Maestro Alex Gregory
A guitarist, mandolinist, luthier, composer, and inventor, Gregory has been advocating electric mandolins with increasing fervor over the past decade. The cover of his 1991 Paganini's Last Stand CD shows him holding an electric mandolin while—ahem—watering the flowers on the graves of Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen. And that was just the beginning.
     That first e-mando was an old Fender "Mandocaster" that had formerly belonged to Sam Bush. Gregory reports that during the early ‘90s he found himself becoming more and more fascinated with this instrument, and less and less enamored of the guitar. Already a patent holder for a 7-string electric guitar design, he turned to designing his own mandolins, the first of which was similar to the Mandocaster. Then he produced the Explorer-style mandolin pictured here, as well as a similar mandola, octave mandolin, and mandocello (they were built as one-offs by the Gibson Company).
     Not satisfied with that achievement, Gregory next designed the Pentasystem—a set of 5-string instruments, ranging from bass to mandolin, tuned in fifths. He insists that fifths are the only way to optimize the intonation of stringed instruments—and I'm sure most mandolinists would agree. Pentasystem was briefly licensed to the B. C. Rich Company—that deal was called off long ago, but it explains why several of the early prototypes, including this one, resemble that company’s guitars. Gregory’s current design, however, is clearly inspired by the classic Fender look.
     I've tried several Pentasystem instruments, and you can mark me down as a believer. I haven't seen anything else quite like them. Read my review for details. Limited numbers of hand-built Pentasystem instruments are currently for sale at custom-shop prices. The prospects look good for a more affordable, mass-produced version, but it's hard to say how long we'll have to wait. Billy Corgan of the late lamented Smashing Pumpkins is among the players who have already embraced Pentasystem, and there will be others.
     Gregory has two recent recording projects: Another Millennium? and 12 Jokes for Heavy Metal Mandolin, both of which are now available—see the Reviews section for my writeups. For details, check out Gregory's
Web site, as well as the Pentasystem site.