Eddie Van Halen is an icon in the world of rock music. Born Edward Lodewijk Van Halen on January 26, 1955, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and raised in Pasadena, California, Eddie Van Halen became one of the most influential guitarists in rock history.
As the co-founder of the legendary rock band Van Halen, Eddie was not just a virtuoso guitarist but also a songwriter, producer, and inventor.
Eddie’s journey into music began at an early age, influenced by his father, Jan Van Halen, who was a professional clarinetist, saxophonist, and musician. Initially trained as a classical pianist, Eddie soon found his true calling in rock music.
Along with his brother, Alex Van Halen, he formed the iconic band that would become known as Van Halen in 1972. This band would go on to redefine rock music in the following decades.
Van Halen: The Band and Its Impact
With Eddie on guitar, his brother Alex on drums, vocalist David Lee Roth, and bassist Michael Anthony, Van Halen burst onto the music scene in the late 1970s.
Their debut album, “Van Halen” (1978), was a game-changer, showcasing Eddie’s groundbreaking guitar techniques, including his famous “tapping” style, which involved hammering on and pulling off the guitar strings with both hands on the neck of the guitar. This technique, along with his innovative use of harmonics and vibrato, redefined what was possible on the electric guitar.
Eddie’s Signature Sound and Guitars
Eddie Van Halen was known for his distinctive brown sound – a warm, powerful tone that became his sonic signature. This sound was the result of his experimentation with different guitars, amplifiers, and effects. He was not just a player but also a tinkerer and inventor, constantly modifying his equipment to create unique sounds. His most famous guitar, the Frankenstrat, which he built himself, is emblematic of his innovative approach to music.
Influence and Legacy
Eddie Van Halen’s influence extends far beyond his recordings and performances with Van Halen. He revolutionized the art of guitar playing, inspiring countless guitarists across various genres. His contributions to guitar design and manufacturing, particularly through his EVH brand of guitars and amplifiers, continue to impact the music industry.
Sadly, the world lost Eddie Van Halen on October 6, 2020, but his legacy lives on. His music, his style, and his innovations continue to inspire new generations of musicians and music fans alike.
Eddie Van Halen wasn’t just a guitarist; he was a force of nature in the world of music- a true icon whose influence will be felt for years to come.
There were many iconic guitars Eddie Van Halen played throughout his career, but we’ve narrowed down the most important.
The Teisco Del Ray: Eddie Van Halen’s First Foray into Electric Guitars
Before the Frankenstrat, before the fame, Eddie Van Halen’s journey with electric guitars began with the Teisco Del Ray, specifically a 1960s Teisco Del Ray WG-4L. This guitar, which Eddie bought for around $100 from Sears, was not just his first guitar; it was the humble beginning of a legend.
The Significance of the Teisco Del Ray
This guitar held a special place in Eddie’s heart. It was a modest instrument, far from the custom-built models he would later become known for. Yet, it was this guitar that ignited his passion and set him on the path to greatness.
The Teisco Del Ray was unique in its own right, featuring four pickups – an unusual configuration that left a lasting impression on the young Eddie. This feature, along with its enough body points and switches, made it an exciting instrument for any aspiring guitar player.
Eddie’s early days with the guitar were marked by resourcefulness. Lacking the money to buy an amplifier, he would play the guitar on a table, using the wood to resonate and amplify the sound. This simple yet ingenious method was indicative of Eddie’s innovative spirit, which would later define his career.
The Teisco Del Ray’s Place in Guitar History
The Teisco Del Ray ET-460, similar to the model owned by Eddie, has, in recent years, garnered a cult following. Despite its budget price, this model is celebrated for its playability and distinct sound.
Teisco guitars, originally made in Japan and imported to the US under various names such as Silvertone and Beltone, have seen a resurgence in popularity among collectors and enthusiasts.
This model represents a significant chapter in the history of electric guitars, particularly in the context of Eddie Van Halen’s storied career. It’s a reminder that even the greatest of journeys can start with the most humble beginnings.
A Symbol of Inspiration
Eddie Van Halen’s Teisco Del Ray is more than just a nostalgic piece of his past; it stands as a symbol of inspiration. It shows that with passion, creativity, and a relentless drive to experiment, even a budget guitar can be the starting point of a legendary musical journey.
