Eddie Van Halen Guitars and Gear

Eddie Van Halen is best known as the lead guitarist and a co-founder of the hard rock band Van Halen. Although listed as number seventy in the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, Eddie is considered by many as one of the most influential guitarists of the past century. He introduced many new aspects to guitar playing, and influenced a whole new wave of guitarists that followed him in the 80s and 90s.

Definitely the best known piece of Eddie’s gear is his Frankenstein guitar, which he built himself in 1974. For the first couple of years Eddie almost exclusively used this guitar, and just occasionally picked up some other project of his – like the Bumblebee, Snake, or the Unchained guitar. In 1981 Eddie got his first endorsement deal with Kramer, which eventually resulted with the Kramer 5150 Baretta model. In 1991 he switched to Ernie Ball/Music Man and designed a completely new guitar now called the Music Man EVH Signature model. Just couple of years later he switched to Peavey guitars, and eventually in 2001 started his own brand of guitar named EVH – manufactured by Fender guitars. Nowadays Eddie mostly plays the EVH Wolfgang model (named after his son) and the Fender Custom Shop replica of the original Frankenstein guitar.

Eddie Van Halen’s Electric Guitars:

1960s Teisco Del Ray WG-4L

Teisco Del Ray Eddie Van Halen This was Eddie’s first guitar. He initially bought a pair of drums when he came to the US, but during the time he was working around neighborhood delivering paper in order to pay for the drum set, his brother Alex would sneak into his room and practice himself. Eddie saw that Alex was getting better and better, so he decided to switch to an electric guitar instead. He bought a Teisco Del Ray for $110 from Sears with four pickups –  which made a huge impression on a high-school boy. At that time, he didn’t have money to buy ad amp, so he would play with his guitar on the table – which made it louder since it would resonate through the wood..

Teisco guitars were made in Japan and imported to the US under various names such as Silvertone and Beltone. Eddie’s particular model was probably from 1965-66, and it was based on the Ibanez 3904 featuring nearly identical body shape and similar pickup layout.

Guessing he bought the guitar when he was around 16 years old, or in 1971, he had around three years to practice on it before he switched to the Frankenstrat. It is possible that he played some other guitars during those three years, but we haven’t been able to found anything that would implicate that.

Once he had the money Eddie supposedly bought a Gibson Les Paul Standard to replace the Teisco, but very little is known about that guitar. He also experimented on a Fender Stratocaster, but again very little is known about his early guitars.

1960s Gibson ES-335

Gibson ES-335 There’s not much  info about this particular guitar, except a few quotes from Eddie in which he mentions that he had an old ES-335 which he experimented on. Supposedly, he took one of the pickups from this guitar and used it in the Frankenstrat.

The Frankenstein (Frankenstrat)

Eddie Van Halen White and Black Frankenstein Eddie built this guitar himself in 1974. He had an idea to make something of a crossover between a Fender and a Gibson; he liked the tremolo and the looks of a Fender, but he preferred Gibson sound. With that idea in mind, he went down to Boogie Bodies guitars whose parts were used on early Charvels, and bought himself a factory second unfinished body and neck, paying total of $130. The body he bought was the first one he saw laying around in the store, but he paid close attention to choosing the right neck – he looked for a wide neck with a really thin profile and big Gibson-style frets.

Eddie painted the body black. He then took masking tape and rolled it around the body couple of times, and then repainted the whole body white. This created the black stripes, which soon became a sort of a trademark of Eddie’s. He also made the pickguard himself, and as a finishing touch added a Gibson decal on the headstock.

As for the some other parts he used, there was a Fender tremolo from an old 1958 Stratocaster, Schaller tuners, and a Gibson PAF pickup from his old ES-335 – which he dipped into paraffin wax (Dr. Zogg’s Sex Wax specifically) filled Yuban coffee can, in order to get rid of the feedback.

He played the guitar (or atleast this version of it) on Van Halen’s first album, and during the band’s first tour. Towards the end of the tour, the guitar was changed to feature a white pickguard and a rosewood neck.

