It’s been a long while since I got a new piece of gear or write anything down for that matter, and I thought I’d share about the newest addition to my cheap guitar arsenal.
And fan boy a bit.
I’m quite a big fan of the the great Eddie Van Halen. Arguably one of the biggest names in rock guitar since forever, he had forged a name synonymous to “awesome” in many aspects. The eponymous first album ushered in the era of the guitar shredder in the modern parlance we know today – with his impressive lead playing which featured mad tapping skills, anchored by a very solid sense of rhythm, he took the guitar playing world by storm.
Sure, many people around his time played faster (eg. Al di Meola, Pat Metheny to name some – they will be for a future entry) but they did not have the sense of flair that he brought to the scene, nor the head bopping tunes under their belt.
While many people will remember Ed for bringing two handed tapping (he was not the first) to the fore, he was also known for the very recognizable sound that he had (Brown sound) and the guitars that he’d played. He popularized what was to become known as the Super Strat, which was basically a “muscled up” Stratocaster body loaded with humbucking pickups (usually just one) and later took on the addition of a double locking tremolo to keep the guitar in tune during his crazy whammy abuse sessions.
The first Frankenstrat was allegedly made with parts store cheapies – an alder body, Stratocaster style neck and vintage trem, changed to a Rockinger unit and then a Floyd Rose. It had a single pickup and wired with just a volume control because apparently, Ed didn’t know how to wire it any better. It was spray painted in the now familiar skunk stripes, and would be the guitar held by Ed on the cover of the first album.
That was a black and white striped guitar, and was soon superseded by the more familiar red, black and white striped variant that was used until Ed switched to Peavey Wolfgangs many, many years later.
Some years after the first album, Ed was approached by the owner of Kramer guitars, then a little known brand of guitars, and they struck an agreement to get Ed a “proper” guitar, with factory support of course. The result is the first line of Frankenstrats made by Kramer, and was the first guitar endorsed by Ed.
The new Frankenstrat was almost cosmetically the same as the old one used by Ed, save for the headstock which had now familiar hockeypuck design with the Kramer name on it.
After the 1984 album, which is amazing as balls, David Lee Roth went out of the band, and was replaced by Sammy Hagar, thus ushering in the second era of Van Halen that some fans refer to as Van Hagar. During this time, Ed appeared with a newer Frankenstrat that was dubbed the “5150”, named after his home studio, and incidentally, the band’s first album with Sammy.
This guitar is the one that appeared with Ed on the Live Without A Net concert, one of my favorite concert vids of all time.
While Kramer did make 5150 guitars for commercial sale, a lot of it are now very rare collectible items. This being the case, a lot of fans took it upon themselves to construct their own versions of the famous axe, most of them being true to the original design in a very obvious homage to the legendary guitar deity.
If you’d remember my first electric guitar, “Nina”, I turned her into my own kind of Frankenstrat with just one pickup (well one that’s working at least) and one volume knob. But while she is functionally a Frankenstrat, the lack of stripes didn’t quite cut it for me.
A week or so though, I managed to snag a more proper Frankenstrat guitar on the internet. It was previously a Kramer Striker 1000ST, and sported the 5150 livery. It came with a railed humbucker (nice) and the trademark Jazz bass knob for a volume control. It looked to have an original Floyd Rose unit which seems to be a rarity nowadays in that the older units were made of steel and new ones, especially those replacement ones, are made of a sort of alloy that reportedly cracks under use.
While most Frankenstrats go with a maple fretboard (which I love btw) this one had a more conventional rosewood fretboard. Cosmetically, it was very pleasing to look at, and made me feel like a bigger EVH fan than I normally consider myself to be. Just a bit of trivia though – the original 5150s had the hockeypuck headstock with Pacer bodies, which made this built guitar pretty interesting.
I bought it within a few hours of me finding it on the net, after some encouragement from my wife because I was a little hesitant at first. I love her for being sweet like that.
So here are some photos.
I have not yet decided on a name for her, although an early contender is “Valerie” which many will probably recognize as Ed’s first wife’s name. While I like the name, the vibe and the very obvious connection to this guitar, I have a friend named Valerie so it kinda feels awkward calling my guitar that. Also, my guitar naming convention suggests a two syllable name, which “Valerie” isn’t.
I’m looking to use this as my axe of choice for the upcoming company Thanksgiving part, mainly because I believe all my guitars have to have a trial by fire before being completely bonded to it.
For a single pickup guitar, this sounds really sweet and plays quite well considering I have not set it up yet. Some of the frets are quite worn down and there’s some buzz on the upper registers. I plan to take her to my girls’ tech for a re-fret and set up, but that will be for later because it’s going to be a pretty expensive job.
Ah c’est la vie.