Unchained! An EVH Gear Roundup

February 15, 2012

Wolfgang HT

It’s a tribute to Eddie Van Halen, his EVH design team, and Fender that all four Wolfgangs we tested were extremely consistent in build quality, playability, and sounds. The major design elements discussed in the roundtable (see pg. 60) are present in all four guitars—a nice touch for those who can’t yet afford a USA-built Wolfgang—so, basically, what you get are some subtle tonal variations from model to model. It almost comes down to whether you want a hardtail or an EVH/Floyd, or dig a certain lightness or heft to your Wolfgang, or are simply price shopping. The bottom line is that you won’t be disappointed with any choice you make, because all Wolfgangs sound great and play great.

As with all the Wolfgang models, the USA Wolfgang HT ships with a low, ready-to-shred action. Even with the action so close to the frets, and a .009 set of strings on the guitar, there were no buzzes or rattles—even when chording or riffing very high or low on the fretboard. The neck’s oiled finish adds to the speed factor, but it also makes for a very comfy feel as you move around, whether you’re burning like Yngwie or bending like Slowhand. I didn’t notice any significant tonal or “feel” differences from the stainless steel frets—as opposed to nickel frets— so I’ll take Eddie’s word that they’re near indestructible, and leave it at that. Everything here works towards a fun and inspiring playing experience no matter what style of music you play.

All Wolfgang controls are Eddieapproved, and that can be a boon or a challenge, depending on your own personal preferences and idiosyncrasies. The Volume knob turns so effortlessly that it can almost be adjusted by using your breath, and that’s fabulous if on-the-fly volume swells are part of your thing. I dug it. But I also experienced unplanned level changes when I strummed too wildly while stomping around. The Tone knob turns smoothly, but with more effort, and I liked the fact that my often ham-handed gesticulations couldn’t get it to budge unexpectedly. The 3-way pickup selector is “backwards”— meaning the up position selects the bridge pickup (rather than the neck), and the down position gives you the neck pickup (rather than the bridge). It took me a while to get used to this arrangement, but I prevailed.

The EVH humbuckers deliver an articulate and open punch, allowing everything from single-note lines to complex chords to arpeggios to ring out with a shimmering clarity—even when using the neck pickup. They’re also very dynamic pickups, and merely adjusting the guitar’s Volume control can produce a surprising array of timbres from steely to ballsy and saturated (depending, of course, on your amp’s setting). Sustain is crazy—almost Ebow-like when amp or pedal overdrive is added to the signal chain—and getting musical feedback is a breeze. This is a truly kick-ass guitar with stunning features and a ferociously beautiful sound.



Wolfgang Special HT

Choice of finish aside, the Japanese-manufactured Special HT is a near dead ringer for its archtop, USA-made sibling. In fact, on our test model, the birds-eye maple fretboard was a bit more striking (if you dig more birds eyes) than the American Wolfgang. At 6.54 lbs, the Special HT is also the lightest of the quartet we evaluated. It feels great on your shoulder, and it shouldn’t weigh you down if you’re into leaping off half-stacks, or sprinting from the stage to the back of the arena (or, well, bar). All kidding aside—unless you actually do all that stuff—the Wolfgang Special is a fantastic choice for players who do multiple-set gigs, or consecutive-night performances, as its almost weightless feel can help reduce stage fatigue.

As mentioned earlier, the basic feature set of the Wolfgangs is almost the same, so operating the Wolfgang Special is really no different than driving a Wolfgang or a Stealth. I noticed no build-quality issues with the Special, either. I think that if I was blindfolded, I could be easily fooled as to whether I was playing a USA-made or Japan-made model. With the blindfold off—same thing. The Special’s finish is top rate, the bolt-on neck is tightly installed with no air between the body and neck, the frets are clean and well seated, the hardware is locked down and rattle free, and the binding is classy. Trust me, it’s as beautiful as a Bentley, even if you paid a Lexus price for it.

In addition to the comfort factor, the Special’s light weight has a very subtle impact on its tonal characteristics. In full roar onstage, it’s difficult to zero in on any significant timbral differences between the four Wolfgangs we tested, and, again, that’s a tribute to the EVH team. I did a double-blind test with some band mates at a local rehearsal space, cranking up a balls-out overdrive tone, and then playing with a clean sound. The “audience” was about 20 feet from the amp (a Mesa/ Boogie Stiletto and 4x12 cab—the EVH 5150 III 50 Watt was still at the GP office). No one could consistently mark any guitar as sounding “better” or “different” from another— though, once or twice, someone did hear a tad more dimension and sparkle in the Special. Under the more microscopic listening environment of the recording studio, however, the Special clearly exhibited a slightly brighter and airier tone with more high-frequency definition—whether the tone was distorted or run clean and direct.

