Eddie Van Halen’s Guitar Collection Reveals His Fascination with the Tools of the Trade

January 17th, 2014

This is an excerpt from the all-new January/February 2014 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For the rest of this story, including 14 pages of photos of Eddie Van Halen’s gear, head to the Guitar Aficionado Online Store.

A Different Kind of Trove: Cool, unusual, and full of surprises, Ed Van Halen’s extraordinary guitar collection reveals the legendary player’s endless fascination with the tools of his trade.

By Chris Gill | Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Most guitarists and fans who have paid close attention to Eddie Van Halen’s career likely think of him as a “serial monogamist” when it comes to the guitars he plays. During the early days of Van Halen, he was known for playing his Frankenstein guitar that he assembled from various parts, and during the Eighties he was usually spotted onstage with his trademark Kramer 5150 guitar.

After that, Ed went through a succession of signature-model guitars that he designed that were built by Music Man and Peavey. Those guitars led to the ultimate solution—establishing his own EVH brand, which produces various guitars, 5150 amplifiers, cables, accessories, and other products entirely to Ed’s own specifications, including the Wolfgang model guitars that are his main workhorse instruments today.

However, over the years Ed has amassed quite an impressive and deep collection of many other guitars that have played important, behind-the-scenes roles in Van Halen’s music. Some of these guitars inspired new songs, while others made cameo appearances during solos or overdubs recorded in the studio. Then there are several gifts given to Ed, particularly the various guitars that his mentor Les Paul gave to him over the years. And like anyone who has played guitar for a while, Ed has made a handful of impulse purchases, picking up instruments that catch his eye if only for their aesthetic appeal.

The storage space at 5150 studios where Van Halen keeps his gear makes Guitar Center’s Hollywood flagship location look like a humble mom and pop store. Boxes marked with the EVH brand logo are stacked neatly near the entrance, and row upon row of old, battered guitar cases line the walls, concealing their mysterious and alluring contents. As Matt Bruck, Van Halen’s business partner and our tour guide for the day, asks if there are any guitars we’d like to see, our minds are immediately flooded with recollections of rare or obscure guitars that Van Halen has mentioned in past interviews or that we caught fleeting glimpses of in old concert photos. Most of those instruments are still around, but even more fascinating are the guitars that we never knew Van Halen had.

“I’m not the typical guitar collector in the least,” Van Halen says as he goes through the stacks and pulls out a few of his personal favorites. “I’ve bought a lot of vintage pieces over the years, but I’ve destroyed quite a few of them. People might think, How could you desecrate the Mona Lisa? but I really don’t care what something looks like. I’m more concerned with a guitar’s functionality, sound, and playability. That’s why I started building my own guitars. Other guitars wouldn’t do what I needed them to do, so I made my own.”

Van Halen is not exaggerating. As the photos on the following pages show, he has no qualms about performing rather drastic surgery on instruments to achieve the sound or performance he desires. Vintage purists may want to look away, but the various scars, marks, and modifications that he’s made even on valuable vintage instruments tell the tale of a man who is constantly looking for ways to improve the tools of his trade and who refuses to accept the commonly held belief that all progress in electric guitar design stopped in 1959. That attitude resulted in a treasure trove of innovations that Van Halen either invented or inspired, including the hybrid Super Strat design (with PAF humbuckers instead of single-coil pickups), customized high-gain amps, bold graphic finishes, and other developments that most of today’s guitarists take for granted.

“There is always something new for me around the corner,” Van Halen says. “My tastes are always changing. I used a Wolfgang Stealth with an ebony fingerboard on our entire 2012 tour. Before that, my main guitars all had maple fingerboards, but one day I tried a guitar with an ebony board and thought that it felt pretty good. For the 2012¬–13 tour, I modified my 5150 III amp heads because my taste had changed again a little and I wanted to continue the evolution of the amp. We’re putting out the limited-edition 5150 III S with that mod, for anyone who wants what I am currently using. I just keep pushing to see what I can get out of something. Spinal Tap made a joke about things going to 11, but I’ve spent my whole life pushing things to 11.”

