neck pickups are split coils - which are said to have a warmer tone than those used on the standard Tesla. This version also sports noise controls which are activated through a mic, a shortcut kill switch or a 60-cycle hum and can make for some very interesting sonic experimentation.
Teuffel told us that the first three models in the Tesla Prodigy series (including two currently sitting in his workshop) have been sold. Orders for new builds can be placed online or through selected dealers, at a cost of US$9,900 (including shipping, duties and taxes).