1970s Ibanez Destroyer 2459 – “The Shark”

Eddie Van Halen Ibanez Destroyer Korina Eddie got this guitar most likely sometime in 1977, prior to the recording of the first album. Originally, the guitar had natural finish, but it appears that Eddie painted the whole guitar white at some point according to a couple of photos from around that time. Eddie speaks of the guitar as a “Korina” Ibanez, although it was most likely made of Sen – which is an asian wood very similar to ash, but finished in such way that it looked like Korina.

Eddie eventually went for the stripes, and rolled masking tape around the body painting the rest of it in red – a process he practiced previously on the Frankenstrat. He also removed a big chunk of wood from the body using a chainsaw, which made the guitar look like some sort of a crossover between a Flying V and an Explorer.  The cut wasn’t clean, and the small chunks sort of resembled teeth – therefore the guitar’s nickname “The Shark”.

This modification ended up being a bad decision, and Eddie commented on how the guitar just didn’t sound the same anymore, since the body didn’t resonate as well as it did before – so he gradually stopped using the guitar.

Other mods included new electronics (supposedly Gibson PAF in the bridge), removal of the pickguard, and replacing the knobs with ones from a Les Paul.

Eddie used the Destroyer on the first album on “You Really Got Me”, and some other songs that didn’t require tremolo. It is unclear if he ever used the guitar in the future, but logical answer seems to be no.

1978 Danelectro/Charvel Star

Eddie Van Halen Star Charvel Danelectro Neck This is one of the less know guitars of Eddie’s from the early years. He got it in mid ’78, but it was mostly seen during the 1980 Invasion tour.

Eddie bought the body from Charvel, and installed a neck from an old Danelectro (this exact same neck was seen on some other guitars prior, including a white strat-shaped Charvel with a Telecaster pickup in the bridge, which he supposedly used on “Women In Love”). He painted the whole body white, installed a Gibson PAF pickup, and Floyd Rose tremolo/locking nut.

Sometime in 1980 Eddie painted the guitar once again, this time going for the look similar to the one he had on the original Frankenstein.

1979 Van Halen II – “Bumblebee”

Eddie Van Halen Yellow Black Charvel Van Halen II For the second album and the following tour Eddie made another guitar, similar to the first one. He asked Charvel to route a Strat-style body he had so all the electronics could be rear-loaded – eliminating the need for a pickguard. He went alone from there, painting the body yellow and doing the whole business with the masking tape to add the stripes.

As far as the electronics go, on the album cover of Van Halen II the guitar had some random pickup in the bridge, since it was barely finished for the photo session. After that, Eddie did some experimenting and ended up making a  pickup of his own. He used a DiMarzio humbucker, bet replaced the magnet with the one from a Gibson PAF, and then re-wound the whole thing by hand.  He then dipped the pickup into some paraffin wax, and put the copper tape around the windings.

For the neck he used the one from Charvel with a black headstock. The back of the neck was also originally black, but Eddie sanded it down because he prefers the feel of unfinished wood. This neck was later transferred to the Frankenstein for the 1979 tour, and then used on the Snake guitar.

The guitar was buried alongside Dimebag Darrell – Pantera guitarist who died tragically in 2004.

The Frankenstein (v2)

eddie van halen frankenstein red In the mid 1979 Eddie decided to go back to his first guitar, but he thought it needed some modification. He bought some bicycle paint and painted the whole thing red, leaving black and white stripes on it. Eddie’s reasoning behind this was that by that time people already started copying him, and he just wanted to be original and do his own thing. He also glued a couple of bike reflectors to the back of the body, which he would often expose during concerts.

A year later (1980), Eddie installed a locking-nut and the Floyd Rose tremolo – to help keep the guitar in tune during live shows. He had some problems with this version of Floyd Rose, which he solved by screwing in a 1971 quarter to serve as a bridge stop. Right as the new version of the tremolo was released, Eddie installed it and the problem was gone – eliminating the need for the coin. He then removed the coin, but it was put back a couple of years later – Eddie just rotated it so it didn’t get in the way and kept it on a body as sort of a decal.