Frankenstein

What trips me out about this guitar is that when I painted it red, that made it more famous. A lot of people still don’t know that it’s the same guitar as the black-and-white guitar on the cover of the first Van Halen album. That guitar went through a lot of different phases and changes. On the first record, it had a stock vintage Fender Strat vibrato, then the Floyd came around, and then I added the dummy pickup at the neck. I kept changing it because I was tired of people copying my guitar.

This is an excerpt from the all-new January/February 2014 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For the rest of this story, including 14 pages of photos of Eddie Van Halen’s gear, head to the Guitar Aficionado Online Store.

Comments

  1. Posted by Denny on December 4th, 2013, 14:59 [Reply]

    Can you tell me when this issue will hit the streets / magazine racks? Thank you!

  2. Posted by steve cook on December 4th, 2013, 15:23 [Reply]

    I am so glad to Van Halen is still going strong, and they are coming out with new material, Eddie is my biggest influence, and inspiration for playing guitar, everyone that I hear today, has had some sort of Eddies influence in their own playing, but he is on a pedistal all by him self. Eddie your the man, keep up the good the good work, a lifelong fan!!!!!!!!

  3. Posted by GSM on December 4th, 2013, 17:47 [Reply]

    No one has done it as completely and with as much immersion as Ed has, regardless of the genre. From building his own guitar to his own specs, to using everything available to him to make new sounds, to writing numerous memorable riffs and songs, and on and on… Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, has done it so completely and so well. And he did all that while dealing with everything that goes along with being “Eddie Van Halen”. Thanks Ed for sharing it with all of us. And, seriously, thanks for all the smiles!

    • Posted by scruff on January 15th, 2014, 09:50 [Reply]

      Two Words: Shawn Lane.

      Ran circles around circles around Van Gaylen.

      • Posted by Johnjones86 on October 17th, 2014, 08:48 [Reply]

        “Van Gaylen” How old are you 12?

        Did Shawn drastically change guitar forever? No. He is still relatively unknown to people outside of the guitar world. Get over yourself.

  4. Posted by johnny beane on December 4th, 2013, 20:34 [Reply]

    Called all around town looking for the magazine the other day.

    Called Guitar Center and they thought i wanted “Guitar, Fish & Auto” magazine!!

    LOL!!!!!

    Anyway looking forward to it!!!

  5. Posted by country keith robertson on December 4th, 2013, 22:33 [Reply]

    eddie you are the greatest rock guitarists ever and the biggest guitar innovator of all time!!!

  6. Posted by Marty Czoka on December 4th, 2013, 23:13 [Reply]

    Eddie has always been my favorite musicion . It was great to see the article. Now Iv’e got to find the magazine.

  7. Posted by Yolanda K Parker on December 5th, 2013, 12:04 [Reply]

    Love Eddie Van Halen and his music. We love music and the dance of life. Yay! Congrats on guitaraficionado.com!

  8. Posted by Bradley on December 5th, 2013, 12:23 [Reply]

    This article is pretty much useless without pictures.

    • Posted by Mr. Big on December 5th, 2013, 15:03 [Reply]

      Then buy the damn magazine you cheapskate!

  9. Posted by dale on December 14th, 2013, 02:22 [Reply]

    eddie is simply still the best maybe better than ever

  10. Posted by Phil Gajewski on February 7th, 2014, 16:46 [Reply]

    Check out my thoughts on the Frankenstein Controversy – the guitar as featured in this issue: http://guitarlife.uphero.com/wordpress/the-frankenstrat-controversy/

  11. Posted by MikeDutill on February 16th, 2014, 15:40 [Reply]

    Witch one the Wolfe ,or that fuggly KRAMMER? C’ non ed! Fuckin tell me..aaaaa I got a mustang that’ll blow that away !!!!!

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