Peter Mengede’s ‘Helmet’ Les Paul Anniversary

Peter’s guitarnerd article about his beautiful 70’s honeyburst Les Paul was so good, I asked him if he could write more about his other guitars and his times in Helmet. Read on… it’s awesome.

When writing this, I began to realise that this guitar plays an  incidental part in another story altogether. One about the long term  effects of spur of the moment decisions.

The first time I saw my 40th Anniversary she was hanging on the wall of  the Gibson show room high above Broadway. I’d signed a Gibson endorsement deal  and  was picking out a guitar at their Broadway showroom with Jimmy Archey’s  help. Gibson generously offered to let me have one guitar free and one  at cost.  I left that day with a 92 Yellowburst Les Paul classic  weighing about seven pounds, and a 1991 40th anniversary reissue, ebony  fretboard, loaded with P100s, weighing in at 11 pounds for a total of  $960.

The next day in our Little Italy rehearsal room, I stood the classic in a guitar stand while I fiddled  with preamp presets trying to match the hotter pickups when it tipped  slowly forward in a tangle of guitar cord, landing face first on the  carpet with a crack, the headstock hanging from a clean break.  Sheepishly, I took her back to Jimmy who saw to it that she was repaired  as best as possible. She was relegated to back up duties afterwards.

Luckily,  the Anniversary had a better heft to her that’d come in handy later.  The P100 bridge pickup was a little thin sounding tending to see-saw  under the heel of my hand so I replaced it with a Bill Lawrence L 500  split coil humbucker and started using her as my main guitar.

At that  time we’d also changed our backline. I went from using a Yamaha GEP50  through my Tweed 50 watt JCM 800 into two greenback loaded cabinets to a Harry Kolbe preamp through a solid state power amp into a wall of Kolbe  quad boxes loaded with 200 watt speakers.
Although much louder, this  set up effectively killed off most of the output stage and speaker  distortion resulting in a louder, cleaner, more sterile sound. This clip will give you an idea.

By contrast, the old fashioned 50 watt head sounded markedly different …

The  new rigs also had a habit of clipping and shutting down when the power  amps overheated. Our guitar tech, Umbar ( Evan Bloom), seemed to cop the  blame for this. I remember the other guitarist chasing  him around the  stage in front of 5,000 people one  night in Toronto while we were  touring with Ministry.

About  a week later, in early December, John and Umbar’s girlfriends came to a  Baltimore show. We left early after playing our set and drove to our  hotel in North Carolina while John and Umbar decided to stay for a while and drive down later.

Sometime  before dawn, Umbar fell asleep behind the wheel in Virginia about seven  miles from the North Carolina border, John and Keith dozing in the  cabin beside and behind him, taking out two hundred feet of guardrail  before flipping the truck twice shearing off its roof. We found out  about the accident after sunrise by which time Umbar had been airlifted  and admitted to  hospital in Richmond with severe head injuries. John  and Keith were hospitalised in North Carolina.

When we visited them  John sat up in bed and said “the tour’s over”. Nearby, Keith lay in  traction with with a pin through his leg. Our  gear had been strewn down the interstate during the crash. A tow truck  driver had loaded it all on the back of a flat bed that now stood parked in the front yard of an Appalachian farm house. Henry, Page, Craig (  our tour manager) and I passed it down piece by piece loading it onto  another rented Ryder. Apart from cracking in the edge of its case the  Anniversary faired far better than the van’s occupants, as had most of  our gear.

The tour over, we considered our  options. Henry and Page were headed back to New York via Richmond where  they planned to visit Umbar. I’d sublet my apartment in New York and was  effectively homeless until the scheduled end of the tour months later.  And, as I had no desire to return to New York where I’d been going  through a protracted and painful breakup with an ex who I’d likely have  to stay with, I followed the tour to Florida to stay with a friend and  wait for news.

I would’ve done differently If I’d  known what effect my decision would have had back in New York, with  another band member’s girlfriend weighing in heavily on the subject of  my whereabouts at our management office.  By the time the tour  re-convened in Texas a few weeks later the atmosphere had changed,  probably aided by conversations I’d been having about increasing our  publishing shares by contributing material on the next album with our  manager, who also happened to be Page’s publisher. By February, we’d  parted ways and I started building Handsome upon the principle of  equitable partnership, splitting all recording and publishing income  equally, and began writing a record.

The Anniversary collected dust  while Helmet and I litigated over unpaid royalties, which, oddly, I’m  still waiting for Amphetamine Reptile to pay.  Umbar’s family sued  Helmet for contributing towards the accident through overwork. I regret  that I travelled south to Florida rather than north to see Umbar in  Richmond that day, as I never got a chance to say goodbye. Sadly, Helmet  let him go and he later passed away while working on an L7 tour.

Nowadays, I use the Anniversary  through a JMP1, an ENGL E530, and a recently added Triaxis, through  either the output stage a Marshall 2555 Jubilee Head (ala Slash) or a  VHT Classic Power amp into a 300 Watt 1960 cabinet, depending on  the occasion. As with all my guitars she continues to improve with age.

Here’s Peter reunited with Helmet in 2011, playing his Les Paul Anniversary.



Check out Peter’s new band ‘Kunst’ here.