The Cthulhu Guitar - Concept Art by Mallika Sundaramurthy

In addition to the many true-to-life instruments available in Rock Band 2 from legendary brands such as Fender, Gretsch, Sennheiser and Zildjian, there are a handful of guitars, drum kits, and mics that you’re not likely to see on any store shelves, unless you are reading this in the distant future when everything can be made instantly from corn. These bizarre and magnificent instruments, created by Harmonix artists, are the rarest and most expensive items in the game.

Mallika Sundaramurthy was part of the team that worked on the fantasy guitars. “We were given a couple of weeks to come up with some crazy, imaginative guitar designs,” she says. “There were essentially no rules, aside from keeping a general size and not being too offensive.”

Sundaramurthy and the other artists were encouraged to stray as far from the traditional guitar design as possible, with one condition: “One thing we decided about Rock Band early on, back during Rock Band 1, was that all of the fantasy instruments had to look playable – they had to have tuning pegs, frets, a bridge and strings. So we had to keep the neck of the guitar pretty close to the dimensions of an actual guitar, but for the body the Art Manager just defined a box for us and let us fill it in any way we wanted.”

Figure 1: Art team's early guitar concepts, includes Sundaramurthy’s Cthulhu sketch

Sundaramurthy sketched out a series of guitars that were then reviewed by the group. Out of this batch came a concept inspired by Cthulhu, the massive, tentacled beast at the center of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. “I wanted to create something that looked hand-carved,” she says. “I came across some really amazing hand-carved guitars in my research - There was a blues guitar that I saw that had this whole scene carved into the body. I wanted the Cthulhu guitar to have that same quality – to give the impression of three dimensions while basically remaining flat.”

Figure 2: Refined Cthulu guitar

Staying true to her vision was more difficult than Sundaramurthy thought. “The one thing that took a lot of back and forth with the modelers (who render the in-game three-dimensional assets from the artists’ sketches) was the unibrow. They kept posting updates and I kept saying, ‘where’s the unibrow? He needs the unibrow!’ Finally, they got it right.”

Figure 3: Final Cthulu guitar in game

H.P. Lovecraft wrote that fear is the most ancient of human responses, and Sundaramurthy’s creation will surely broadcast primal chills to Rock Band fans worldwide. “He waits patiently to emerge from the icy depths to take over the world with the help of a rock and roll band,” Sundaramurthy says. “If you’re looking for an evil guitar, this is it.”