This guitar, in its simplicity and uniqueness, was the first step in Eddie’s path to becoming one of the most influential guitarists in rock history.
Today, models like the WG-4L and ET-460 are sought after by collectors and musicians who appreciate their unique place in guitar lore. They serve as a tangible connection to the early days of a guitar icon.
The Birth of a Legend: The Frankenstrat
Few guitars have become as iconic or as synonymous with their player as Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstrat or Frankenstein guitar. It was not just a guitar; it was a revolution in six strings. The Frankenstrat was Eddie Van Halen’s primary instrument from 1977 to 1983, a period that saw Van Halen rise from the clubs of Los Angeles to international stardom.
Eddie Van Halen’s journey with the Frankenstrat began from a place of necessity. To create his signature brown sound – a term he coined to describe his unique, rich, and overdriven tone -, Eddie knew he needed something that didn’t exist at the time. He envisioned a guitar that combined the sleek body style of a Stratocaster with the raw power of a humbucking pickup, coupled with a Fender vibrato. Unfortunately, this was unheard of in the late 1970s.
Undeterred, Eddie took matters into his own hands. He started with a contoured ash body, typical of a Strat-style guitar, and added a two-piece maple neck. The heart of the Frankenstrat’s sound came from a Gibson PAF pickup he salvaged from an old 1958 Gibson ES-335. To counteract the feedback issues, he innovatively dipped this pickup into a Yuban coffee can full of molten paraffin wax, a process that, once cooled, helped solidify the sound with minimal feedback.
The Frankenstrat was also visually striking. Eddie Van Halen added his personal touch by wrapping parts of the guitar in electrical tape and then spraying it with black and white Schwinn® acrylic lacquer bicycle paint, giving it an unmistakable and unique look. During Van Halen’s second world tour, the Frankenstrat underwent another significant modification – the replacement of the original tremolo with a prototype locking tremolo system built by Floyd Rose. This enhancement further cemented the Frankenstrat’s place in guitar lore.
The Bumblebee: Striking Design, Unforgettable Sound
Following the Frankenstein guitar, Eddie Van Halen introduced another masterpiece: The Bumblebee.
This guitar made its debut on the cover of the 1979 Van Halen album “Van Halen II” and was used predominantly throughout the subsequent world tour. Its yellow-and-black-striped design was not only visually captivating but also embodied Eddie’s relentless pursuit of perfecting his instruments.
The Bumblebee was a product of collaboration with Wayne Charvel. It featured a maple Charvel/pre-pro neck and a Strat-style body made of ash. The guitar’s original incarnation boasted a custom pickup made by Van Halen himself. He used a DiMarzio humbucker and replaced the magnet with one from a Gibson PAF, further personalizing the guitar’s sound.
Additional features included a standard nut, a single chrome volume knob, an original Charvel® six-screw brass tremolo bridge, and Schaller® tuning keys. Eddie also personalized the Bumblebee by sanding down the back of the neck for a smoother play.
The Bumblebee remains a favorite among Van Halen fans for its distinctive look and sound. In a touching tribute, Eddie’s original Bumblebee guitar was buried alongside Pantera guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, who died in 2004. This was the perfect way to honor a request from a fellow guitar legend.
The Shark: A Beast in the Guitar World
Among Eddie Van Halen’s famous guitars, “The Shark” holds a special place in rock history. Originating as a heavily modified 1975 Ibanez Destroyer 2459, this guitar showcases Eddie’s penchant for turning instruments into personal statements of art and function.
The Shark featured a clear finish over an ash body and a three-piece maple neck with a rosewood fretboard. It was distinctive not only in sound but in appearance, thanks to Eddie’s radical decision to take a chainsaw to its body, creating a jagged “shark’s mouth” appearance.
The Shark was a mainstay in Eddie’s arsenal during the recording of Van Halen’s debut album. It was particularly favored for songs that did not require a tremolo. Iconic tracks like Running with the Devil, You Really Got Me, and Jamie’s Cryin’ bear the distinctive tonal qualities of The Shark.
