Peter Mengede’s Honeyburst Les Paul


Last year I got the opportunity to jam with Peter Mengede from Helmet/Handsome, who now lives in Brisbane. While that was great, the best was seeing him play THE Les Paul that recorded all those great early Helmet riffs which I spent hours trying to master years ago. Here’s the story of that guitar from Peter himself…

“I  landed at New York’s LaGuardia Airport in Late February 1986 with a thin swathe of traveller’s cheques, a suitcase, and a 1972 Stratocaster. Within three weeks the cheques were gone.  My visa expired while I camped on a couch on Seventh Street couch in Alphabet City between Avenues Crime and Death, auditioning for as many bands as I could find in the Village Voice. By October I was married and by December I’d sold my strat to We Buy Guitars on 48th Street for $275 so we could afford to eat.”

“Eventually things started to improve.  I started working for Dutch East India Distribution carpooling daily with Homestead Records Gerard Cosloy (now of Matador Records). My wife Reyne landed an editing job at Rockpool magazine steering writing jobs my way and opening up the then underground world of college music. Sister era Sonic Youth, Big Black, Head of David, Soul Asylum, the Pixies at CBGBs in front of a handful of Boston ex-pats, the Bad Seeds with Blixa (playing a shopping trolley if I remember correctly?), Jesus and Mary Chain, Godfathers, Alien Sex Fiend, Specimen, Gay Bikers on Acid, Scraping Foetus off the Wheel, Cop Shoot Cop, The Triffids, the GoBetweens circa 16 Lover’s Lane, Public Enemy, were just a few of the bands we saw (and many of whom we interviewed).”

“In August 1987, Reyne bought my birthday present from Doug At Down Home Music Waterville Maine, a 1978 Honeyburst Les Paul Standard (or so I thought at the time) costing $500, with the thinnest most comfortable neck I’ve ever come across, original PAFs and (oddly) Deluxe tuners, frets worn down to the fretboard, which must have been something metal guitarists were fond of doing as I bought two similarly affected Les Pauls years afterwards, and a “Custom” truss rod cover.”



“The next year, Reyne introduced me to Page Hamilton, who was playing in the Band of Susans at the time and harboured ambitions of forming his own band. She paid for the Village Voice ad that found John Stanier. A couple of months and another Voice ad later Henry Bogdan joined after blowing the bass cabinet in the rehearsal room cabinet playing I Wanna be Your Dog.”

“Fellow Brisbanite David Baillie, in New York playing in the Rattlers with Joey Ramone’s brother, kindly lent me his half stack, purchased from Colin James Hay of Men at Work, until I could afford my own gear. I bought a tweed-grilled 50 Watt JCM 800 for $400 from Manny’s on 48th street, a tweed greenback slant cab from Dr Sound in Soho, and a tweed bottom cabinet from a music store in Tampa for $300 (which is still the best sounding cabinet I’ve ever heard). This set up, with a cheap Yamaha GEP 50 rack unit set to heavy metal into the Marshall’s low input, became part of the Helmet sound through Meantime. Page was using a JTM 45 through a couple of 4×10 cabinets, aGEP50 and a Digitech rack, and Henry a Mesa Boogie 400 head through a 2×15 cabinet. Helmet was off and running. Gerard Cosloy (Homestead, Matador) described Helmet as “Berklee grads with Big Black albums.”


“Over the next few years the Honeyburst played on our Strap it On, Meantime, Peel Sessions, various Am Rep, Glitter House and Sub Pop singles, most of which appear on the Born Annoying compilation.”


“She toured the U.S. college circuit in the back of a Ford transit van with a disconnected odometer, each of us taking turns to sleep with the gear each night as Creature Booking’s upside down itineraries sent us traipsing through the wilting heat of the American South in summer and skating through the cryogenic cold of Canadian winters and bundled onto European flights where she’d emerge on a conveyor belt on the other side of the Atlantic.”


“A major label deal, equipment budgets, and a Gibson sponsorship saw the Honeyburst spend more time on the sidelines as I moved to a 40th Anniversary les Paul with a Bill Lawrence pickup. Nonetheless, she survived an accident that saw our guitar tech airlifted to hospital in Virginia, John, and our drum tech end up in a Carolina hospital, and our truck roof opened like a sardine can, strewn guitars and amps salvaged from the Interstate by a tow truck driver, which we collected from a flatbed on his farm days later.”

