Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstein/Frankenstrat

Around early 1977, Eddie purchased a Stratocaster body from Boogie Bodies shop, owned by Wayne Charvel and Lynn Ellsworth. The popular theory is that he also purchased a neck that same day, went home, and pieced together the parts creating the infamous Frankenstrat guitar. However, it’s most likely that the nack was purchased later, as we’ll soon explain.

Frankenstein Guitar Parts

The body that Eddie picked for Frankenstein was a factory-second unfinished one, which was apparently the first one that he saw lying around the shop.

I go up there, they were out San Dimas way. There’s a body laying on the bottom and I go – what are these? And they go – those are seconds. I didn’t know what that meant, so I said – are they next in line to be manufactured? They said – no, it means there’s a knot in the wood. Cosmetically, they were not attractive. And I go – I’ll take one of those!

The body cost me 50 bucks, and the neck cost me 80.

Eddie Van Halen – Guitar World, Nov. 2006

According to Eddie, he made some requests for the body to be modified by Charvel.

I went to Charvel and had them rout a body out for just one pickup and one volume knob. I had to cut my own pickguard to cover everything up because it was originally a three-pickup Strat body. I used the vibrato tailpiece from a ’58 Strat for that guitar. I also had Charvel make me a really wide neck. I hate skinny necks. I like it bare wood because I hate to slip and slide when I start stretching strings.

Young Wizard of Power Rock – Jas Obrecht

We also learn that he paid close attention when choosing the neck – he looked for a wide neck with a really thin profile and big Gibson-style frets. Also, it sounds like the neck was purchased at a later date, and that he ordered it in advance – which breaks up the hypothesis that the body and the neck were purchased at the same time.

Lastly, Eddie mentioned using a tremolo from a ’58 Stratocaster on the Frankenstrat. As far as one can tell, Eddie did own a 1958 Stratocaster in the earlier years, but according to his own words, he ended up selling it.

He then used a 1961 Fender Stratocaster before he assembled the Frankenstrat, so maybe this is a case of him remembering details incorrectly. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense that he would sell the ’58 to someone without a tremolo.

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)

Early Days, Frankenstrat Before the Paint

The first time that the Frankenstrat was used was in early 1977, and it was seen in photographs taken by Bo Shannon (see below).

#7Van Halen performs live on stage

At that point, the only actual “Frankenstrat” part on the guitar was the body, and possibly the tremolo. The neck was most likely taken from Eddie’s 1961 Strat, the pickguard was probably a brand new black one, and the “zebra” humbucker pickup was something that we didn’t see in any of Eddie’s previous guitars. In any case, it wasn’t the one that he eventually settled on – it was there just temporarily.

If you want to go more in-depth regarding these early days, and the Frankenstrat before the custom paint job, John Burgess did a great video titled “Bare Body Frankenstrat! Mysteries Revealed!” analyzing wood grain and small details on the body, confirming that this was indeed the earliest version of the Frankenstrat.

First Paintjob

The first paint job that Frankenstrat ever got was in a plain black color. The guitar was photographed in this state at the Whisky A Go-Go on May 29, 1977, by Kevin Estrada.

The rest of the specs practically remained the same as when the guitar didn’t have a finish. It was fitted with a white pickguard, with two single-coils, and a humbucker in the bridge position, it had the same 1961 neck, same tremolo bridge.

All this is again perfectly explained by John Burgess in another one of his videos, which you can watch below.

Van Halen I, Second Paintjob, White Lines Added

Sometime in 1977, Eddie decided to once again modify the guitar. He repainted the body partially, adding strips of tape over it, and painting the rest with a white spray can. Removing the tape, of course, revealed the old black finish, and left black stripes across the body.

Eddie also replaced the 1961 rosewood fretboard neck with a custom-made maple one from Boogie Bodies. As pointed out in the quote from the first section of this page, Eddie was after a flatter and wider neck, and the 1961 Stratocaster neck that he was using prior to this one, was really on the opposite side of that spectrum.

The Boogie Bodies neck was left completely unfinished, with no lacquer or any sort of wood protection on it. Jokingly, Eddie added a Gibson sticker to the headstock, as the whole idea behind this guitar was to make a crossover between a Fender and a Gibson.

