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Custom guitar created by Eddie Van Halen
|Other names||The Frankenstrat|
|Inventor(s)||Eddie Van Halen|
The Frankenstrat, also known as the "Frankenstein", is a guitar created by Eddie Van Halen. Its name is a portmanteau of Frankenstein, the fictional doctor who combined body parts to create a monster, and the Fender Stratocaster, an electric guitar made by Fender. A copy of the Frankenstrat is housed in the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
The Frankenstrat was Van Halen's attempt to combine the sound of a classic Gibson guitar with the physical attributes and tremolo bar functionality of a Fender Stratocaster. It was made from a Northern Ash Stratocaster body, with pickup routing which he modified to fit a Gibson PAF humbucking bridge pickup. The guitar has a maple neck and fretboard, chrome hardware, and was painted with a black and white striped design until arriving at its final combination of red background with black and white stripes. It has six strings and a Floyd Rose tremolo. In April 2019 the original red, black and white Frankenstrat guitar was put on display at The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of the Play It Loud - Instruments of Rock and Roll exhibit.
Body and neck
Van Halen bought the Frankenstrat's northern ash body and maple neck for $130 from Wayne Charvel and Lynn Ellsworth, who sold Boogie Body bodies and necks. Van Halen was able to purchase the factory second body at a discount price of $50 due to a knot in the wood. The $80 neck had jumbo fret wire, and its truss rod was adjustable at the heel.
Bridge and pickup
The guitarist originally used the Fender tremolo system from his 1958 Fender Stratocaster, adding the Floyd Rose later. He equipped the Frankenstrat with a PAF (patent applied for) pickup removed from his Gibson ES-335, potting the pickup in paraffin wax to reduce microphonic feedback. He then screwed the pickup to the guitar in the bridge position, slightly offset from perpendicular to the strings, to compensate for the different string spacing between the Gibson's pickup and the Fender's bridge. This pickup was later replaced by a Seymour Duncan humbucker.
Van Halen removed both tone-control potentiometers, wiring the pickups in a simple circuit largely due to his limited knowledge of electronics. He placed a knob marked "Tone" on the volume-control pot, then used a vinyl record that he'd shaped into a pick guard to cover the controls. This pick guard was later replaced by a real, similarly-shaped pick guard. Although it has five mounting holes (one drilled by Van Halen), it was installed with only three screws. A strip of double-sided masking tape was added near the pick guard, on which Van Halen placed a variety of picks. The simple circuit consisted of a single humbucking pick-up, an A500k potentiometer (the volume control) and a 1/4-inch output jack.
Van Halen painted the guitar black, and when it was dry he put strips of masking tape on the body and repainted it white. He repeated the process with red, creating the classic Frankenstrat. Van Halen put a Gibson decal on the headstock, emphasizing the "cross-pollination" between Gibson and Fender. Because companies began selling guitars with similar finishes, and because he felt that the guitar was being too badly damaged from overuse, he stopped playing the Frankenstrat in public, instead using the black-and-yellow "bumble bee" guitar pictured on Van Halen II (1979). In 1979, disappointed with the bumble-bee's performance, Van Halen re-taped the body of the Frankenstrat and painted it with red Schwinn bicycle paint. According to the guitarist, "The Schwinn bicycle paint gives it pop."
The Frankenstrat has gone through a number of necks over the years, and its bridge has evolved from the 1958 Fender tremolo to original Floyd Rose bridges (with and without fine tuners). The placement of the 1971 quarter was to keep the Floyd Rose bridge flush with the body, and Van Halen attached truck reflectors to the rear of the body so he could flip the guitar over to reflect stage lights onto the crowd. He installed large screw eyes instead of strap buttons, a foolproof (albeit unsightly) method of securing the guitar to the strap.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, many guitar companies tried to capitalize on Van Halen's popularity by manufacturing Frankenstrat replicas. In 1979, he replaced the original black pickguard with a white pickguard on the guitar. He later replaced the white pickguard with a cut up black vinyl record and covered the back with aluminum foil. In 1981 he replaced the vinyl record with a trimmed down piece of a 3-ply black Fender pickguard to cover the control cavity, and put a second pickup in the neck position, a Mighty Mite single coil with a red phenolic bobbin. To confuse imitators further, he screwed a three-way switch sideways into the middle position cavity, most likely connected between the volume pot and the neck pickup. Although non-functional, the extra components added the necessary load resistance to the single humbucker and 500k pot, reducing the treble and adding some compression.
Kramer Guitars was the first company endorsed by Van Halen in 1983, when it built a Frankenstrat replica, and during this time he replaced the original Frankenstrat neck with a Kramer neck which first seen on "Jump" music video. In 1984 he was given the "Hot for Teacher" guitar (seen in the song's video clip), and began appearing in Kramer advertisements. Paul Unkert, the "Guitar Guy" of UNK guitars, worked on the Frankenstrat and put his "Unk" stamp on it.
The best-known Kramer owned by Van Halen was the 5150, which he built in the Kramer factory. Although it was thought that the guitar was made from a Kramer Baretta body, it had a prototype Pacer body. The guitar, used from the 1984 tour through the OU812 tour, was last used to record "Judgement Day" for the album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991). Although the 5150 reappeared on the 2004 reunion tour with Sammy Hagar, the guitar upgraded with a Charvel neck and EVH Wolfgang humbucker, it is now retired.
A number of other Kramers were also built and used by Van Halen during this time (most notably the 1984 Kramer), although most were simply striped designs without other markings. These guitars were primarily backups for the 5150 on tours, and were retired at the same time. Some were given away, or (like the 1984 Kramer) awarded in contests.
Charvel hybrid VH2
The second Frankenstrat, appearing on the Van Halen II LP and tour, was a 1979 Charvel hybrid VH2 "Bumblebee" black-and-yellow striped guitar. It was buried with Dimebag Darrell of Pantera in a Kiss Kasket, who had asked for a Charvel Art Series replica before they were released; Van Halen was said to have presented the original guitar at his funeral.
This guitar was a dual-humbucker instrument created from an Ibanez Destroyer made from korina. Van Halen removed a large chunk of the wood with a hacksaw, giving it an open-jaws shape. It was nicknamed the "Shark" because the chunk he cut out was serrated, resembling shark teeth. This guitar was used in the videos for "Runnin' with the Devil" and "You Really Got Me". The removal of the wood destroyed the guitar's sound, and it was retired. To record "Women and Children First", Van Halen borrowed a Destroyer from the then-unknown Chris Holmes.
Charvel introduced a signature-model Eddie Van Halen guitar, the Charvel EVH Art Series Guitar equipped with a single custom-wound pickup and a Floyd Rose locking tremolo, in three colors: white with black stripes, black with yellow stripes and red with black-and-white stripes. The guitars have a neck profile similar to the original Frankenstrat.
Three hundred replicas of the red-and-black-and-white-striped Frankenstrat were offered by Van Halen's EVH brand for $25,000 each. About 180 were sold in the United States, and the remainder overseas.
Guitar Hero: Van Halen
The Frankenstrat's paintjob was used in the box art for Guitar Hero: Van Halen. It also appears a number of times in the game, including transitions at the end of songs; the stripes appear one by one in quick succession, and are then removed.
For the band's 2012 tour, Van Halen used a variant of the Frankenstrat with 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 custom-built guitar.
In 2013 Van Halen's brand, EVH, released a line of replicas based on previous Frankenstrats. There are three, based on the Charvel "Bumblebee", the original pick-guarded Frankenstrat and the red, white and black Frankenstrat, with hardware similar to that of the EVH Wolfgangs.
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