Introducing the Vertigo Twins

Most people quit a band and then sell the gear. Not me. The day after I left Fast Times, I found a rare bird on eBay and jumped.

First, a story. About two years ago Kat and I became enamored with the Fernandes Vertigo bass, and after some searching I found one on eBay. The Vertigo shape has been described by the Blue Book, not exactly in a complimentary tone, as having the look of an “art-deco coffee table.” They made it in guitar and bass, and while the bass was long ago discontinued, they still make the guitar today, albeit without the nice white boomerang pickguard that gives the thing its Jetsons vibe. Clearly, this is not an instrument for the squeamish.

Kat had sworn she saw one of these things in teal or green, but research told me that it came in three factory colors: black, sunburst, and silver. Believe it or not, despite having so many guitars and basses in the house, none are black — I think it’s a cliche and have actively avoided it. Sunburst is just as tired to me; I like a good blueburst, I like to see interesting gradients done in colors, but the old black-brown-orange-wood thing is as unimaginative as it gets. So I was happy when I found a Vertigo bass on eBay in silver — and it had already been upgraded with aftermarket pickups, tuners, knobs, and a BadAss II bridge. Score.

When it arrived, it had seen better days; there were a few nicks and cuts which had been hastily filled with what looked like automotive touch-up paint. Kat and I could not shake the idea of a teal or green Vertigo, so we said, hell, the thing’s damaged anyway, we could have it custom painted.

Enter Greg Philpott, who not only said he could paint it but would actually like to do so, and suggested Sherwood Green, a classic Fender finish from the 50s. I had seen some lovely Sherwood Strats over the years but they were all deep, dark green; the paint sample he showed me was much lighter. Turns out the 50s-era nitro-cellulose laquer makes them yellow as they age, and yellow plus light green makes dark green. Kat approved the lighter shade and in a few weeks we had a custom-painted, one-of-a-kind, non-factory-finish Vertigo Bass.

It should have ended there. But I always have a mental list of guitars to look out for, to grab if I ever saw a deal, and the Vertigo Standard guitar — the one with the cool pickguard, like the one on the bass — was one of them. They made it in a nuclear orange so that was the one that intrigued me most. Also, the bass guitars came with a flat white pickguard, but the guitars had a pearloid one, which I thought was pretty but almost unnecessary. What, did the guitar lack character?

The week before my last FT gig, I saw a listing go up on eBay: “Rare Sherwood Green Fernandes Vertigo Guitar.” You’re kidding me — a custom color from the Japanese factory, the same shade as the one we had made in a guy’s garage in California? Pull the other one. I could have a complete set of Vertigos! Kat and I on matching instruments, like those sad families you see on vacation!

The starting price was also very low — like $75. As you might expect, the Vertigo is such a specialized (notice I didn’t use the word “ugly”) shape that it doesn’t command a high price; what’s more, the main run of them had a painting defect that caused the finish to flake. Most serious collectors ignore them. If my guitar collection says anything, it says that I am not a “serious” collector in the way that other “serious” collectors are “serious.” (Read: None of my guitars are black.) Still, this is a fairly uncommon specimen — the Fernandes logo on the headstock is an older script style, and the witch-hat knobs also seem on the early side. The Vertigo was originally called the H-65 in Japan, so I figured that’s what I was looking at — and the only other one I could find in this finish was on an Aussie website for a lot more money. And if it’s really a custom color from the factory, that means it probably doesn’t have the paint defect that the others suffer from. The pickguard was flat white, not pearloid — another great match for the bass. Plus, check out those pickup covers — plain chrome, no screws! Awesome.

My last FT gig was Friday night. The auction ended Saturday afternoon. Five hours before it went off, Kat gave me a slightly weary permission — like “I have run out of reasons to say no.” I sniped it for well under $300 (plus a hell of a lot of shipping, but it came very well packed) and got it today.

There’s more damage than a listing saying “excellent condition” would suggest, and “a few dings” is not the truth of “the guitar’s awkwardly large rear wing has clearly been rammed into walls several times, so you can see the wood underneath through multiple gouges.” But the neck feels great, the frets are immaculate (very surprising considering the body damage and the age), and after a fretboard cleaning, a string change, the obligatory strap locks, and some mild adjustments to the action…well, it still probably needs to go to Greg to have all that stuff done right, but it’s definitely a keeper, and it sounds great through my little Marshall combo. Very full, very thick slabs of tone — there’s a lot of wood here! — and it’ll be a great rhythm guitar. I might even sacrifice one of my others to keep it.

I still don’t know what year it’s from, or if it’s really a factory custom color or just a limited run. No visible serial number, and the headstock logo is an older one than the bass. But it is Sherwood Green, it does look and feel right, and it’s a close enough color match that I’m a happy camper. And nobody will hurt it any more.

And yes, it really does look like that.

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