Desert Companion

Profile: Jason Oberly, Guitar artist

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Jason Oberly
Photo by Anthony Mair

If you’re a professional rock guitarist, the instrument hanging around your neck isn’t just your livelihood — it’s your life, a sacred and prized weapon of mass seduction that you care for like a six-string offspring. If you happen to be one of the successful players charged to perform this wizardry for arena-sized audiences, you don’t let anyone touch your instrument beyond the tech who keeps the strings stretched and tuned. Except maybe North Las Vegas’ Jason Oberly. He’s the artist with the trust, tints and technique to transform any Fender Strat into a work of high-textured art.

“I moved to Las Vegas in 1993,” recalls the Santa Maria, California native. “Worked at Excalibur for 15 years delivering room service, answering phones, anything they asked, until I stumbled into painting guitars. I was always drawing as a kid, started with sketching and tracing, which got me into hand-eye coordination. Then I discovered airbrush in the late ’80s, and I realized my calling.”

Jason pocketed his first coin as an airbrush artist when a local rocker asked him to paint Mötley Crüe’s Theater of Pain album cover on a white Stratocaster. “Between social media and word of mouth around town, I started to get really busy almost overnight,” he says. “I was introduced to Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society) and painted a guitar for his son’s Christmas gift. I also did a Dimebag Darrell tribute illustration for Zakk. Now my clients include Rob Zombie’s lead guitarist John 5, Avenged Sevenfold, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett and Five Finger Death Punch’s Jason Hook. I designed the Explorer he’s using on the band’s upcoming tour, which is the actual instrument he smashed in the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ video. I had to repair it first, so yeah, I guess you can say my skill set has expanded into the luthier realm.”

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There is something delightfully scary about Jason’s work. “For John 5, I’ve done several designs, including the Munsters and a Lon Chaney Wolfman. I did a tribute to Randy Rhoads’ Flying V. Outside of metal, I did an acoustic Taylor for Priscilla Presley in the shades of Elvis, with the TCB (taking care of business) logo. Someone sent me a pic of Robert Plant playing that guitar. Really cool.”

Jason’s booked for six months, trying desperately to manage his workload. His creative process is intense and meticulous. “It’s all going digital now,” he observes. “I do mockups in Photoshop, save the scan on my Mac and piece together the image. Jason Hook’s Explorer took six different mockups. The artist and I share input. My job is to bring what they want to reality. Help them realize their vision. One job that really challenged me was John 5’s Creature of the Black Lagoon, with all the microdots, textures and multiple paint layers.”

Jason recently added cars and motorcycles to his repertoire. “I painted Sons of Anarchy star Ron Pearlman because I loved the show. I became friends with one of the Mayan characters in season seven and ended up painting his bike. Difference between airbrushing a motorcycle and a guitar is the three-dimensional surfaces — not only are they round, they have curves, so laying tape is an issue; like with flames or any graphic, your masking-out process has to be absolutely precise.”

Jason is poised to expand his workspace to a bigger property that can house a full-service studio and garage. “If you can paint on it, I’m into it,” he says with a smile. “I was flown to New York to paint a ’64 Oldsmobile for the owner of American Headers and Exhaust. He was making a drag car, so I painted the American eagle logo on both sides, made it look like it’s beveled chrome. One time, something screwed up at Elton John’s Million Dollar Piano show at Caesar’s Palace, and a mandolin got this big chip in it. The tech called me on Thursday and asked, ‘Hey, can you fix this for Saturday night’s show?’ Yeah, bring it to me. There was folk art painted on the mandolin. I had to make it perfect. On-call repair! He found me through one of the local art stores. They said, ‘If anyone can do it, Jason can.’”

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