Interestingly, the modifications Eddie made to the guitar altered its sound significantly. This led him to borrow Chris Holmes’ Destroyer for certain parts of the “Women and Children First” album.
Nonetheless, The Shark’s original tone remains a hallmark of several songs from Van Halen’s groundbreaking debut.
[Source: Photo by Alan Light.]
The Kramer 5150: A Custom-Made Legend
The Kramer 5150 is another chapter in the story of Eddie Van Halen’s guitars. Post-1983, after retiring the Frankenstrat, Eddie turned to this custom-made marvel as his main guitar. The Kramer 5150’s specifications are a matter of some debate among enthusiasts, but it’s generally believed to feature a body made from ash or poplar, with a maple neck featuring an asymmetrical back shape.
The Kramer 5150 is celebrated for its unique body and sound, marking it as one of Eddie’s most iconic instruments. It’s important to note that this guitar is not a production model but was a one-off custom guitar made specifically for Eddie Van Halen. This exclusivity means that no official specifications are available. The Kramer 5150 was a mainstay in Eddie’s performances until around 1991 when he transitioned to using Music Man guitars.
The Kramer 5150’s role in Eddie Van Halen’s career cannot be overstated. It was a key instrument during a period of intense creativity and success for Van Halen, and its distinctive look and sound are etched in the memories of fans worldwide.
The Music Man EVH: A New Chapter in Eddie’s Guitar Saga
The transition from Kramer to Ernie Ball Music Man in the early 1990s marked a new era in Eddie Van Halen’s relationship with guitars. The Music Man EVH, also known as the Ernie Ball Music Man EVH model, was not just a signature guitar; it was a manifestation of Eddie’s evolving needs and creative vision.
Design and Features
Eddie played a pivotal role in designing the Music Man EVH. His objective was clear: to create a guitar that encapsulated everything he required at that stage of his career. This guitar boasted a basswood body, a feature that contributed significantly to its tonal characteristics.
One of the unique aspects of the Music Man EVH was its maple neck, which was electronically mapped to replicate the feel of the neck on his beloved Kramer 5150. This attention to detail ensured that the transition from the Kramer to the Music Man EVH was seamless for Eddie.
The Music Man EVH was equipped with the original Music Man Floyd Rose tremolo system, a feature that Eddie had grown fond of. Later, this was replaced with a Gotoh replacement, showcasing Eddie’s continuous pursuit of refining his instruments.
Contrary to his previous guitars like the Frankenstrat and the Bumblebee, the Music Man EVH did not feature the iconic striped paint job, signaling a shift in Eddie’s aesthetic preferences during this period.
Legacy and Collectability
Eddie Van Halen used the Music Man extensively during the early 1990s, notably on the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge tour in 1991 and the ’95 Balance tour. However, his collaboration with Music Man was relatively short-lived. The main reason for the end of this partnership was reportedly due to the company’s size limitations. Music Man, being a smaller company, struggled to meet the high demand for this particular guitar model.
Despite the end of Eddie’s direct involvement with Music Man, the legacy of the Music Man lived on. Post-1995, the guitar continued to be produced under the name “Axis,” with a few slight modifications.
Today, the original Eddie Van Halen Music Man guitars are considered rare and expensive collector’s items and are highly sought after by collectors.
The Music Man EVH’s place in the pantheon of Eddie Van Halen’s guitars is distinct. It represents a period of transition, both in terms of Eddie’s playing style and his approach to guitar design. This guitar remains a testament to Eddie’s ongoing influence in the world of guitar manufacturing and his relentless drive to push the boundaries of what a guitar can be.
[Source: Photo taken by Abby Gillardi.]
The EVH Wolfgang: A Culmination of Eddie’s Expertise and Vision
The EVH Wolfgang represents a significant milestone in the legacy of Eddie Van Halen and his guitars. Manufactured by EVH, a company owned by Fender Guitars, the Wolfgang line embodies Eddie’s vast experience and innovative spirit in guitar design.
Design and Features
Named after both Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang Van Halen, and the iconic classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the Wolfgang USA model is a testament to Eddie’s commitment to quality and performance. The guitar features a basswood body with a big-leaf maple top, a choice that contributes to its rich tonal qualities. The quartersawn maple neck and ebony fingerboard are designed for comfort and speed, making the Wolfgang ideal for the rock ‘n’ roll guitarist who demands precision and playability.