No, nothin’. Just bare wood. Because I like to feel the wood, you know? I hate to slip and slide. You start sweatin’, and you can’t stretch the strings.

Eddie Talks Guitars: 1979″ (from the “Van Halen Tapes 1978-82”) By: Jas Obrecht

As far as pickups, the white humbucker was gone and was replaced with a black one, most likely taken directly from Eddie’s Gibson ES-335.

I wanted to experiment building my own guitar so I could get the sound I wanted; I always wanted a Strat for the vibrato bar, because I love that effect. So I just bought it from them for fifty dollars and the neck for ninety dollars and slapped it together. Put an old humbucking pickup in it and one volume knob and painted it up the way I wanted it to look, and it screams. My main guitar up until right now.

Eddie Van Halen – the 1978 interview

Also worth pointing out that at least during this period, Eddie used a plain black pickguard on the Frankenstrat, with a single cutout for the humbucker in the bridge position. According to Eddie, he made this pickguard by himself.

Even the pickguard on the first record I cut out myself. That was not a Fender. I made that myself with a pair of scissors, and a soldering iron just to get the edges smooth.

Eddie Van Halen Interview – Guitar World, Nov. 2006
Embed from Getty Images

Based on Chris Gill’s research [The true origins and evolution of Eddie Van Halen’s legendary Frankenstein guitar], the guitar was first seen in this state on July 15, 1977, at Whiskey A-Go-Go.

Also based on Chris’ research, the Frankenstrat initially had two control knobs, one of which was later removed. But, in the quote above it sounds like Eddie only really used a single volume knob, so it’s unclear whether this second pot was even functional or not.

In any case, Eddie used this version of the Frankenstrat on Van Halen’s debut album, likely on all of the songs that required tremolo use. On the other ones, he used his Ibanez Destroyer. He also used the guitar for the band’s 1978 tour.

Eddie holding the Frankenstrat on the cover of Van Halen album.
Eddie holding the Frankenstrat on the cover of the Van Halen album.

White pickguard, Rosewood fretboard neck

The guitar was once again modified by Eddie likely sometime after the 1978 tour. There’s only one photo available of the guitar in this state, taken by Lynn Goldsmith, and published on Getty.

From the looks of it, Eddie went back to his old ’61 white pickguard, based on the fact that the screw placement above the middle pickup matches that of a 1961 Stratocaster. The bridge pickup seems to be the same black PAF from the ES-335, while the middle and the neck pickups are completely new to this guitar.

The middle pickup looks like a Telecaster pickup, based on the method that it was attached to the pickguard – via three screws, the same you’ll find on a Telecaster bridge pickup. The neck pickup was most likely the same red-colored Mighty Mite pickup that remained in the guitar to this day.

The rosewood fretboard neck that was installed on the Frankenstrat at this point was likely a brand new one, as it didn’t fit the description of the old ’61 neck.

Frankenstrat Goes Red

By the time the band went on their 1979 tour, Eddie once again decided to repaint the guitar. According to him, he did this in order to “screw” with the people who were trying to copy him.

Charvel started copying them, I said, “What the f*ck, man. I better change it.” So I really went to town painting it all freaked out, and I put three pickups back in. But they didn’t work – only the rear one worked. But I just did it because they copped my original idea. I did it just to be different again, so every kid who bought one like the model I had last year would go, “Oh, man! He’s got something different again!”

Eddie Talks Guitars: 1979″ (from the “Van Halen Tapes 1978-82”) By: Jas Obrecht

This, chronologically looking, third paint job is the one that the Frankenstrat is today known for. It was a result of the same method that Eddie used the first time – adding lines of tape over the body, and painting the exposed parts with a red spray can.

At this point, the guitar had the same three pickups that were there when it was last seen, a Gibson PAF humbucker, a Telecaster single-coil, and a red-colored Mighty Mite single coil. But, both of the single-coils were not even connected to anything and were there just for the show.

Embed from Getty Images

This incarnation of the Frankenstrat also featured a maple neck with its headstock painted black. This was most likely the same neck that he used originally on the Bumblebee guitar. It seems that he probably liked that neck, so he decided to keep it original on Frankie, while he put a different neck on the Bumblebee, because he needed to modify it in order to install a Floyd Rose locking nut on it.

