Randy Rhoads & his Polka Dot Flying V

An article on my favourite rock star guitar.

As I mentioned in my last article, I’m a big fan of Randy Rhoads. I think it’s a mixture of things… his songs, his riffs, his guitar solos, his look and most importantly, his cool as sh!t guitars. I love all his guitars. I think I like the fact that apart from his cream Les Paul Custom, he designed and got custom made his own designs. That in itself is cool, but those guitars happened to become some of the most iconic heavy metal designs ever. So, along with being one of the most cutting edge guitar players of the early 80′s, he also had awesome taste in guitar design.

A guitar that I came obsessed with early on was Randy’s Sandoval Polka Dot Flying V (I’ll call it the PDV from now on.). The image of Randy hoisting that guitar on the Tribute album cover slayed me and I thought it was one of the coolest rock images ever.

Also, I think it might be the graphic designer in me but I love it when a guitarist has a guitar that identifies them from other players… sort of like a brand. Zakk Wylde has his bullseye Les Paul’s, Van Halen has his pinstriped red Strat and Randy had a black and white polka dot flying V. I won’t go into the specifics of the design process as this has been mentioned hundreds of times on the internetz. (Here’s a great article) What I thought I’d do is go through the many replicas of this guitar that have been made by different guitar makers over the years since Randy’s death in 1982.

First up is the original maker. Karl Sandoval got back into making PDV’s a few years ago. While he IS the original maker of this guitar, in my opinion his guitar’s look a little too ‘butch’ due to the body shape being different from Randy’s. It’s especially the shoulders at the top, they’re too bulky, which makes the wings seem to splay out wider than Randy’s guitar. Also, the harpoon headstock points little rounder and less pointy. The guitar looks very well made, but for the price that these cost, I’d want them to be perfect. I’ve heard that Sandoval’s latest versions are closer to Randy’s, and that he’s dropped the price a bit.

Next up is a guitar I found in my net trawling. This is a one off custom from Charvel, complete with harpoon headstock featuring a gold Charvel logo. While it’s nowhere near being a close replica to the RR PDV, I like the custom shop/hot rod aspect to it. It’s got an 80′s Kahler, black pickups and the wrong knobs but I would play the hell out of this guitar. I think the main reason I like it is that it’s a one off, which is always a big tick for me with guitars.

I could imagine someone walking into Charvel in the 80′s, throwing down a wad of cash and saying “I want a guitar like Randy’s” and this is what they got. The intention by Charvel was there and I think they did a great job. Unlike Jackson in the 90′s… I have no idea what they were thinking with the following axe…

These custom shop PDV’s are just bizarre. For one thing the body’s are HUUUGE. Randy’s PDV has a svelte shape… this thing is a bruiser.

Next are the polka dots. Like the body, they’re way too big. The guitar is more white polka dot than black, which looks wrong. And then finally they used the regular Jackson headstock instead of the correct harpoon shape… polka dot of course.These guitars come up for sale for stupid money as they were very expensive when released and I have no idea who would pay that type of money for these. If you own one, my apologies….

Last year though, Jackson built another guitar which while not being a direct replica of the PDV, is a LOT cooler than their 90′s effort. This guitar is a mixture of the PDV and Randy’s white pinstripe Jackson Concorde V.

The graphics & neck inlay are from the Sandoval V, the body shape and the neck, knobs, pickup selector are from the white pinstripe Jackson V. All in all, it kind of works in a guitarnerd type of way.

Next up is GMW. This company is made up of ex-Jackson employees and they do some great work.  The body shape, dot size & placement and workmanship look pretty spot on. The price is pretty good too… I’ve seen them for around US$2,500.

I’ve heard great reviews about these guitars, and no endorsement comes bigger than ex- Ozzy axeman, Zakk Wylde, who owns two of these. One black & white (a gift from his kids) and a reverse white & black version.

Another maker who does a pretty spot on replica is Ormsby Guitars from Perth, Western Australia. Ormsby is a big Randy Rhoads fan, and he does small runs of the PDV for Randy fans. Again, the workmanship looks great and the shape and vibe looks spot on. If anything, the workmanship on these and the GMW might be a little TOO good compared the Randy’s original! The ebony fretboard and pearl inlays are a big step above the Danelectro-based neck on the original Sandoval PDV.

Ormsby also make customised versions with updates for todays metal players. You know… EMG’s, Floyd Rose etc.

One guitar maker who is making a bit of a splash in the Rhoads fanbase is a one man guitar company called Jackal Guitars. He makes perfect copies of all 3 of Randy’s Flying V’s, among other designs. His prices look pretty good too, but being a one man operation, there’s a bit of a waiting list.

Next in line are these cheap-er PDV copies that have been coming up on eBay lately. They look not too bad, and the price is great… $700 or so. The bowtie inlays are too small though, but the body shape looks pretty good.

You can tell these guitars a mile away as the truss rod is adjusted from the head, unlike the original PDV. Unfortunately I’ve seen a few of these going for several thousand dollars on eBay as people try to pass them off as custom made guitars, not the Chinese made guitars they really are. If you see a headstock with this routing behind the nut, be wary and ask questions. For the right price, these are great options for the Randy Rhoads fan on a budget.

Last but not least is the Fernandes PDV, which I’ve talked about numerous times. In my opinion… and I’m heavily biased as I’ve owned one for 18 years, these are as close to the original as you can get. Here’s my polka dot V and my matching polka dot cat, Bandit.

They are actually a little awkward to play… the frets are small, the guitar strap pegs are in weird spots so the guitar hangs funny, the pickup selector is so far away that you can forget changing pickups on the fly mid song. But it sounds amazing. It has THAT sound. If you an find one of these, you won’t be sorry. If not, well as I’ve mentioned, there are a number of talented guitar makers out there making beautiful replicas of this iconic guitar.

Here’s Randy cutting loose with his PDV on ‘Mr. Crowley’. Sit back, crank the volume and enjoy the epicness.