Eddie Van Halen Interview: Of Wolf and Man
GW You influenced many of the biggest guitar design advancements over the past 30 years, like the Floyd Rose tremolo and the D-Tuna. What’s next?
VAN HALEN I don’t sit around and think about what other people would like. I think about things that I want and need. That’s where everything starts. I’ve got a patent on the Drop to Hell tailpiece. I’ve always been into down tuning, from the first record to “Unchained” to this day. I’ve replaced the low E string with a bass string. I always wanted to have a guitar where I could drop the low E string’s tuning in an instant. This bridge drops from E to A as quickly as you can flick the lever, and you can go anywhere in between or even lower if you want. And it’s built like a brick shit house. It will not break.
BRUCK The engineering precision on that tailpiece is incredible. Nothing is loose. And the concept has room to grow. It works on one string right now, but it could affect all six strings.
VAN HALEN If you want what I use, we’ve made it available. The stuff that I use onstage isn’t modified. My modifications are built into my guitars and amps when they come off the line.
BRUCK One of the primary concepts of Ed having his own brand was that we wanted to be able to visit any EVH dealer in the world on the day of the gig, grab a 5150 and a Wolfgang and do the gig, and there would be no difference between it and Ed’s gear.
ELLIS This guitar is designed around Ed’s setup, which is engineered into every one of these guitars that we make. Everything is precalculated. The neck pocket is set to exactly the right angle. The pickup cavities mount the pickups at the exact height where Ed likes it.We just screw them directly into the wood. The bridge sits flat in the cavity. You can literally take the body out of the paint department, put the neck, parts and strings on it, and the action is exactly where it needs to be. Thanks to the graphite reinforcements that we put in the neck, it stays stable when we ship a guitar across the country.
VAN HALEN My guitars get subjected to all kinds of crazy temperatures on tour. It can sit in the back of a cold truck for 16 hours and then be brought into a warm venue. Even during the walk from the dressing room to the stage the temperature can change drastically. I would turn the studio temperature down to about 55 degrees and then take this guitar out in the sun, and it wouldn’t change. And it’s so easy to adjust the truss rod. You just insert the Allen wrench and you’re done.
GW Now that you’ve completed a new guitar and amp you must be very inspired. I would think that some new songs lurk in this gear.
VAN HALEN I’m always inspired. It’s things like the new Wolfgang and Drop to Hell tailpiece becoming a reality that keeps me pushing the limits of what’s possible. I’ll be making music ’til the day I die. I’ve done all kinds of stuff, and more is coming. I can’t tell you exactly when right now. Wolfgang is in the 12th grade, and he needs to graduate first. Then I’m getting married in June. We’ll pick it up after that.
GW With this guitar it seems like you have come as close to perfection as ever. But it also seems like you haven’t stopped searching.
VAN HALEN I don’t know if there is such a thing as perfection. But this is the best of everything that we could find with these three minds making it happen. I’m always changing, so even “the best” is a tough word for me to define.
GW It’s very generous for you to share your knowledge with other guitarists and musicians. After all, you could have just turned this into a one-off custom instrument for yourself.
VAN HALEN That’s the whole point. It’s not just for me, it’s for everyone. We’re not just shipping stuff out for the almighty buck. The Wolfgang had better outlive me and last forever. My name and my son’s name are on it. It’s not a fad. It’s my 35 years of knowledge of what makes a sweet, sexy, toney, quality, indestructible instrument. I’m very proud of it. Initially I was very worried about working with Fender because of all the bullshit you can go through with a huge company. But in a great way they proved me wrong. They rose to every occasion and gave me the freedom to create and bring my vision to fruition. Fender is my home. It took me a long time to get here, but it’s a good marriage, and I’m proud to have this team that has stuck with me through all of this.
The best thing of all, when you do all the things we did and get and get those things right, you end up with a great instrument that will inspire anybody to make great music and enjoy it. This guitar just makes you want to play. After all you don’t work music, you play it!
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