It’s unclear at this point what happened to the original Boogie Bodies neck with the Gibson sticker on it, but according to photographic evidence, it was never again seen on Frankie.

It’s also worth noting that around 1979 Eddie started gluing reflectors on the back of the guitar. At first, he had only a few, and at some point, even had a small mirror glued back there. The point of all this was so that he could turn the guitar around during the live shows, and shine the light back to the audience – similar to what Syd Barret did with his Fender Esquire in early Pink Floyd gigs.

Van Hallen II

Based on Eddie’s statements, it sounds like he used a newly made guitar from Charvel, the so-called “Bumblebee”, to record the second album. The Frankenstrat was only used during the tour.

That’s the guitar on the second album cover. The pickup that’s in the picture is not really what I used. When we did the photo session for the album cover, I just finished painting it and slapping it together, and I just stuck some garbage pickup in there I wasn’t actually playing, just so it looked like a complete guitar.

Eddie Talks Guitars: 1979″ (from the “Van Halen Tapes 1978-82”) By: Jas Obrecht

1980, Again New Neck, First Floyd Rose Tremolo

Around 1980, the Frankenstrat again went through some changes. Most notably, Eddie installed a Floyd Rose tremolo system on it.

The Floyd Rose locking nut was installed on what appeared to be a brand new neck. There’s some talk that this was the original Boogie Bodies neck, but a closer look at the headstock shape, reveals that it was not. Also, from the photos, it can be safely concluded that this new neck had lacquer on the headstock.

Headstock comparison between the original Frankenstein neck, and the one that Eddie put on the guitar in early 1980s.
Headstock comparison between the original Frankenstein neck, and the one that Eddie put on the guitar in early 1980s.

Regarding pickups, at one point, the guitar had a white humbucker in it, possibly the same one that Eddie used in his “Bumblebee” guitar. In the “Van Halen Tapes” interview that we’re linked a few times on this page, Eddie is quoted saying that he assembled that humbucker himself, using DiMarzio plastic parts, PAF magnets, and brand new copper wire.

But, this white humbucker was in the guitar for a very brief period of time, and by 1981, every single photo of the Frankestrat again shows the black humbucker.

In the photo below, we also see that Eddie was at this point using the original prototype version of the Floyd Rose, without those small circular fine tuners on the top.

Embed from Getty Images

Aside from that, the small “pickguard” that was holding the volume pot was also removed. It was replaced with a piece that Eddie made himself from a vinyl record.

Lastly, also around this time, the middle Telecaster pickup was removed. In it’s place, in the middle pickup cavity, Eddie placed a random 3-way toggle switch. The switch wasn’t connected to anything and was there just for show.

Original Floyd Rose replaced, New Neck Again

Around 1981/82, Eddie replaced the prototype Floyd Rose tremolo with the newer version plated in gold color. He also replaced the small make-shift pickguard with a piece of an actual Stratocaster pickguard.

Embed from Getty Images

Also 1982, Eddie installed a new 22-fret Kramer branded neck on the guitar, with the 50s style Stratocaster headstock. For whatever reason, he soon sanded down the Kramer logo, but as can be seen in the photo above, the sanding marks remained visible – so we can tell with confidence that this was indeed the same neck.

Eddie with Brian May

Based on Rob5150 extensive research posted on YouTube, Eddie had again a new neck installed on the Frankenstein during the Star Fleet Project with Brian May. According to Rob5150, this neck was taken from the “Rude” guitar that he used during the Fair Warning tour.

Kramer neck, Coin

In 1983, Eddie switched the previous Kramer neck with a one with a “beak” shaped headstock. With this neck, Eddie filmed the music video for the song Jump.

Eddie with Frankie guitar in the music video for the song Jump.
Eddie with Frankie in the music video for the song Jump.

He also had to make a modification to the tremolo. This version of the Floyd Rose tremolo apparently had some issues, so Eddie had to screw a coin to the body which served as a stop.

This coin was just a 1971 quarter, and it still remains on the guitar to this day, although it no longer serves any purpose (a newer version of the Floyd Rose fixed the issue for Eddie).

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