As for the pickups, Eddie installed a Mighty Mite single-coil in the neck cavity, but it wasn’t wired at all – and probably served as a way to trick the copycats. The middle cavity had a Tele pickup in it in 1979, but it was soon removed and it was kept empty from then on (usually with some junk wires in it and a three-way switch).

The bridge pickup was briefly replaced with the one from his black and yellow guitar, but Eddie soon put the old Gibson PAF in. Some sources claim that he installed a Seymour Duncan humbucker later on, which might be the case considering the pickup in his signature guitar released in 2007 was made by Seymour. Nonetheless, Eddie probably swapped the pickup more than a few times since the 80s, but knowing that Gibson PAF is his favorite, he most likely kept that one in for the most part.

In 1979 the Frankenstrat had white pickguard, which was soon removed and replaced with a hand made plate covering only the volume and tone control cavities (this plate was soon replaced with a retail Stratocaster pickup cut to the same size). 3-way switch was also added, but it wasn’t wired to anything.

As for neck, the original one that he got from Charvel in 1974 was on the guitar in the early years. In 1979 for unknown reasons he installed the one which he used previously on the black and yellow guitar (Van Halen II). Around 1982 he installed a Kramer neck, with the logo sanded down. Since then it had some weird necks on it, most notably a different one from Kramer, with the ‘hockey stick’ headstock matching the color of the body. In the 2000s the old neck was put back to the guitar.

*note that the necks weren’t used exclusively between the years mentioned; Eddie swapped necks more than just couple of times – often going back to the original between the swaps.

In 2007 Eddie wrote “This is the Shit” on the back of the guitars’ neck, as a sort of a joke to distinguish it from the EVH/Fender Custom Shop replica made to look and sound exactly like the Frankenstein.

DragonSnake

Eddie Van Halen Snake Guitar After becoming disappointed with the sound of his old Destroyer (The Shark), mostly due to the removal of a good portion of the body behind the bridge, Eddie went to Charvel and ordered parts for his new Destroyer. The guitar was fitted with the black headstock neck which was originally on the Van Halen II guitar, and had a Fender-style tremolo installed on it.

Eddie soon became bored with the guitar as it wasn’t quite what he hoped for. He commissioned a local furniture maker John F. Sterry to carve out a dragon biting a snake out of the body, but for some reason Eddie never really got around to playing this guitar in the future.

The DragonSnake is mostly known for it’s appearance on the cover of the Guitar World magazine in January 1981.

Rasta/Unchained Guitar

EVH rasta unchained guitar This is perhaps one of the less known guitars of Eddie’s. It was seen around 1981/82, and it originally started out with black and white finish, and it became known as the “Unchained” guitar – or “Bye Later See Ya” guitar since those exact words were written on the back of the body.

For unknown reasons Eddie decided to repaint the guitar drawing inspiration from Rasta culture. It seems that he also replaced the pickup with a DiMarzio X2N humbucker.

Apparently Eddie thought that the guitar was too heavy, so he removed the neck from it, and it was just laying in the 5150 studio collecting dust for years. In mid 90s Dweezil Zappa came by and Eddie gave him the guitar.

Kramer 5150 Baretta

Eddie Van Halen Kramer 5150 Baretta After meeting Dennis Berardi on an airplane flight in 1981, Eddie became interested in Kramer guitars, and eventually made an endorsement deal with the company. In 1983 the Kramer Baretta was introduced as the first EVH signature model.

The new guitar was heavily based on the Frankenstrat, and featured the same red finish with black and white stripes. Initially the neck had a ‘beak’ headstock shape, but it was soon remodeled to look like the one on a Ibanez Destroyer guitar (aka ‘banana’ or ‘hockey stick’ headstock). The Rockinger tremolo which the company was using on their previous models was replaced with a Floyd Rose, and a single Reverse Zebra Schaller Humbucker was placed in the bridge position angled to compensate for the strings spacing. These early models also had Gotoh 90 degree tuners.

