Frankenstrat

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Eddie Van Halen's Frankenstrat, pictured with 22 fret Kramer neck

The Frankenstrat, also known as The Frankenstein, is a guitar created by Eddie Van Halen. Its name is a portmanteau of Dr. Frankenstein, the fictional character who combined portions of various corpses to make a monster, and Stratocaster, an electric guitar made by Fender Musical Instruments. A copy of the Frankenstrat is currently housed in the Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington D.C.[1]

Overview of the Frankenstrat[edit]

The Frankenstrat represented Van Halen's attempt to combine the sound of a classic Gibson guitar with the physical attributes of a Fender. It was originally made from an ash Stratocaster body with pickup routing that he altered to fit a Gibson PAF humbucking bridge pickup.[2] It had a maple neck and fretboard and chrome hardware and went through several early paint schemes until ultimately arriving at the now infamous combination of red with black and white stripes. It is a six-string guitar with a Floyd Rose tremolo.

Building the Frankenstrat[edit]

Body and neck[edit]

Eddie Van Halen bought the Frankenstrat's ash body and maple neck for $130. Both of these parts were procured from Wayne Charvel and Lynn Ellsworth, who sold Boogie Body-made bodies and necks. The body of the guitar was a "second" because it was not cosmetically pleasing. In Van Halen's case, the body had a knot in the wood so he bought it at a discount ($50). The $80 neck had jumbo fret wire and the truss rod was adjusted at the heel.[3]

Bridge[edit]

Eddie originally used a Fender Tremolo System from his '58 Fender Stratocaster. The Floyd Rose was added later.

Pickup[edit]

Eddie originally equipped the Frankenstrat with a PAF (Patent Applied For) pickup he removed from his Gibson ES-335. He potted the pickup in paraffin wax to reduce microphonic feedback, a technique that had been popular before machine-winding. He then screwed the pickup to the guitar in the bridge position, slightly sideways to compensate for the different string spacing between Gibson's pickup and Fender's bridge. The pickup was later replaced with a Seymour Duncan humbucker.

Controls[edit]

Van Halen removed both tone control potentiometers and wired the pickups in a simple circuit, largely due to his limited knowledge of electrical circuitry. Famously he used a knob reading 'tone' on the volume control spot and then used a vinyl record he carved into a pickguard to cover the controls. Later, the pickguard was changed to a real pickguard that had been similarly shaped. The pickguard had 5 holes for mounting screws (one hole was drilled by Eddie), but only 3 screws were ever installed. A strip of double-sided masking tape was also added near the pickguard, on which he would place several picks. The simple circuit consisted of a single humbucking pick-up, one A500k potentiometer (for a volume control), and one "1/4-inch" output jack.

Paint and finish[edit]

Van Halen painted the guitar black. After it was dry he put strips of masking tape on the body and painted it white. This would create the classic version of the Frankenstrat.[4] Van Halen also put a Gibson decal on the headstock to further show the "cross-pollination" of a Gibson and a Fender. Due to companies selling guitars with similar finishes, he stopped playing the guitar in public, instead using the famous black and yellow "bumble bee" guitar (pictured on Van Halen II). In 1979, after much disappointment with the performance of the black and yellow guitar, Van Halen re-taped the body of the original white and black Frankenstrat and painted over that with red Schwinn bicycle paint. As Van Halen said, "The Schwinn bicycle paint gives it pop."

Later upgrades[edit]

The Frankenstrat has gone through many necks over the years. The bridge has evolved from the '58 Fender tremolo to original Floyd Rose bridges both with and without fine tuners. The placement of the 1971 quarter was a spontaneous addition to keep the Floyd Rose bridge flush on the body. He also attached truck reflectors to the rear of the body purely for amusement value. Eddie also installed large eye hook screws in lieu of strap buttons, which served as a foolproof (if somewhat unsightly) method of securing the guitar to the strap.

During the late 70s and early 80s, many guitar companies tried to capitalize on Van Halen's popularity by manufacturing Frankenstrat lookalikes. In an attempt to mislead such companies, Van Halen installed a red single-coil pickup in the neck position of the red, black, and white Frankenstrat, but it remained non-functional. To confuse imitators even further, Van Halen screwed a three-way switch into the empty middle-pickup rout in the guitar's body. Like the neck pickup, it was purely decorative, intended to do nothing but keep would-be copycats guessing.

Variants[edit]

Kramers[edit]

Kramer was the first company that Eddie officially endorsed, beginning in 1983 when Kramer built a Frankenstrat replica for him. During this time, he replaced his original Frankenstrat neck with a Kramer neck. In 1984, Eddie was presented with the "Hot for Teacher" guitar (as seen in the video clip for "Hot for Teacher") and started appearing in Kramer advertisements. Paul Unkert, "The Guitar Guy" of UNK guitars, worked on the Frankenstrat and put his own "Unk" stamp on it.

