Eddie Van Halen’s early riffs and solos are no doubt iconic. But perhaps just as legendary is the electric guitar that Eddie, who passed away on October 6 at age 65 after a long battle with cancer, used to record and perform them.
In 2006, Eddie teamed up with Fender for a limited run of that guitar – the Frankenstein, or Frankenstrat. Only a few hundred examples were produced, with a hefty price tag of roughly $25,000. But in the hands of builder Chip Ellis, the guitar was an exact replica of the original, from the cigarette burns on the body to the 1971 quarter near the Floyd Rose tremolo.
That year, Guitar World joined Eddie, Chip and Eddie’s tech, Matt Bruck, at 5150 Studios in L.A. to discuss the making of the guitar that changed the world.
“Some people call it Frankenstein,” Eddie says at the top of the clip. “I call it my baby.”
Part I of the video finds Eddie delving into the history of the Frankenstrat, discussing how he “didn’t have the money and the guitar I wanted to play didn’t exist. It was that simple.”
The body, he continues, was picked up from a pile of factory seconds. “The body cost me 50 bucks and the neck cost me 80.”
As for the finish?
“The funny thing is, the [original black and white stripes], I don’t know what made me think of that at all,” Eddie says. “I was just looking for something different. But I really wasn’t looking. I mean, even the pickguard I cut out myself. With a pair of scissors and a soldering iron to get the edges smooth.
“It was kind of a culmination of years of putzing around and everything kind of ended up in this guitar.”
In Part II, Ed dives deeper into the design of the guitar, while for Part III he’s joined by builder Chip Ellis.
Says Eddie about the replica, “Chip handed me a guitar that just freakin’ blew my mind. It sounds better than the original, it feels better… C’mon, they even got the ashes from the cigarette burns! They nailed everything.”
Amazingly, Ellis reveals that he created the replica entirely from photos, without ever laying his hands on Eddie’s original guitar. “I picked it apart probably further than anybody should pick anything apart,” he says. “I just wanted to nail every little detail.”
And indeed he did.