By 1984 Kramer switched to Seymour Duncan JB zebra pickups, and started putting M6 Schallers tuning pegs on the Beretta models. Some minor design changes were introduced over the following years, including slightly increased body size, and a pointier headstock shape – similar to the one on Jackson Soloist guitars.

The guitar got it’s nickname from Eddie’s 5150 Studio finished in 1983, where all the subsequent Van Halen albums were recorded.

Eddie played Kramer guitars from 1983 up until 1991.

Kramer Doubleneck

Eddie Van Halen kramer Double neck Only two of these guitar were ever made for Eddie – one in red, and one in yellow, both featuring stripe decals.

They were made by Paul Unkert while he was working at the Kramer factory.

Steinberger GL-2T

Steinberger GL-2T Eddie Van Halen Eddie used this guitar specifically because of the TransTrem system, on songs such as ‘Get Up’ and ‘Summer Nights’ for the 5150 album released in 1986.

The guitar was custom painted with the “Frankenstein” graphics, and it had two EMG pickups in it.

Music Man Eddie VH Signature

EVH Music Man Ernie Ball In 1990 Eddie ended his deal with Kramer on a bad foot, and switched to Ernie Bell Music Man guitars. The company already produced EVH signature strings for good couple of years, so the new deal with Ernie Ball made sense.

The new Music Man EVH featured basswood body (sometime with 1/8″ maple cap) shaped very differently than anything Eddie played before. It held two DiMarzio humbuckers, and a Floyd Rose tremolo system. The neck on it was maple, and it was electronically mapped in order to look and feel like the one he used on his favorite Kramer guitar.

Eddie used these guitars for two VH albums, “Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” and “Balance”. The deal ended in 1995, main reason supposedly being the fact that Music Man just wasn’t big enough of a company, and couldn’t produce enough of this guitar to meet the demand.

Post 1995, the guitar was kept in production under the name “Axis”, with few slight modifications. The switch was moved near the volume knob, contour was added to the top and back of the body, and the neck was widened slightly.

Music Man Eddie VH Doubleneck

Eddie Van Halen Music Man Ernie Ball Double neck Eddie used this guitar when performing “Spanked” live during the time he used Music Man guitars. The top portion of the guitar served as a 6-string bass, and the bottom was a regular guitar.

Peavey EVH Wolfgang

peavey_evh_wolfgang In 1996 Eddie signed a deal with Peavey, and continued where he left of with Music Man. The Peavey guitar was named after Eddie’s son Wolfgang, and looked very similar to the MM model – but featured some improvements and changes in the design.

Company continued using the same type of wood (basswood), with some models featuring maple tops ranging from 1/4″ to 5/8″. The guitar had arched top and full body binding, two Peavey/EVH-designed humbuckers, Floyd Rose tremolo (or a  tune-o-matic bridge depending on the model), three-way switch now moved to the top of the body, and Schaller mini M6 tuners. The version with the Floyd Rose also had a small device called D-Tuna, which is used to quickly change the tuning of the low E string by a whole step. Eddie was the lead inventor of this device, and holds the rights on the patent.

Another thing worth mentioning was the headstock, which followed similar design to the one on the MM model, and was sort of a middle ground between that shape, and the final shape used on EVH Wolfgang built by Fender couple of years later – which Eddie hold patent to.

Eddie played these guitars from 1996 to 2004, when he and Peavey parted ways.

Charvel EVH Art Series

Charvel EVH Art Series In 2004 Charvel started producing custom painted guitars for Eddie, which would usually sell on ebay together with a Certificate of Authenticity, and an autograph from Eddie. These guitars were available in three finishes inspired by Eddie’s original Frankenstrat designs: white/black, black/yellow, and red/black/white. Charvel Art Series guitars featured one humbucker pickup in the bridge, basswood body, and a Floyd Rose tremolo.

