The Kramer Nightswan - aka The Buddy Blaze "Shredder"

The Nightswan was a signature model for Vivian Campbell, the current guitarist in Def Leppard, who also played for Ronnie James Dio, Riverdogs, Whitesnake, and a few other bands here and there in the 80's. The Nightswan actually has an interesting background that most people haven't heard about, that really makes this instrument far from being a Kramer designed instrument.

The Nightswan actually started as the "Shredder" model from Buddy Blaze Guitars. They were based out of the Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas. Around that time, there was alot of buzz around Dallas about Blaze. Buddy had custom made and setup instruments under the Blaze brand in the Dallas area for many artists. Vivian and Buddy had been discussing what types of guitars Vivian would be interested in at the Great Southwest Guitar Show in Dallas, Texas in the mid 80's. Vivian saw another instrument Buddy had created for someone else, they had further discussions, and the Shredder was born out of those talks and discussions between the two.

What is seen to the right is the original Buddy Blaze Shredder Polka Dot, made in Arlington, Texas.

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The Original Buddy Blaze Polka Dot "Shredder"

Shown to the left is the original Blaze Shredder made for Vivian that Buddy and Vivian concept created. Notice the diagonal dot inlays and the Blaze logo on the Headstock. Kramer eventually hired Buddy as a business associate, not just as an employee, and Buddy Blaze managed the association with Vivian and other artists while working for Kramer. The Shredder was eventually renamed to the Nightswan, by Vivian's wife. Needless to say, the Nightswan is one of the most remarkable instruments Kramer ever made, since it was totally based off a custom Blaze instrument.

The Prototype Kramer Nightswan Lightning

The original prototype Nightswan Lightning was made in the Arlington, Texas by Buddy while he was in transition toKramer, whereas the Polka was built in Texas as a "Shredder" guitar before any Kramer deals were conjured up. Notice on the Lightning prototype how there are no diagonal dot inlays, and additionally, check out the neckplate which states "Proto". What I really like about this one is that Vivian's lightning paint job in the prototype was much better than on the shipping Nightswans. This guitar recently sold to JC Guitars (what was left of it). Check out the multiple shots of its creation and its current state below.

Some other facts about the Shredder/Nightswan/Buddy Blaze that should be noted:

1. Warmoth never made production Swan parts. They made parts for Buddy as "starter" parts for the original Blaze line, but were never able to come up to a deal with Kramer to mass produce Swan parts. All Nightswan parts were made by ESP, just like other American Series Kramers.

2. Vivian and Buddy created the Shredder, it was not a copy of another persons instrument that Buddy had made. Its was truly a collaboration between the two.

3. Buddy retained rights to the Shredder when he went to Kramer, and was to receive royalties based on sales of the Swan as well.

4. The Proaxe was the nail in the coffin to the Nightswan. It is thought the Proaxe possibly was created as a Swan like guitar in order to cut out Vivian and Buddy from sales of the Swan. Given the similarities of the two, it seems a viable scenario for Kramer to do this.

5. Contrary to what many websites say, Buddy did build or paint the Original Dean ML that Darrel "Dimebag" Abbott of Pantera fame owned/played - BUT, the guitar was actually Buddy's personal guitar he made for himself. Upon taking the job with Kramer, Buddy gave the guitar to Darrel as a present to a good friend, as Dime had asked about the guitar repeatidly back then before Buddy moved to New Jersey.

The Lightning Prototype Pictures and Details

Sometime in 1987, in Arlington, Texas, the Nightswan was born. A VK web visitor, Guy Gustafson, and associate of Buddy Blaze, writes this about the Swan prototypes and Buddy. A very very special thanks goes out to Guy for providing these extremely rare photos of Buddy painting and building the second Swan prototype.

The original "Polka Dot" guitar was indeed built from Warmoth parts that were modified. The Nightswan prototype (Lightning Design) was also built from Warmoth parts and built in Texas. Buddy had been in talks with Kramer about the guitar and his job at Kramer during the time he was building the "Lightning" guitar. When he came to an agreement with Kramer, the Kramer logo was added to the guitar before he sent it to Vivian. (see Guy's Photos below).

The story on how Buddy got hooked up with Vivian was that Vivian did an in-store appearance at Speir Music in Dallas, Buddy had just finished a guitar for a friend of mine (black and white polka dot) and Vivian was interested in something similiar. He loved it but wanted a second humbucker in the middle position and blue and white dots, along with other various custom changes.

As for what happened to Buddy after Kramer. He moved to NYC to start a band. I moved up there in early 1990 to play bass in the band. The band called Gunga Din featured Jesse James Dupree on vocals which he later went on to join Jackel. After a few years of trying to get the band together, he moved to LA. He was a guitar tech for Great White in the late '90s.