The most famous Kramer that Eddie had was the "5150," which he built in the Kramer factory. It was widely thought that this guitar was made from a Kramer Baretta body, but it was actually made from a Prototype Pacer body. This guitar was used from the 1984 tour through the OU812 tour, and was last used in the recording for "Judgement Day" for the album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Although the 5150 made an reappearance on the 2004 tour with a Frankenstrat replica neck, it is now retired.

A number of other Kramers were also built and used by Eddie during these years, most notably the "1984" Kramer, while most were simply striped designs without other markings. These guitars were primarily used as backups for the "5150" guitar during the tours and were likewise retired at the same time. Some were simply given away to various people, or in cases such as the "1984" Kramer, in contests.

Charvel Hybrid VH2 a.k.a. Bumblebee[edit]

The second Frankenstrat that appeared in time for the Van Halen II LP and tour was the black and yellow striped guitar. It was buried with Dimebag Darrell of Pantera, who had asked for a Charvel Art Series replica before they were released. Eddie instead presented the original guitar at his funeral.[5][6][not in citation given]

The Ibanez Destroyer a.k.a. Shark[edit]

This guitar was a dual humbucker instrument that was created from a korina Ibanez Destroyer. Eddie removed a large chunk of the wood with a hacksaw, giving it an open jaw-like shape. The name "Shark" was given to it because the chunk he cut out was serrated and gave the appearance of shark teeth. This guitar was used in the videos for "Runnin' With the Devil" and "You Really Got Me". Unfortunately, the removal of the wood destroyed the sound of the guitar, which resulted in its retirement.

Fender/Charvel[edit]

Charvel introduced a signature model EVH called the "Charvel EVH Art Series Guitar" that was equipped with a single custom-wound pickup and a Floyd Rose locking tremolo and could be ordered in white with black stripes, black with yellow stripes, or red with black and white stripes. The guitars are not relic'ed, but feature a neck profile similar to the original Frankenstrat.

Three hundred relic'ed replicas of the red with black and white stripe Frankenstrat were painstakingly created, scratches and all, and offered under Van Halen's "EVH" brand for $25,000. Approximately 180 of these were offered for sale in the States, the remainder overseas. These have all since sold.

Guitar Hero: Van Halen[edit]

The design of this guitar was used as the box art for Guitar Hero: Van Halen, and it appears in-game numerous times as well, including as a transitional effect at the end of songs (the stripes appear, one by one, in rapid succession, and then are removed).

2012 Tour[edit]

For their 2012 tour, Eddie used a variant of the Frankenstrat featuring the black and white capped bridge pickup from his Wolfgang models, a maple Wolfgang neck with a black headstock, and a Wolfgang-style volume knob. It is unknown if this is the original, a replica prototype, one of the replica models, or a guitar built specifically for him.[7]

EVH[edit]

In 2013, Eddie's brand "EVH" released a line of replicas based on previous incarnations of his previous Frankenstrats. There will be three, based on the Charvel "Bumblebee", the original pick-guarded Frankenstrat, and the red, white, and black Frankenstrat.[8] They featured similar hardware as the EVH Wolfgangs.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "National Museum of American History Receives Eddie Van Halen’s “Frankenstein Replica” Guitar" (Press release). Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Newsdesk. 2011-09-07. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  2. ^ Obrecht, Jas (November 1978). "Eddie Van Halen – Heavy-Metal Guitarist from California Hits the Charts at Age 21". Guitar Player Magazine. Archived from the original on December 14, 2008. Retrieved 2011-07-14. 
  3. ^ Bruck, Matt (February 27, 2007). "Eddie Van Halen Unveils His 'Frankenstein' Replica Guitar" (Flash video). Guitar World. p. Part 1. Retrieved 2011-07-15. 
  4. ^ Bruck, part 2.
  5. ^ Kaufman, Gil (December 15, 2004). "Thousands Gather To Mourn Dimebag Darrell". VH1 News. Retrieved 2011-07-15. 
  6. ^ "Ed Pays Respects to Dimebag Darrell". Van Halen News Desk. December 15, 2004. Retrieved 2011-07-15. 
  7. ^ "Ed using the Frankenstrat at secret LA media show". MetroAmp. February 2, 2012. Retrieved 2012-04-15. 
  8. ^ "EVH® INTRODUCES NEW STRIPED SERIES". EVH Gear. 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2014.