Supposedly around 2006 Fender took over the production of Art Series, and Eddie used a couple of those guitars during the 2007 tour, before selling them on ebay as EVH-played guitars (we are not 100% positive about this, so if you know anything please message us using the form below the article).

EVH/Fender Frankenstein Replica

eddie van halen frankenstein red Around 2006 Eddie joined forces with Chip Ellis of the Fender Custom Shop, to build a limited run of faithfully reproduced Frankenstein replicas.

The guitar features ash body, bolt-on maple neck, Schaller tuning pegs, original Floyd Rose tremolo, and a custom wound Seymour Duncan EVH humbucker. It also has all the tiny details found on the original Frankenstein, including a dummy bridge pickup, junk wires and the 3-way switch in the middle pickup cavity, bike reflectors on the back of the body, and even the original 1971 quarter which Eddie once used as a bridge-stop.

These guitars obviously go for very high price (north of $20,000), and Eddie often comments on how they sound and play better than the original Frankenstrat which he built in 1973.

EVH Wolfgang

EVH Wolfgang Fender Eddie took a couple of prototypes of these guitars for a road-test during the 2007 reunion tour with David Lee Roth. The new guitar was made by Fender guitars, and looked a lot like the Peavey model, but few people noticed something was different.

Initially only one model was produced, but there were couple more variations introduced in 2012. Eddie seems to prefer the one with a maple top/basswood body and a maple neck, although he used a EVH Wolfgang Stealth in studio on “A Different Kind of Truth” – which is a version with a ebony fretboard. He also mostly plays the ones with the Floyd Rose and a D-Tuna, but theres also a stop-tailpiece model available.

As for the other specs, all the guitars are equipped with two humbuckers custom wound in the factory, Schaller tuners and full body binding. The guitar also featured stainless steel frets, and a custom designed headstock which Eddie holds patent to. The whole neck is finished with hand-rubbed urethane, to let the wood breathe and age properly.

Eddie Van Halen’s Acoustic Guitars:

Eddie rarely picks up an acoustic, so it’s nearly impossible to find any info about the models he used. We only managed to track two guitars, but if you know more, be sure to send us a message using the form below the article.

Don Musser Custom-built

Unknown Acoustic Used on “Balance ” album released in 1995. Eddie bought it at Norm’s Rare Guitars.

Tacoma JR55 Jumbo

Tacoma JR55 Jumbo Eddie was seen playing this guitar on The Downtown Sessions DVD released in 2012. A couple of clips are available on Vimeo, including the cover of Kink’s “You Really Got Me”.

Eddie Van Halen’s Guitar Amps:

– 1967/68 Marshall 1959 Super Lead
Eddie used this same Marshall amp to record the first six Van Halen albums. He bought it secondhand from England, which sparked up some stories that the amp was unable to run on 110v. The truth is that in Europe, all amps come with a switch to vary the AC voltage that you wish to plug into. Eddie however didn’t know about this at the time.

So when the amp was delivered to him and he plugged it in, it sounded very quiet because of the voltage difference. Eddie’s solution was to buy a Variac transformer which allowed him to run the amp on lower voltage. He played with the settings and found that the amp could still run good if he kept the dial at around 140v. This allowed him to essentially save the tubes, and play at clubs at half the volume. From that point on he would usually set all the knobs on the Marshall to 10, and control the volume using the Variac.

The signal from the amp went into a dummy resistor box set to 20 ohms – compared to the speaker output which was set to 8 ohms. This was done so that the Marshall head which was running on full volume can be easier to deal with. Eddie supposedly used this configuration on the first album, then removed the dummy box on the second, and came back to it on the third (and the rest that followed).

There are also stories about how this amp was modified over and over again, but our guess is that it was actually pretty much stock. Eddie even admitted that he purposely gave an interview in which he made some things up just to confuse people. One of our readers who worked at Soldano told us that Eddie brought the amp to the store one time, and it was indeed stock except for one old trick where you add a capacitor on one of the cathodes in the preamp in order to help reduce noise.

