There’s a good reason the Gibson SG is one of the world’s most popular guitars. In fact, there are a lot of them: tone, playability, neck control, sustain, light-weight…and the list goes on. There’s also history. The SG has been the six-string of choice for a horde of legendary players. They include Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, the Edge, the Cars’ Elliot Easton, Tony Iommi, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors’ Robby Krieger, Carlos Santana and, of course, Frank Zappa.

Zappa was the owner and wrangler of one of the most distinctive sounding Gibson SG’s in existence — a sonic conjuror’s wand that turned numbers like “Peaches En Regalia” and “King Kong” into bonfires of unpredictable, heavy virtuosity.

His doctored SG became known as the “Baby Snakes” guitar after Zappa used it in making the 1977 concert film of the same name. Zappa’s first Gibson was the ES-5 Switchmaster he used for the first two Mothers of Invention albums before switching to Les Pauls. By the mid-’70s, however, he’d switched to SGs and employed a series of them in black, walnut and red finishes. The Baby Snakes guitar — the Frank Zappa SG — was a walnut model.

Zappa modified his SG and other guitars to help produce his particularly scalding tone. The key components were on-board parametric equalizers — two per instrument – that gave him the option to change frequencies and generate his uniquely blistering sound. These EQs and other modifications allowed him to add gain for feedback and sustain by sending 17db or 18db more signal to his amps.

Although Gibson has never made a Frank Zappa signature model, the Gibson Custom Shop recreated the “Baby Snakes” guitar for Dweezil Zappa in 2007. This one-of-a-kind instrument was based on a 1962 SG template in the walnut finish, and it has been Dweezil’s main guitar in his Zappa Plays Zappa band, which performs his father’s demanding music. That guitar’s electronics are stock, however, which means Dweezil uses a variety of effects to recreate his father’s magical tone to compliment the technique he painstakingly learned to execute lacerating tunes like “Black Napkins” and “City of Tiny Lights.”

A new DVD provides a dose of the older Zappa, who died from prostate cancer in 1993, in peak form. The Torture Never Stops is a concert filmed at one of his historic Halloween shows at New York City’s Palladium theater, which were gatherings of the tribe for Zappa fans.

Diving in at the start of this 1981 performance with “Black Napkins,” Zappa’s tone is extraordinary, even by his own standards. It’s a burnished, throaty midrange with a rude, crusty top — fat as a hippo. His solo in “Bamboozled By Love” is a ripping blues excursion that avoids clichés as it riffs on ideas from the tune’s melodic theme. And Steve Vai is Zappa’s second guitarist for this concert – part of his 1980 to 1982 tenure in Zappa’s band. Their sparring in “Stevie’s Spanking” is a monumental study in tone and approach, a true clash of the titans.

With a stockpile of crowd pleasers, including “Montana” and the title track, all that’s missing is, well, the SG. For a period in the ’80s Zappa favored a red Les Paul Custom on stage, and he employs it like a flamethrower during this show.

Part of his tonal equation live and in the studio was his use of multiple amplifiers. Zappa preferred playing through three at once, which permitted all kinds of creative perks including easy feedback control and clean/effected combinations of cabinets and multiple settings. At the Palladium he used Marshalls, but he played a number of other brands as well, including Orange and Carvin.

Zappa’s last tour took place in 1988 as he moved further into digital composition and recording and creating orchestral works, and further from the guitar. Although his work as a composer has been embraced by the classical music world, it’s still rock fans who carry the brightest torch for his musical legacy. After the Grateful Dead and Phish, recordings of Zappa’s live shows are among the most heavily traded in taper circles. And while many jam band fans embrace Zappa, the complexity and structure of his solos surpass that loose genre’s usual standards considerably.

When Zappa was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, it was with this citation: “Frank Zappa was rock and roll’s sharpest musical mind and most astute social critic. He was the most prolific composer of his age, and he bridged genres — rock, jazz, classical, avant-garde and even novelty music — with masterful ease.”