Buddy Blaze
Buddy Blaze
Guy Gustafson
Drying Rack
Vivian in Hotel

This prototype has Vivian's signature on the body. Check out where all that studded spandex wore off the paint on the back, a true relic. The larger version photo of the back shows the neckplate saying "Prototype" on it. Justin at JC Guitars currently owns this rock legend, and has provided the pictures to VK for everyone to see. Thanks Justin, and thats an extremely cool, historic guitar!!



Kramer Nightswan Features

The back shape of the neck is different from any other guitar I've played. Its sort of like a "C" shape, with the middle portion being very flat, and the curves being very sharp. The nut is also an R1, which makes this a very tiny fretboard to play on. Its is a VERY comfortable neck play, its very smooth, and plays like butter. The dot inlays are in a diagonal pattern, which was very original at the time the Nightswan was introduced. I remember hearing that Vivian wanted the neck to have a similar feel to that of a Les Paul, however, I don't think this neck is anywhere close to that description.

Nightswan Specs
- Mahogany Body with non-traditional Strat shape, and lower horn cut out for higher fret access
- Two Humbuckers, Seymour Duncan Full Shred and JB
- One Volume Knob, and a three way selector switch
- Original Floyd Rose Tremolo (black) flush mounted
- 24 3/4" scale neck, R1 nut size, diagonal dot inlays, 6105 frets (tall and narrow)
- Ebony Fretboard
- Schaller Tune
- Non-traditional Kramer reverse, angled, banana headstock, with big "K" to small "r" logo and Nightswan logo
- Can be setup for EXTREMELY low action

Nightswan II Specs
Everything the same except for these features:
- One Duncan Full Shred, two Kramer "rail" pickups
- Contoured Heel where neck is mounted to body.
- Floyd Rose Pro Tremolo (black)
- Recessed Tremolo route for Floyd (I hate this)
- Body carved on back at lower horn for better high fret access
- 5 way selector switch

1988 Nightswan Review
From Guitar Player Magazine


The Nightswan Heaststock
Close-up of Neck
A common Lightning Finish and an early Knapp
painted Lightning (thanks to Rick Marts for picture)

Stock Nightswan Graphics

Graphics on the Swans were offered in a variety of 5 finishes. The Lightning bolt models and Polka's are the most common, with the Aztecs and Holoflashes being the least common. Lightning bolt models also have a very common problem of finish cracks, as seen in the picture above comparing to the two types. Early Lightning bolt finishes also feature more red in the bolts and appear to be more "custom" that later models. Those will be signed by Knapp as well. Holoflash models are extremely rare and it has been said that Aztecs were dealer promotion guitars only, not production run models.

Polka Dot
Dark Polka Dot

The Kramer Nightswan II

After the success of the Nightswan, Kramer thought they could ride the success of the original, and make a second Nightswan. This one was a little different (as described on the specs page), and didn't last very long because this was right around the time Kramer filed bankruptcy. The Nightswan II is very rare, although its not sought after by many Kramer collectors.

Many of the parts from the Kramer factory for making the Nightswan II and I were bought up by many smaller guitar shops and Kramer enthusiasts. There aren't many parts left, and they are very pricey. I picked up my Nightswan parts before the demand increased for these.

The Nightswan II
(unfinished Mahogany with a Tone Knob added)

The Epiphone/Kramer Nightswan USA Reissue - Never Released

The Nightswan Reissue was a planned attempt at recreating the Lightning Swan that is very popular among Kramer enthusiasts. Richard Akers headed up the original design and engineering on the Swan, using a vintage Kramer Nightswan Lightning as a starting point. At the time, Gibson owned Kramer was attempting to make a line of all USA instruments, which also included the 1985 Baretta Reissue. Additionally, Gibson had just acquired the Baldwin Piano Company out of Arkansas, and the thought was they could make a line of USA guitars through Baldwin, paint and prep there, and then have the USA team in Nashville assemble the instruments. If this idea had worked out, the reissue Swans would have been more Made in USA than the originals. Richard Akers and Michael Maloney worked hard on trying to get this line started. That never came to be.

Four bodies were created in the Baldwin factory as prototype runs, from top quality Mohagany. Two necks were connstructed as well, just to see if Baldwin could create the necessary parts for Gibson to assemble these Kramers. Around the time of the 2004 Kramer Konvention, Kramer wanted to have Barettas and Swans available for all the enthusiasts to check out, so Richard spent a large amount of time at Baldwin hand shaping, and fretting the first prototype Nightswan. The four bodies created were airbrushed by Dave MaHaffey. They were rough finished in order to confirm the graphic could be done, they were not showroom quality guitar finishes. The original prototype was shot with nitrocellulose lacquer for the clear coat over the graphic, as were the rest.

In the end, two necks were started at Baldwin, one was hand fretted and shaped, the other started but never completed in house. Seen below is a funny picture of one of the necks in the dumpster, along with a Baretta body (they of course were not thrown away).

