Maestro Alex Gregory
A heavy metal guitar hero, mandolinist, luthier, composer, and inventor, Gregory spent about a decade advocating electric mandolins with increasing fervor. 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—an entire 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 Schecter (there are still a few Schecter Celloblasters floating around) and then to the B. C. Rich Company, which explains why several of the early prototypes, including this one, resemble that company’s guitars. Gregory’s final design, however, was 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. Fewer than a hundred hand-built Pentasystem instruments were sold at boutique prices, although they occasionally crop up secondhand. Unfortunately, Pentasystem did not succeed financially, and Gregory eventually sold his design to another company that has done exactly nothing with it. A more affordable, mass-produced version was talked about for a while, but it's hard to say if it will ever see the light of day. Meanwhile Gregory continues his guitar exploits (a fella's gotta make a living), most recently with the classical-influenced Bach on Steroids. His flair for aggressive self-promotion hasn't exactly endeared him to some in the music world (which is a shame, since Alex is a genuinely nice guy and has the chops to back up the talk), but he did earn a spot—the only one given to a mandolin player—in the July 2008 Guitar World "50 Fastest Guitarists of All Time" feature, albeit in the "Where Are They Now?" section. (Silly question, really: he's on, that's where!)
     Gregory's recording 13 Jokes for Heavy Metal Mandolin shows off the capabilities of his instruments, as well as his prowess as a player. See the Reviews section for my writeup. For more information, visit Gregory's Web site and MySpace page.