At the heart of the EVH Wolfgang’s versatile sound are its custom-wound alnico 2 and alnico 3 EVH Wolfgang humbuckers. These pickups are specially designed to deliver the titanic sound and dynamic range that Eddie Van Halen was known for.
Coupled with a Floyd Rose bridge and other high-quality components, the EVH Wolfgang is a powerhouse of rock ‘n’ roll sound, capable of delivering everything from piercing leads to warm, rich rhythms.
The EVH Wolfgang’s Place in Modern Guitar History
This EVH guitar stands out in the modern guitar landscape for its impeccable craftsmanship and attention to detail. It’s not just a signature model; it’s a culmination of Eddie’s lifelong quest to build the perfect guitar. The Wolfgang series reflects Eddie’s understanding of what a guitar needs to deliver in terms of sound, playability, and reliability.
This guitar is more than just a tribute to Eddie’s son or a nod to a legendary composer; it is a symbol of Eddie Van Halen’s enduring influence on guitar design. The EVH Wolfgang is a favorite among guitarists who seek a blend of traditional craftsmanship and modern innovation.
A Legacy Continued
The introduction of the Wolfgang is a clear indication of Eddie Van Halen’s ongoing impact on the world of electric guitars. This line continues to evolve, incorporating new technologies and design ideas, ensuring that Eddie’s vision and standards are upheld.
The EVH Wolfgang is not just a part of Eddie’s legacy; it is an ongoing testament to his status as one of the most innovative and influential guitarists in the history of rock music.
Frequently Asked Questions About Eddie Van Halen and His Guitars
What was Van Halen’s favorite guitar?
Eddie Van Halen had several guitars throughout his career, each with its unique place in his musical journey. However, his most famous and arguably favorite guitar was the “Frankenstrat.”
Eddie personally built the Frankenstrat by combining different parts from various guitars. It became synonymous with his innovative style and was a staple in his performances during the band’s early years.
The guitar was known for its distinctive red body with white and black stripes, a design that Eddie created himself.
Who owns EVH guitars now?
EVH guitars, a brand named after Eddie Van Halen, are currently owned by Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. The brand was a result of Eddie’s collaboration with Fender, aiming to produce high-quality guitars and amplifiers that reflected his specifications and design ideas.
The EVH brand continues to manufacture guitars and equipment based on Eddie’s designs and specifications, maintaining his legacy in the world of guitar and music.
Where is the Frankenstrat now?
The original Frankenstrat, Van Halen’s legendary guitar, is currently housed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
It was donated to the museum by Eddie himself and is part of the museum’s collection of musical instruments. The Frankenstrat’s inclusion in the Smithsonian reflects its significant impact on music history and Eddie’s status as one of the most influential guitarists of all time.
Conclusion: Celebrating the Legacy of Eddie Van Halen and His Iconic Guitars
The story of Eddie Van Halen and his famous guitars is not just a tale of musical innovation; it’s a saga that intertwines creativity, technical prowess, and relentless pursuit of perfection. From the iconic Frankenstrat to the sophisticated EVH Wolfgang, each guitar in Eddie’s collection tells a part of his incredible journey in the world of rock music.
Eddie Van Halen revolutionized guitar playing with his extraordinary skills, innovative techniques, and unique sound. His influence transcends generations, inspiring both contemporaries and newcomers in the music industry. The legacy of his guitars, each holding its own significance and history, continues to inspire guitarists and music enthusiasts around the world.
The EVH brand, under the stewardship of Fender, ensures that Eddie’s vision and design genius are preserved and accessible to musicians today. Meanwhile, the original Frankenstrat, now a cherished artifact at the Smithsonian, serves as a testament to Eddie’s impact on American music and culture.
Eddie Van Halen’s passing in 2020 left a void in the music world, but his legacy lives on through his music, his guitars, and the countless musicians he inspired. His story is a reminder of the power of passion, innovation, and the pursuit of one’s unique voice in the arts. Eddie Van Halen was not just a guitarist; he was a musical innovator and a true icon whose influence will be felt for generations to come.