Man, is it 30 years ago already? I had started playing guitar just the summer before. I had discovered Guitar Player magazine at the local bookstore – there was really only one place to buy books and mags in my little North Dakota town, and I pedaled there weekly on my bike to check out the comic book racks. I remember opening the Guitar Player issue and reading about some crazy L.A. kid who had built his own guitar; his band’s first album had just come out. A few weeks later I came across a copy of the record at White’s Drug Store, and I bought it.
The first song on the record was “Running with the Devil,” and it rocked. The guitar sound was awesome, but I didn’t really hear the fireworks and originality that Guitar Player had touted. Then the second cut started… “Eruption.” I had never heard anything like it – how many guitars was that? How the heck did he do that? Given that I was still struggling just to tune my guitar, it was incomprehensible to me.
Eddie Van Halen and his namesake band changed everything with that LP. I remember making the 100-mile trek to see the band in concert in Bismarck, North Dakota, after Van Halen II came out. There was no question; this particular rock fan was blown away. I wanted to play guitar like that more than anything!
I immediately ordered the parts from some catalog to build a single-humbucker Strat-style guitar with a tremolo bridge – I had to have what Eddie had. It had an ash body, but I finished it with oak stain I found in my dad’s workshop, then varnished it. (I didn’t have any bicycle paint around to make stripes.) I’ve since purchased some cool guitars, but that much-abused, constantly modified old “partscaster” remains one of the best-sounding and best-playing guitars I have – it’s number one in my stable! (Someday I’ll share the story of how I backed over it with my Ford Bronco – and how it survived.)
Thirty years later there’s still a part of me that would love to play like Eddie and have the exact same guitar rig he has. He’s no longer using the “Frankenstein” Strat-style homemade guitar; these days he’s playing a Wolfgang, a brand-new instrument he’s releasing to the public via his EVH brand (which is made for him by Fender). You’ve got to check out the story on the EVH site about how this guitar came to be – what Eddie and the designers/builders went through, how many prototypes they made that Eddie took on the recent Van Halen tour, etc. The attention to detail and the all-out effort to get every little thing right is pretty cool. I’m especially interested to hear the pickups that they say they slaved over for months. Eddie’s guitars have always had a certain tone, and if these instruments can put out that sound, then the guitar is worth having just for that.
I did have a chance to meet Eddie and to play a Wolfgang, in January at the Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, California, at an event where Eddie was personally unveiling the new Wolfgang to the industry – and yes, though I’ve been lucky enough to meet many of my musical heroes over the years, I’ll admit to being star-struck. But, I was only able to play the guitar unplugged. Soon I hope to get a chance to plug it in and really put it through its paces…I’ll do my best to avoid playing the tapping section of “Eruption,” but I can’t promise…
Just from the brief moment I was able to spend strumming the unplugged guitar, I was impressed. The action was low, but the guitar rang very well. It definitely played easily and had a comfortable neck shape. There seemed to be plenty of sustain and good dynamic response.
Wolfgang is shipping, and Sweetwater has them in stock, so I’ll see what I can do to score one for a hands-on review. Watch for my report in an upcoming issue!