STEVE VAI On Return Of His 'Swiss Cheese' Guitar After 36 Years: 'I Thought It Was Gone'

February 6, 2023

Steve Vai has commented on his recent reunion with his "Swiss cheese" guitar, which was stolen from a California rehearsal space in 1986.

The guitar, which was originally used in the video for David Lee Roth's "Yankee Rose", and was due to be taken out on tour that summer, was returned to the guitarist after being discovered in an attic in Tijuana, Mexico.

Speaking to Radio Forrest in a new interview, Vai said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "That guitar was stolen from me 36 and a half years ago, and I thought it was gone. It was made for me by my best friend at the time, Joe Despagni. He'd make all these wacky guitars for me, and he made the Swiss cheese guitar, which is totally unique. And it was stolen during rehearsals with Dave Roth. And I had used it in the 'Yankee Rose' video and I was planning on taking it on tour, putting it through the gauntlet. And it was gone. And 36 and a half years later, it [resurfaces]. And it was this young kid, 21-year-old kid, that discovered it in the attic of his grandparents' house in Tijuana, Mexico, and it was as it was never even opened. And he somehow recognized it and returned it to me."

Vai originally revealed the return of the "Swiss cheese" guitar in a social media post a month ago. At the time, he shared a photo of him with the guitar, and he included the following message: "Reunited, and it feels so good. Oddly enough, after going missing 36 and a half years ago, my custom Joe Despagni 'Swiss Cheese' guitar was finally returned to me. This guitar was custom built for me by Joe Despagni. Joe was my best friend in life growing up and he made me some of the wildest guitars I ever laid my fingers on such as the Flame guitar, the Lightning Bolt, this Swiss Cheese guitar, ZNG ZNG, and his final piece that he made for me before he passed away, Theadolite. He worked with his brother Rob on many of these guitars.

"I used 'Swiss Cheese' in the original 'Yankee Rose' video while I was with David Lee Roth, and stretched it out in rehearsals and was planning on touring with it, but this guitar, along with 3 others, was stolen in Pasadena CA at Perkins Palace during rehearsals for the 'Eat 'Em And Smile' tour. It is officially the first guitar to receive a 'monkey' grip handle, and the first one Joe made with a handle at my request.

"The guitar was discovered by young Iván Gonzáles Acosta in the attic of his grandparents home in Tijuana, Mexico not too long ago. It seems the people that lived in his grandparents house before them purchased the guitar somewhere along the way and it was just stuck in the attic only to be discovered recently when they were reorganizing things.

"When Ivan discovered this guitar, he posted some images online and they came on the trusty radar of our very own Mike Mesker. Mike is THE authority on the history and specifics of all my guitars. Mike started reaching out to Ivan and after some time he was able to arrange a drop off where Ivan was met by Mike, Doug MacArthur and myself. Thanks to Mike for his solid vigilance in bringing this guitar home.

"The condition of the guitar when I saw it was a shocker. It's as if it was put in the case and never played for 36 years. The colors are still vibrant and the neck is in great shape.

"Thank you Ivan for your kind consideration and for reuniting me with this piece of my history. Receiving this guitar feels like an old friend has returned home after so many years to jam with me. I believe that we will make a wonderful Ham and Swiss sandwich together."

Vai spent several years as the guitarist in Roth's post-VAN HALEN solo band, alongside former TALAS bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette.

Vai played with Roth on his 1986 album "Eat 'Em And Smile" as well as its 1988 follow-up, "Skyscraper".

"Eat 'Em And Smile" was the first of two Roth albums to feature the duo of Vai and Billy Sheehan on guitar and bass. Throughout the LP, the two would often sync complicated bass lines together with the lead guitar parts, as on tracks such as "Shyboy" and "Elephant Gun".

Reunited, and it feels so good. Oddly enough, after going missing 36 and a half years ago, my custom Joe Despagni “Swiss...

Posted by Steve Vai on Saturday, January 14, 2023

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