For the cabinets and speakers, Eddie usually used Marshall boxes loaded with Celestion G12M 25w in the early years, and Vintage 30 later on in the mid 1980s. During the recording of the first album he supposedly used some JBL D-120 speakers in one of the cabinets.

*Most of this info was taken from a forum post by Christopher Michael – who is supposedly Chris Merren (Eddie’s former tech). If the person in question ever ends up reading this article, please contact us and we’ll give you proper credits.

– H&H V800 MOSFET Power Amplifier
In the early 80s Eddie started using H&H V800 power amp at the end of his chain – just before the signal went to the cabinets. The H&H MOSFET solid state amp was usually connected to another tube power amp.

– 1989 Soldano SLO-100
This amp was most notably used on For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge album released in 1991, as Eddie old Marshall slowly began losing it’s power. For that album he also used a prototype for what would become the Peavey 5150.

– Peavey 5150
From 1993 to 2004 Eddie had a deal with Peavey, during which he endorsed the Peavey 5150. The amp is all-tube with 120w RMS output power. It uses five 12AX7 preamp and four 6L6 power amp tubes, and it has 2 channels – lead and rhythm.
The amp is nowadays available under the name “6505“.

– 5150 III
In the more recent years Eddie has been using an amp which he made in collaboration with Fender. It is an all-tube amp using eight 12AX7 and six 6L6 tubes, and featuring three channels (Clean, Crunch, and Lead). The original amp was a 100w, but a smaller and less powerful 50w head was also introduced recently.

One of our visitors who happens to own one of the early models (s/n 000027) was kind enough to send us some photos of the amp (thanks Brad – DrJenningsortho.com). This amp in particular was used on during the 2007 tour.

Eddie Van Halen’s Guitar Effects:

“I’ve never used or owned a distortion pedal. It was just the guitar and cable straight to the amp” – EVH

That being said, Eddie did use a couple of other effects in his chain. He used a MXR Phase 90 and MXR 6-Band EQ at the beginning of the chain, and some other effects like Echoplex EP-3 Delay, MXR Flanger, and Univox EC-80 Tape Echo closer to the end of the chain.

These days Eddie uses somewhat different rig. He has a couple of his own signature pedals from MXR/Dunlop in the chain – like the EVH117 FlangerPhase 90, and the EVH95 Signature Wah – and some other pedals like the Boss OC-3 Super Octave, Digitech Whammy, and MXR M234 Analog Chorus.

Eddie Van Halen’s Guitar Strings:

– Fender Heavy Strings
Eddie used heavy string early on tuned half a step down.  He used heavier bottom strings with light top strings, but that ended up not working very well, so he switched to regular gauged set.

– Fender 150XL
Used in the early days. He would boil the strings so they would stretch and he used that set for the night. Next day he would put new strings on and go through the same process again.

– Ernie Ball 5150 EVH (9, 11, 15, 24, 32, 40)
Used during the time he played Kramer and Music Man guitars.

– Peavey (.09 -.42)
Used while playing Peavey guitar. These strings are still on the market, now rebranded as 6505 set.

– Fender EVH Strings (9, 11, 16, 26, 36, 46)
His current strings.

Eddie Van Halen’s Guitars Picks:

Eddie went through a variety of different picks – but nowadays he mostly uses .6mm textured nylon picks.

 

If you’d like to learn more about Eddie Van Halen and his equipment we also recommend visiting projectevh.com. They contributed a good amount of info to this list.
Contributors: Mark Tegeder, Jim
For more gear lists like this visit Gear Page

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GroundGuitar is a project started with the simple idea of collecting the stories behind instruments and gear used by the most influential guitarists of the rock era and presenting them in simple and intelligible fashion. Unfortunately, most of these little pieces of history are now scattered all over various magazine interviews, books, and online articles, and the task of collecting them all in one place is not an easy one. If you're knowledgeable of the subject and you feel like helping out, you can contribute to the project in couple of ways:
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