Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher Reveals Why He Isn’t a Fan of Gibson SG and Flying V Guitars

Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher pointed out one important reason why he isn’t all that into Gibson’s classic SG and Flying V models.

For a while now, Kelliher has been known as one of the ESP artists, namely for his Sparrowhawk signature guitar. Recently, the company also came out with a commercially available version of his solid-body double-cut guitar, which takes a lot of inspiration from Yamaha SG models, which he has also used over the years.

However, as Bill told Guitar World in a recently published interview segment, he simply couldn’t get into the regular Gibson SG, as well as the Gibson Flying V, simply because they’re too light. The talk came up while he was chatting about his new ESP double-cut, based on his custom-made First Act Custom, and how this new collaboration came to be.

“I sent them the guitar, and they sent it to Japan to have all the specs mapped out, aside from the original nine strings,” he explained. As he mentioned, the original instrument comes with nine strings but with three string courses. It’s very similar to what High on Fire’s Matt Pike has.

“They basically made an exact copy of it, and I love it,” Kelliher continued. “It’s heavy, thick, and unique. It feels great, and the neck is incredible.” 

Speaking of weight and thickness, Mastodon axeman finds this to be one of the crucial features. He added:

“And it’s heavy, but that’s okay because the weight of a guitar is very important to me. The thicker, the better.”

Of course, this is something out of the ordinary for guitar players as most people prefer lighter instruments. But as far as Bill’s concerned, he can’t stand it if he can’t properly feel that instrument’s weight.

“I don’t trust a light guitar,” Kelliher replied when asked why he prefers this approach. “Well, I shouldn’t say I don’t trust it — it’s more that I like a guitar that feels solid. I know I’m getting older, and running around the stage with such heavy guitars isn’t great for my back and shoulders, but I like ’em heavy.”

As you may know, Bill still has some Gibsons in his collection. However, these are your usual Les Pauls in different variants. As he further added, he did try SGs and Flying Vs, but that simply didn’t feel right to him. He concluded by saying:

“I tried SGs and Flying Vs, and they might look cool and sound good, but it’s like playing a piece of Styrofoam.”

Bill Kelliher (Mastodon) - Guitar tones for ToneHub & Kemper

Some years ago, Kelliher was closely associated with Gibson guitars. However, in 2016, he officially joined ESP’s ranks. Since then, he’s been very open about how dissatisfied he was with his Gibson collaboration.

“It was a lot of reasons,” Kelliher told Ultimate Guitar back in 2017 when asked why he left Gibson. “I never really felt like I was accepted at Gibson. The communication over there is terrible.”

And that wasn’t the only thing. He continued:

“They kept fucking up my guitars that I was asking for. I didn’t ask for a lot — I just had a few certain things that I would like with my guitar — I told them I didn’t want it chambered and they made my second guitar chambered.”

Bill Kelliher (Mastodon) - Sultans Curse playthrough for ToneHub

“All the guys I worked with over there — the A&R guys were getting fired left and right and the company just seemed to be falling apart to me. There were new guys who would come in and they didn’t know sh*t.”

Reflecting on his switch to ESP, Kelliher added:

“It was a breath of fresh air working with ESP. They were interested and would ask me what gauge strings I played and what tunings I play. Gibson never cared about any of that stuff.”

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Bill had a few signature guitars with the company. However, as he added, he wasn’t exactly thrilled with what they sold to the public, adding:

“Kids would get my guitar in the mail and ask me how to tune it because it wasn’t tuned and then I would tell them how to tune it and they would say it still doesn’t sound right and it’s because they’re not putting my gauge strings on there.”

“They weren’t even tuning the guitars to my settings or specifications – just little things like that. Things that make the guitar a Bill Kelliher model, like put it in my tuning so that when it shows up, it’s different.”

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“ESP wanted to know all that stuff. They’re just friendly and nice, and they’re interested in me and my band and what they can do for me rather than this company.”

Nonetheless, Bill can still be seen holding some Gibson guitars in his hands, like his Les Paul Customs.

Photos: Alfred Nitsch (20170615-116-Nova Rock 2017-Mastodon-Bill Kelliher), Freebird (2014 Gibson SG Standard Walnut (16342692114))


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.