The final prototype Swan was displayed and played by That 80's Hairband at the 2004 Kramer Konvention and was final assembled by Jimmy Ellis on the USA Kramer team. It still lives in Nashville in the Epiphone plant, and gets attention from time to time from Richard. A second prototype exists that was created from the second neck made at Baldwin, and was most likely assembled by a Kramer employee from parts sold at a Epiphone employee sale. Those two Swan reissues are the only two known in existence at the time of this writing. Two other bodies still exist out there and are probably stored away in someone's garage.

Prototype Numbers:
P-07190413 - Prototype Body #1
P-07190414 - Prototype Body #2
P-07190415 - Prototype Body and leftover neck from Baldwin original run, assembled into a full guitar outside of the Kramer Factory.
P-07190416 - Prototype Guitar Number 1 assembled in the Kramer plant and hand shaped, fretted by Richard Akers.

Proto Body Unfinished
Vintage vs Reissue
Dumpster Diving
Reissue headstock
Proto #1 Assembled
Proto #1 Back
Baldwin Protos
Dave and Jimmy
Michael with Baldwin
Mike W with Proto

Japanese Made and Sold Nightswans

Sometime, in the life of the Nightswan, it was decided to make a line of Swans specifically for the Japanese market that were not sold in the United States. These Nightswans have a few small characteristics that differentiate them from their Yankee counterparts. Most notably, the Nigtswan emblem does not appear on the headstock, and the graphic paint schemes differ as well. Additionally, sometimes you will see a Japanese Swan with no diagonal dot inlays, but that is not always the case. Rosewood boards are also the norm for Japanese Swans, unlike their American Series Counterparts with Ebony. You may also see some that feature a Floyd Rose Tremolo II in lieu of the Original Floyd Rose found on the American Series models.

Another interesting note about this line, ESP created this line without Buddy being aware of it. These Swans did not make it to the USA shores, and have a questionable background as to what the intent was on making these, if to avoid any kind of licensing fees owed to Buddy on the sale on these guitars.

Japanese Nigtswan Flyer
Japanese Nigtswan Advertisement
Japanese Swan Polka Dot

Vivian Campbell's Prototype Kramer Nightswan
Taken from

Vivian Campbell is a guitar god to almost every guitar player that is 28 to 45 years old. This is because he was one of the guys who at the beginning of it all really got out there and gave each and every one of us something to shoot at. Vivian's first album with Dio was "Holy Diver" in 1983. The other two that he played on were "Last in Line" in 1984 and "Sacred Heart" in 1985. It is easy to say that I am sure that every one who is reading this, owns those three CD's. If not you must be under 20 years old, and you should go and get them, because that is where a good portion of our music today comes from.

After Vivian stopped working with Dio, he filled in for and played along with Adrian Vandenberg (who was always complaining or sick with something) in Whitesnake. Vivian didn't record the record, but played live on the tours. After Vivian's stint with Whitesnake, he started his own band call "River Dogs". I don't know much about them and with out blowing a whole night, I can't find out much about them. Next he became a member of Def Leopard. He was filling for Steve Clark, that had drank himself into the grave (not too bright of an Englishmen).

This is the guitar that started it all for every Kramer Nightswan. I believe that the Nightswan to be Kramer's best guitar that they made. That is one of the reason's why you see so many late 80's early 90's pro's using them. Vivian's prototype is actually just that, the first one. It wasn't even made by Kramer. The guitar was made by a Texan named Buddy Blaze. Buddy and Vivian worked together on the guitars design (shape, pick up configuration, woods, etc..). What they came up with is a mahogany body, maple neck with an ebony board. Two hums in the neck and middle position, a volume and a three way, and an original Floyd. The paint job is the legendary lightning graphic (so each lightning graphic you see on ebay, is the son of this guitar - not to mention all the other colors too).

I believe that when Vivian (and Buddy) brought the prototype in, Kramer liked it. I believe that they changed the neck so that the neck would say Kramer and not Blaze (like his blue and white polka dot one says) since this was his main photo shoot guitar. This neck is actually not the standard Nightswan neck, it is much narrower and thinner then a normal one. Also there is no truss rod at the top, it is in the heel of the neck. Vivian had used the trem so much, that the holes for the post had become loose in the soft mahogany, so they were plugged with maple and redrilled. Along the way I think there could of been a possible refret and the bridge could of been swapped out for a newer Floyd. This guitar was in Vivian's position from 1987 to 1994 (that is when he gave it back to Buddy). He signed the front when he gave it back.

If you look closely in the advertisements, you can see the evolution of the guitar from a two hum, to the one hum with added Tom Anderson single in the neck. Aldo look very closely at the damage to the top of the guitar and how it matches up perfectly.

This one truly is one of my most important guitars. This if for two reasons, the history of Kramer and the history of guitar players.

Nigtswan Flyer (front)
Nigtswan Flyer (back)
Original Buddy Blaze Model

Another Rarity is this Swan II Vivian is seen playing live with Ritchie Sambora.

Closeup of Vivian in the Lightning Swan Ad
(thanks Justin at JC Guitars for the picture)

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Matthew James Webster 

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