“Helmet and I parted ways in 1993. The Honeyburst made a comeback while auditioning musicians and writing songs for Handsome as most of my stage gear sat gathering dust in the Helmet rehearsal room (awaiting the outcome of a protracted jurisdictional decision regarding fiduciary duty under New York State law).”


“Over the next couple of years the Honeyburst took over main guitar duties as Handsome worked through hundreds of singers. One evening I left her at John Easely’s (formerly of Boston’s Trouble) after workshopping melodies confident that we’d pick up again a couple days later. That night the band called to let me know that they’d decided John wasn’t working out and that it was my job to tell him.  I called John and let him know. When I stopped by to pick up my guitar a few days later I found her headstock broken off, splintered above the neck. I arranged the cheapest repair possible as that was all I could afford. Not long afterwards, John moved to Atlanta where, unfortunately, he died.”


“I lost another guitar to another singer Shadow Rollins from Harrisburgh P.A. who was with us for a brief spell. Reyne paid for him to commute to New York where he’d stay at my place in Brooklyn between rehearsals.  I lent him a Les Paul Junior reissue which he took back to Harrisburgh as a loaner. Once again, when I called to tell him that the band had decided to move on that was the last I saw of my Junior, which he claimed he smashed. I probably should have waited.”

“We played an early show at The Bank on Houston Street in 1994 with Shadow singing, our then estranged bass player in the audience giving us the finger through our twenty minute set. Afterwards we loaded back into our rehearsal space in the basement on Mott Street in Little Italy just down the hall from Helmet’s room, and went home for the night. Sometime that evening the lock was cut from the door with a pair of bolt cutters.  The Honeyburst, my 1985 Fire Engine Red Custom and my beloved tweed-grilled JCM 800 50 watt head were gone (if you think you’ve seen either get in touch and I’ll send the serial numbers). Little else was taken from the room. I filed a police report with the China Town Precinct station and began almost daily visits to every guitar store in Manhattan from Manny’s and Sam Ash on 48th through Rogue on 30th, Chelsea on 23rd down to Dr Sound on Wooster Street distributing serial numbers, descriptions, pinning stolen gear notices.”

“One afternoon months later, I met Reyne at her office at Jive records on 25th and went for walk along 23rd past Chelsea Guitars where I just about had aneurism when I saw my Honeyburst in the window.”

“I had a word with Dan from Chelsea Guitars who said that a guy had bought it at the Blue and Gold Polish bar in the East Village and that it would have to go into evidence where it may sit for years if I pressed charges. I elected not to lose her again and in doing so lost the lead to my JCM and Custom. According to Dan she was an unusual guitar. Not a 78 but a 1971 Deluxe routed for PAFs by the Custom shop.”


“I found out years later that the person behind the theft was closer than I thought.”

“In time Handsome signed with Epic triggering an equipment-budget spending spree with each of us trying to spend our share before the others did; except for our singer who we allowed to buy a microphone, or maybe two.   The Honeyburst stepped aside and made way for Standards and Teles with Seymour Duncan JBs and hot-rails, the JCM to VHT power amps with Bradshaw and JMP1 preamps.”

“After September 11, she made her across the United States one last time on a freight train before a stevedore’s crane winched her and a container full of gear onto the back of a freighter which steamed across the Pacific towards Brisbane customs.”

“When I started to come to after four years of hibernating at University, John and company at the Guitar Repairers fixed the headstock break and re-fretted her (only then did I realise why it’d been so hard to solo for all those years).”

“These days, at 38 years of age she semi-retired, as I wish I was, with younger siblings that can go out and work. Whenever I pick her up I find it impossible not to think of Reyne, who died of breast Cancer in 2002, and the lives that we lived on a small island in North America a lifetime ago, and for that reason alone she’ll always be irreplaceable.”


Check out Peter’s new band Kunst here…

Here’s Peter & his Les Paul in action with Helmet…

..and here’s the Handsome video to ‘Needles’.