In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was no bigger name in the rock world than Van Halen. The group, named for front man Eddie and his brother Alex, burst into national prominence with the release of its first album in 1978. It was certified gold just three months after it came out, a fact that qualifies it as one of the most successful debut albums ever. Audiences were immediately drawn to the smoking solos performed by Eddie Van Halen with his innovative “tapping” technique. In particular, the credenza on “Eruption” that required Eddie to use both hands on the fretboard while holding his pick between his thumb and middle finger, got the attention of guitarists around the world.
Van Halen started his study of music as a young boy taking piano lessons. Mastery of the instrument came easily to him and he won several awards as a youngster, but as he grew older, he tired of it. He and his brother both decided to take drum lessons. When it became obvious that Alex was more talented as a drummer, Ed moved on to the electric guitar. There he found his life’s passion and spent hours each day practicing. It is said that he could accurately play all of Eric Clapton’s guitar parts on the Creamalbums by the time he was twelve.
As teenagers, the brothers joined with various musicians in Southern California to form bands that played in clubs in the area. By 1974, they had joined with David Lee Roth and settled on the name Van Halen. They were regular performers at the West Hollywood club Gazarri’s. Around this time, Eddie began building his own guitar, which took parts from several makes and models of instruments. He nicknamed his creation Frankenstrat, and his fans called it Frankenstein. It was the guitar that he used for nearly all his stage shows and recording sessions for years, and therefore, it changed guitar history forever.
Eddie was working with a small budget in the early 70s and he was not happy with any of the stock Gibsons or Fenders that he could afford. He bought the ash Stratocaster body for Frankenstein for $50. It was available at a discount because there was a knot in the wood, but Van Halen didn’t think that would cause any problems. He purchased the maple neck for $80 and had the basis of his guitar.
Ed used a PAF pickup from a Gibson ES-335. He dipped it in paraffin to reduce the amount of feedback-a common practice before pickups were machine-wound. He attached it to the guitar’s bridge at a slight angle to allow for differences in the spacing of the strings. Since Eddie had only a rudimentary knowledge of electrical circuitry, he did away with both tone controls and wired the pickup in a simple circuit. He had one control knob with a “Tone” label for the volume, and he used a cut up vinyl record for a pickguard. Eddie used a Fender Tremolo system from his ’58 Strat.
Frankenstein was first painted black. After it dried, Eddie put random strips of masking tape on it and painted it white. This was the finish it had for the debut Van Halen album. By the time Van Halen II came out, Ed thought that too many companies were selling guitars with black and white finishes that were similar to Frankenstein’s so he put it away for a while. When the “bumblebee” guitar that he used for VHII didn’t live up to expectations, he decided to give Frankenstein a new look. He put more masking tape on it and used a bright red bicycle paint to come up with the three-toned look that has become so famous.
Over the years, Eddie made several changes to his guitar. He has had to replace the neck several times and has gone through numerous bridges, as well. When he wanted to add a Floyd Rose tremolo and found that it wouldn’t sit on the body correctly with the neck he was using, he screwed a quarter under one corner to make it work.
Fender has recently sold 300 replicas of Frankenstein for $25,000 each. They copied the original exactly right down to the scratches, cigarette burns, and 1971 US quarter. It has the same screw-eye strap hooks, Floyd Rose locking tremolo system and red, black and white finish that Eddie used.
If you have dreams of setting the world of popular music on fire the way Eddie Van Halen did, you don’t have to build your own guitar. But you do have to develop your skills through hours of practice. You might also benefit from some top-notch lessons specifically tailored for lead guitarists such as those offered by Metal Method. This course, as well as several other highly rated guitar lessons can help you extend your knowledge and take your technique to a completely new level.