Eddie Van Halen will always be remembered as one of the all time greats. From humble beginnings as a young immigrant, to beloved rock star, he truly changed the face of guitar playing.
Between his flamboyant style and his incredible fretboard skills, he also had a knack for customizing and personalizing his gear. He used his inquisitive mind to experiment with his equipment, ultimately creating a tone he referred to as the “Brown Sound”, a sound that people have been trying to emulate for decades. A major part of his sound was directly attributable to his most famous guitar – his Frankenstein Stratocaster, so named because of the sheer number of parts it was pieced together from.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Special, we’ve pulled together 5 facts about the Frankenstrat and how it came to be. Keep on reading to learn more about this incredible guitar.
- Eddie Van Halen Experimented With Many Guitars Before His Association With Strats
- The Frankenstein Strat Started Life as a Factory Reject
- Van Halen Employed Visual Trickery to Prevent Copy Cats
- The Finish Went Through Several Evolutions
- Frankenstein Underwent Numerous Major Structural Changes
- Final Thoughts on Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstrat
Eddie Van Halen Experimented With Many Guitars Before His Association With Strats
Before he practically invented the Super Strat, EVH experimented with a number of different types of guitar, eventually finding the tones he wanted in an Ibanez Destroyer. Never being one to settle, he kept acquiring guitars, including a ‘58 Stratocaster and believe it or not, one was a ‘63 Gibson ES-335. The ES-335 had a Maestro Vibrola that he loved, but he found that it just couldn’t hold tune after using the term. The tremolo system on the Strat was much more usable, but his band mates hated the thin tones from the single coils, and so, he stopped using it.
Because he loved the fat tones from the Destroyer, he found himself drawn back to it, but he missed the tremolo system from the Strat, and eventually bought another, a ‘61, and modified it to fit a humbucker in the bridge.
The Frankenstein Strat Started Life as a Factory Reject
As we know, Eddie wasn’t afraid to experiment and modify his guitars, which invariably meant he spent a lot of time hanging around at the workshop of his good friend, Wayne Charvel of Charvel Guitars fame. During one such visit with Charvel, Van Halen happened to notice an ash Strat body laying on the floor. EVH was told that this was a second, and couldn’t be sold for full retail price.
Eddie wasn’t worried about the cosmetic flaw, which in this case turned out to be a knot in the wood on the inner part of the lower horn, and bought it from Charvel at a discount, paying the princely sum of $50 – Or around $230 in today’s money.
Van Halen Employed Visual Trickery to Prevent Copy Cats
Eddie Van Halen was particularly proud of his sound, and went to fairly extreme lengths to prevent people from stealing his tone. The most infamous method used was the use of a fake pickup in the neck position. This was a real single coil pickup that he mounted, but it wasn’t wired into the guitar’s circuitry.
The only working pickup on the guitar was a PAF humbucker, which he had incidentally pulled from the ES-335 he had used during his younger years.
The deceptive tactics didn’t end with the inclusion of the faux pickup. The pickup selector switch was also rigged. By wiring the switch to activate the bridge humbucker when it was in the middle position, he further sold the lie that both pups were active.
The Finish Went Through Several Evolutions
When Eddie Van Halen first bought the ash Strat body from Charvel it was completely unfinished. The first paint job it got was a pure white finish with black stripes. In fact, it looks so drastically different to the beat up, red guitar we know as Frankie today, that most people don’t even realize that the white guitar EVH is holding on the front cover of their self titled first album is actually the Frankenstrat.
Of course, with the success the band gained after “Eruption”, people weren’t just trying to emulate his tone, but also his look. Rumor has it that in the late 70s, EVH noticed that some manufacturers were copying his stripe pattern on their models, and being the individualist he was, he eventually decided to change up the look once again. He took some 80 grit sandpaper to the body, wrapped it with strips of duct tape cut to various widths, and sprayed it with red bicycle paint, and the look we know today was born.
Frankenstein Underwent Numerous Major Structural Changes
If we’ve learned anything about Eddie Van Halen by now, it’s that he wasn’t afraid to try new things in order to perfect his sound. It’s part of what made him the player he was.
The body was just about the only thing that never really changed. For example, there were a total of 11 different necks attached to the Frankenstrat over the years. These necks were actually used interchangeably during different periods of Van Halen’s career, as evidenced by the fact that the neck that currently sits on the guitar was actually the 6th example that he installed on it – a Lynn Ellsworth with a locking nut, Stratocaster headstock and a Telecaster heel. It was first used in 1981, and was reinstalled in 1997.
Similarly, he experimented with tremolo systems, working his way through 8 different models. Frankie started with a 1961 Fender Synchronized Tremolo in 1977, and was upgraded with several different models of Floyd Rose throughout the 80s and 90s, but Van Halen eventually settled on a Schaller Original Floyd Rose in 1995.
Final Thoughts on Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstrat
Many of us are familiar with the final evolution of the Frankenstein Stratocaster, but the changes it went through on the journey aren’t so widely known. This guitar will always be remembered as one of the most iconic instruments in history, made all the more important due to the fact that it was built from the ground up by arguably one of the most influential and beloved guitarists of all time.