Eddie Van Halen’s 1961 Fender Stratocaster

Eddie used this guitar for a period of time in 1976 and 1977. Initially, the guitar was a sunburst model, featuring a rosewood neck, with what appears to be a small headstock. This detail would place the date of manufacture in the early 60s because by the mid-60s Fender started producing Stratocasters with larger headstocks.

Interestingly, the logo on Eddie’s Strat was placed very oddly, closer to the middle of the headstock as opposed to the bottom, where it would usually be. This could point out that this was either a replacement neck or a neck that was refinished.

Logo placement on the headstock of Eddie's Stratocaster.
Logo placement on the headstock of Eddie’s Stratocaster.

We also see that the neck has a fatter slab fretboard, which is typical of Strats made before August 1962, which is when Fender moved to thinner veneer fretboards.

As far as the pickups, the Strat had two single-coil pickups, and a humbucker in the bridge position. According to Eddie, this humbucker was a Gibson PAF.

So I bought a ’58 Strat years ago when we played high school dances, and Dave and Al just turned and started throwing sticks at me! They said, “Don’t use that guitar — it sounds to thin!” You know, single-coil pickups. They had a real buzzy, thin sound unless I used a fuzz box, and that’s even worse. So I sold that and then two years later I bought a router and dumped a Gibson PAF pickup into a ’61 Strat. It got very close. All of a sudden the band said, “That’s okay, It doesn’t sound like a Strat anymore.”

Young Wizard of Power Rock” By: Jas Obrecht Guitar Player (April 1980)

Usage, Mods

The guitar was first seen in the photos taken by Mervin Rinnig at Whisky a Go Go in West Hollywood in December 1976. These photos are available on Mervin’s website – Van Halen – Whiskey & Starwood 1976 – musicfoto.com. At that point, as already noted, the guitar had a sunburst finish.

By the next time that Eddie appeared with the guitar, which was in early 1977, he had repainted the whole body white. The photos of the guitar in this state can be seen on Bo Shannon’s flickr page.

From that point, it becomes unclear what exactly happened to this Fender Stratocaster. Eddie was seen playing a black Stratocaster in 1977, with a pickguard and a neck that was most likely taken from this guitar. It is believed however that the body was the same body that Eddie bought at Boogie Bodies, and eventually used to make the Frankenstrat. All this is perfectly explained by John Burgess in the video below,

It’s unknown what happened to the parts of Eddie’s 60s Stratocaster after he assembled the Frankenstrat fully, with the custom pickguard and a new maple neck. He probably played around with the old parts for a while and eventually disregarded them.

The only part that seemed to have survived is the neck plate, which Eddie potentially used on the Frankenstrat. This is purely a guess based on the fact that the Frankstrat plate reads “61071” – which is a serial number of a 1961 Fender Stratocaster. Based on what we know about this guitar, it could’ve been made in 1961, and it’s obviously highly unlikely that Eddie had another 1961 Stratocaster at the time when he was assembling the Frankenstrat from which he could’ve taken the plate.

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