EVH Wolfgang Electric Guitar
E.L.V.H. Inc., evhgear.com
White or black, $2,999.99; Tobacco Burst, $3,149.99
Originally published in Guitar World, October 2009
In the Wolfgang, custom-made parts and years of testing have combined to create something amazing.
Edward Van Halen is the architect of modern rock guitar design. He was the first notable rock guitarist to scrutinize and, frequently, modify every part of the instrument to achieve his objectives. His past collaborations with Kramer, Ernie Ball, Peavey and Charvel were tempered by consumer and manufacturing considerations. But as Eddie’s new Wolfgang guitar is manufactured under his own EVH brand name, he now has final say on everything.
Master builder, Chip Ellis, who is also famed for recreating Eddie’s striped Charvel, and Eddie’s long-time associate Matt Bruck had just one goal when designing this Wolfgang: to build Eddie his dream guitar. Almost every part was custom made to his specifications, resulting in the most stimulating and finely crafted guitar to wear the Van Halen signature of approval.
The Wolfgang's body shape is a slight change from Ed’s previous signature models, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. The warmsounding basswood body is topped with an arched AA maple cap that is slightly thinner than on Ed’s earlier signature models, though it’s thick enough through the pickup area to help the Wolfgang project powerfully. This allows the basswood to serve as the dominant tone, while the maple balances it with high, singing sustain. Only a very thin finish is applied over the paint, and the body’s inner cavities are unpainted and unfinished, which allows the guitar to breathe. Attractive five-ply binding wraps the top and headstock.
The Wolfgang’s bolt-on neck is made of rock-hard quartersawn maple. As in previous Van Halen guitars, graphite rods are used for an added measure of solidity, and the familiar bird’s-eye maple fretboard makes the neck as beautiful as it is steady. In a switch from the deep, asymmetrical neck shapes found on Ed’s previous guitars, the Wolfgang’s carve is symmetrical, reasonably thin and more akin to a classic C-style profile. The frets are stainless steel, rather than nickel, so they won’t tarnish and may never wear down.
Ed tested more than 80 pickups before he and the guitar’s designers finally found the right combination of materials and windings. As usual, the pickups are hard-mounted to the guitar for maximum resonance transfer. The Floyd Rose trem is actually custom made for this guitar. It features a hardened-steel base plate, specific saddle tolerances, an EVH D-Tuna and hardened-steel hex bolts. As on Ed’s Eighties guitars, the Floyd top lock is bolted through the neck for improved resonance and immovability. The accurate pearloid button Gotoh tuners are also custom made.
A three-way pickup toggle rests on the guitar’s upper bout and an almost frictionless volume pot makes cathedral-esque swells a breeze. Though Ed has scoffed at tone pots in the past, he placed one in Wolfgang because he liked how it warmed the pickups. Keeping true to his original customized guitars, he has topped the control pots with easy-to-grip MXR pedal knobs.
A combination of specific tonal layers stack up to create Ed’s signature tone, and the Wolfgang gives you access to all of them. The guitar is as exciting and responsive when clean, crunchy or wide open. If you want a round and distinct clean sound, the Wolfgang’s construction and unusually balanced pickups are more than up to the task.
At the same time, I reveled in the Wolfgang’s ability to compliment a moderately distorted amp with terrifically uncompressed dynamic bursts. I was even more impressed at how accurately the Wolfgang creates Ed’s signature brown sound. Though the tone is not quite as dark as Eddie’s original sound, the core dimensionality and harmonic separation are perfect. Crank the distortion higher and the Wolfgang becomes one of the great metal guitars, defining the full spectrum of sound and seemingly reaching into the amp to grab every nuance of tone.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In the Wolfgang, custom-made parts and years of testing have combined to create something amazing. The guitar is improbably versatile and extremely well constructed. Moreover, it’s capable of producing the tones from each Van Halen era.
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