Eddie Van Halen Interview: Of Wolf and Man
ELLIS A lot of times when Ed would hit a note, there would be a long pause until feedback, and there would be a funny tone in between.
VAN HALEN There was this nasty, ugly overtone.
ELLIS It had to be seamless.
VAN HALEN It would blow your mind how many variables are involved, and not just with the pickup but also with the reaction between the pickup and the wood and how it is wired. That’s why I prefer to bolt the pickup directly to the wood. Everything needs to be connected. It starts with your fingers, the pickups take it from there, and then it goes through the cable to the amp.
GW The neck on the new Wolfgang has a slim profile. The necks on your earlier models were more bulky.
VAN HALEN It was a matter of closing my eyes and feeling it. We went back to some of my earlier guitars, like the striped guitar I had back in 1984. That’s the way I like it to feel. It’s nice. It’s like a sexy woman.
GW How did you choose the tuners?
ELLIS Ed was rehearsing for the Van Halen tour, and I brought a bunch of different samples to him. The first thing he tried to do was break them. He’d go, “Why is this loose?” So I handed him another batch. We ended up going with these tuners because they’re heavy duty. There was no “give” anywhere. When you get a lot of tuners to pitch there’s a little bit of play. These are just as smooth and precise as can be.
BRUCK We looked at samples that were cut in half and examined the gearing. We made sure that the ratio was tight. The tuners and the switch were both made by Gotoh. They uphold quality and consistency.
VAN HALEN A lot of times you’ll go to a vendor and they’ll give you something good, but when you need more the quality takes a nosedive.We’re very hard on vendors. There are so many Floyd Rose trems out there. A lot of people don’t realize that there is a difference. We concocted one that is the best there is. We went through all kinds of details like using a brass sustain block. It’s bulletproof, and it sounds better.
GW The five-ply binding on the body and headstock really completes the guitar.
VAN HALEN That was Matt’s idea. When we were sitting down in the lounge narrowing down finish options, Matt started drawing on one of the bodies with a marking pen. Chip and I were going, “What the hell are you doing?”
BRUCK The previous Wolfgang had solid, one-piece binding. Ed talks about how the guitar is like a woman…I wanted something fancy. I thought that five-ply binding would be bitchin’. We want this guitar to stand alongside a Les Paul but to also be a modern day instrument. We want this guitar to be held at the same level of esteem.
VAN HALEN I don’t want to sound arrogant, pompous or egotistical, but aesthetically I think this guitar is right up there with a Les Paul. And that’s besides all of the work and the quality of the actual instrument and the components. It’s simple, balanced and it feels right. It looks great, too.
If you have a great-sounding guitar that’s a quality instrument and a good amp, and you know how to make the guitar talk, that’s the key. It starts with the guitar and knowing what it should sound and feel like. Yesterday, I picked up the first two Wolfgang production models, and they felt even better than the main Wolfgang prototype that I used on the whole tour.
GW Taking this guitar on the biggest tour of the last two years to road test it was a very bold move.
VAN HALEN It had to be done. I don’t let anything out unless I’ve dragged it around the block, taken it out on tour and beaten the living shit out of it. Playing on the road is an entirely different animal than playing in the studio. The guitar will get bounced around in the truck. You’ve got union guys slamming the cases around, and somebody might drop the guitar. The painstaking effort that we took starting from scratch alleviated a lot of problems, which gave me the confidence to take it on tour. The tweaks that we did on the road were very minor because of all the preparation that we did.
GW What developments came about from taking the guitar on the road?
VAN HALEN The stainless-steel frets were a major breakthrough because of the amount of playing and bending that I do. I have to get my guitars refretted every couple of months. On the whole tour, the frets were great. They didn’t wear out. Anyone who thinks they take away from the tone is crazy. It has nothing to do with tone.
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