Changing the tools of rock history is a brave and bold challenge, but when the results look this good, we won’t blame you for throwing your vintage Gibson Les Paul onto a violent furnace. Fourth generation inventor Ulrick Teuffel has challenged the manner in which the guitar is designed, radically altering the look and function of the traditional axe, with a hand-crafted 500 run constructed by Teuffell’s own hands in his personal workshop.
“My great-grandfather was an engineer, my grandfather was an engineer, my father is an engineer, my second grandfather was a cabinetmaker, my uncle is a cabinetmaker, my granduncle was a painter, so what can I say: becoming an accountant has never been my ambition. An inventor is a bit more my style.” Teuffel admits.
And good job he isn’t number crunching, because the Birdfish is not only the winner of three design awards, but quite simply a work of art. The guitar was first presented in 1995 at the Frankfurt MusikMesse, and since then the guitar has become respected and revered among rock’s glitterati as well as being exhibited in a number of museums. ZZ Top’s lead guitarist Billy Gibbons is an advocate of the new age chopper, while composer Hans Zimmer is also a known admirer. The inventor explains the concept as being totally unique.
“My original idea was to build a guitar which is constructed so that the fundamental elements, the tonewoods and the pickups, are put together in a modular fashion. This design not only allows unlimited tonal possibilities, but also results in a very lively and percussive tone.”
The body is constructed of the two tonebars which are bolted on both central elements, “bird” and “fish”. The neck is screwed onto “bird” while the lower “fish” carries the control box in which you find the guitar electronics.
A rail between “bird” and “fish” holds the slideable pickups, and even all the hardware parts down to the screws are handmade in Teuffels studio. All three pickups can be exchanged with each other within seconds. The attention to detail moves to another strata with the bag for the Birdfish being hand-sewn in Germany and made from Water-Buffalo leather.
Teuffel explains the complexities of the design process and the developments since it was first launched.
“The main elements, bird and fish, are made of aluminium. This material has the property of transferring vibrations without adding coloration. What you hear with the Birdfish is the tone of the neck and the tone bars.
“With the first generation of the Birdfish in 1995, aluminium was cast in a sandbox. Starting in 1996 ceramic forms were used. Currently I use a high-alloy aluminium that cannot be cast. Therefore, both sculptures are now carved from a solid block of aluminium. Subsequently they are sanded and buffed to a high gloss. Now comes the most demanding part: first a layer of nickel is applied, then copper. In between these steps, the forms are polished. On top of that goes a layer of nickel and then chrome. Finally, they are polished to a high gloss finish.
“It is quite a bit of work, as you can imagine. Until recently, a German auto-maker used this same process to produce car doors, but stopped because it became too cost-intensive. Now they paint the aluminium parts with a transparent finish. New it looks good, but the shine reminds me of those cheap lamps that you can buy at home improvement stores.
“Incidentally, not only the bird and fish are galvanised, but so are all of the other aluminium parts: the knobs, the control box, the tuners, the string clamp, and the pickup mounts.”
For the collector, a Teuffel guitar is a must-have, with the inventor also producing three other guitars in his range. But for us the Birdfish is the stand-out beauty, available in 5 colours – apricot, fire, sapphire, olive and charcoal. If you are interested, prices start at €9, 500, but due to it’s handcrafted construction, production time, and limited run, it depends what Teuffel has in stock.