How Fender recreated Eddie Van Halen's Frankenstein so accurately that he mistook it for the original

EVH Frankenstein
(Image credit: Future)

Fender launched its EVH brand in style with the release of the Frankenstein in 2007. This Custom Shop limited-edition run included 300 replica instruments, each rendered in fine detail to recreate Eddie’s iconic guitar with astonishing accuracy. 

Now highly collectible pieces of rock ’n’ roll history, they originally retailed for $25,000 each (and were all sold within 15 minutes).  

“We had quite a bit of success with recreating iconic guitars – Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Number One, for example,” recalls Brian McDonald who, at the time, served as Fender’s marketing manager for the Jackson, Charvel and EVH brands. “So it was natural for us to be inclined to do the Frankenstein. Pairing Eddie’s iconic guitar with our Custom Shop seemed like a great way to make a bold statement with the launch of the EVH brand. 

“[Custom Shop head] Mike Eldred was always leading the charge on these projects and for this one the assigned builder was Chip Ellis. Eldred and Eddie went all the way back to the days when Van Halen were playing the clubs on the Strip. 

“I was working on the Anvil case, case candy, picks, etc. The only thing we didn’t get to do was replicate the chain strap he used on the first tour. Eldred and I were driving around hardware stores in Phoenix looking for the turnbuckles he used. We just ran out of time and shelved that idea.

Chip knocked it off so precisely Eddie couldn’t believe it. He grabbed a Sharpie and wrote ‘This is the shit’ on the back of the neck so he could tell the difference

“There was a guy at the office whose mom worked at a bank and had access to coins. She was tasked with looking for 1971 quarters and I think the majority of them, if not all of them, came from him and his mom.

“Chip, Eddie and [Eddie’s guitar tech, Matt] Bruck really hit it off. They made a great team when it came to this project. In fact, on the day he finished what would be the final prototype, he handed it to Eddie and Eddie played it for a few minutes and said, ‘All right, let me check out yours and see what you did,’ and Chip said, ‘That’s what you’re playing right now. That’s the guitar I made.’

“Chip knocked it off so precisely Eddie couldn’t believe it. He grabbed a Sharpie and wrote ‘This is the shit’ on the back of the neck so he could tell the difference. It was pretty cool going into NAMM knowing that the guitar wasn’t just something that Ed signed off on, but something the guys at the Custom Shop absolutely nailed.”

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Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar World (opens in new tab)Guitar Player (opens in new tab) and MusicRadar (opens in new tab) in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.