Cool Cat: Wayne Burgess, Jaguar Designer & Les Paul Fanatic

February 17th, 2012

Jaguar designer Wayne Burgess appreciates the classic curves of a Les Paul as much as he does the category-leading contours of an XK or XJ.
By Chris Gill
[This article appears in the Spring 2012 Issue of Guitar Aficionado, available here.]

In 2000, Jaguar ran an ad campaign with the tag line “Everyone dreams of becoming a rock star. What then do rock stars dream of?” The answer, of course, was Jaguar. Rock stars have sung about Jaguars (like Marc Bolan did in “Jeepster”), driven them, and even—in the case of Yngwie Malmsteen—wrecked them.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of Jaguar’s chief designers today resembles a rock star rather than a suit-wearing executive. With his gravity-defying blonde hair, designer jeans, and sterling-silver jewelry, Jaguar’s Wayne Burgess looks more like the Cult’s Billy Duffy than William Lyons, the legendary former Jaguar designer known as “Mr. Jaguar.”

For the past 14 years, Burgess has helped take Jaguar into the 21st century with bold, aggressive styling that maintains the brand’s luxurious and sporting images, all while expanding its reputation for innovation. Burgess was the chief designer of the Jaguar XF, and he currently looks after development of new designs for the XJ and XK as well. He also worked with Jaguar design director Ian Callum on two of the most beautiful car designs of modern times—the Aston Martin DB9 and V8 Vantage—back when Aston Martin and Jaguar were owned by Ford.

Considering Burgess’s sartorial style, it’s not surprising to discover that he’s a guitar collector and musician who plays in a melodic metal band called Scattering Ashes, which has an EP available through Amazon and iTunes. Burgess’s collection consists mainly of guitars that resemble those played by his heroes. Standouts include a 2004 Les Paul Standard with a tobacco sunburst finish (“like the one Slash plays”), a 1987 Les Paul Custom modified to resemble John Sykes’ Gibson, a Jackson RR5 Randy Rhoads model, a G&L Rampage like the one played by Jerry Cantrell, and a white Gretsch 5120 inspired by Billy Duffy’s Gretsch White Falcon. In fact, Burgess’s love of guitar may have helped him land the job at Jaguar in the first place.

“I did my interview at Jaguar with Geoff Lawson,” Burgess says. “Geoff was a guitar and American muscle-car nut. He had the prototype for the Fender Jaguar XK-50 Stratocaster hanging in his office, which was painted British racing green and had a burled walnut scratch plate, burled walnut fretboard with gold leaping-jaguar inlays, and all-gold hardware. We spent an hour and a half talking about guitars before he realized he should look at my portfolio. He took a look at it for about 10 minutes, then told me I had the job.”

Lawson passed away about four years later, but Burgess says that Ian Callum shares a similar love of the guitar, even though he doesn’t play. Some elements of Burgess’s guitar obsession have translated directly to the cars he designs, such as the Makassar Ebony premium wood option offered for the XF’s interior. “Ebony is my favorite fretboard wood,” he explains. “I thought it would look brilliant inside of the XF.”

However, Burgess says that his love of the guitar has influenced his car designs primarily in a more general sense: “The Les Paul is one of my favorite guitar shapes, and the Strat is equally beautiful in its own way. Both body shapes are inspired by the female form. They have hips, a waist, and curves. The most beautiful sports cars also have hips, a waist, and curves. Those are things that fundamentally appeal to the eye. Sexy, flowing forms, whether they’re applied to a car or guitar, will always have some appeal.”