The Special is a lovely guitar with many attributes that echo those of the more-expensive USA-made version. A purchase choice may simply come down to budget, or whether you dig the USA model’s nicely arched top, or want to own a guitar made here in America. But you certainly aren’t giving away much tone, playability, or looks by choosing the less costly Special.



Wolfgang Stealth

With its cool but ominous matteblack finish and ebony fretboard, the USAmade Stealth definitely evokes a black ops kind of vibe. Happily, this guitar strikes for good, rather than evil, as it sounds amazing and plays like a joy. Adding the ebony ’board to this model definitely changes up the feel from that of the maple fretboards on the Wolfgang HT and Wolfgang Special HT. It’s still a subtle difference, and the neck is still as fast as a Ferrari at full rev, but it feels just a bit more substantial. It’s a super-subjective call, of course, but I found myself digging into riffs and chords a little harder on the ebony fretboard. It could be something as silly as the darker color fueling more aggression in my playing, but my approach did change when I grabbed the Stealth after knocking around with one of the mapleboard Wolfgangs.

Once again, as the build quality and control factors are near exact on all Wolfgangs, it’s mostly the construction elements that drive the tonal characteristics of each model. Here, we have the heaviest Wolfgang (at 8.12lbs), an ebony fretboard, an EVH/Floyd Rose tremolo with D-Tuna feature, and a painted finish, rather than a maple top. As a result, the Stealth produces a brighter, snappier tone than the other Wolfgangs, with a nice punch in the high-midrange frequencies. You don’t get as much high-frequency shimmer, and you do get some added low-end girth. It’s likely a cliché to say it all adds up to a more aggro sound, but, hey, that kind of nails it.

The EVH/Floyd and the D-Tuna work great, and overall sustain is not noticeably different from that of the hardtail models. If you want a Wolfgang that punches like Mike Tyson in his prime, the Stealth is gonna rock your world.

















Wolfgang Special Stealth

The USA Stealth’s arched and textured matte-black top, and its creamwith- black-striped binding are wonders to behold, but if you don’t have around $2,999 in your pocket, and you can deal with more Spartan cosmetics, the $1,199 Special Stealth is one mean machine. After all, you still get all the features that make Wolfgangs such marvelous guitars—including, in the case of the USA Stealth we tested, the EVH/Floyd Rose and D-Tuna. The Special Stealth plays just as nicely and boldly as the more-expensive Stealth, although perhaps a tad more buoyantly, as the Special is a slightly lighter guitar. I did notice that there’s more space between the bottom of the Volume and Tone knobs and the guitar’s body than is evident on the other three Wolfgangs, but this is really splitting hairs to look for differences.

On the tonal side, I could only discern variations in the studio. In live-performance tests, the Special sounded crazy close to the USA Stealth—no surprise, as the two maplefretboard Wolfgangs delivered almost identical tonal perspectives on stage. Comparing various tracks in Pro Tools, the Special Stealth surrendered just a tad of the low-midrange frequencies that the USA Stealth delivered. The result is that the Special Stealth still sounds aggressive and articulate, and it’s a brilliant option for those who dig ebony fretboards and ballsy tones.






















Specifications

CONTACT EVH, evhgear.com

Wolfgang USA HT

PRICE $4,133 retail/$3,099 street

NUT WIDTH 1.68"

NECK Quartersawn maple, bolt-on

FRETBOARD AA birds-eye maple, 25.5" scale

FRETS 22, stainless steel

BODY Basswood core with AAAAA maple top

PICKUPS Two EVH humbuckers

CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way switch

BRIDGE TonePros

TUNERS EVH/Gotoh

WEIGHT 7.92lbs

BUILT USA

FACTORY STRINGS EVH, .009-.042

KUDOS Intelligent design. Great tones. Playability.

CONCERNS Low-friction Volume knob might trip up some players who bash around. Pickup selector is “backwards.”

Specifications

CONTACT EVH, evhgear.com

Wolfgang Special HT

PRICE $1,666 retail/$1,249 street

NUT WIDTH 1.68"

NECK Quartersawn maple, bolt-on

FRETBOARD AA birds-eye maple, 25.5" scale

FRETS 22, stainless steel

BODY Basswood

PICKUPS Two EVH humbuckers

CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way switch

BRIDGE TonePros

TUNERS EVH/Gotoh

WEIGHT 6.54lbs

BUILT Japan

FACTORY STRINGS EVH, .009-.042

KUDOS Intelligent design. Great tones. Playability.

CONCERNS Low-friction Volume knob might trip up some players who bash around. Pickup selector is “backwards.”

Specifications

CONTACT EVH, evhgear.com

Wolfgang Stealth

PRICE $3,999 retail/$2,999 street

NUT WIDTH 1.625”

NECK Quartersawn maple, bolt-on

FRETBOARD Ebony, 25.5” scale

FRETS 22, stainless steel

BODY Basswood (archtop)

PICKUPS Two EVH humbuckers

CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way switch

BRIDGE EVH/Floyd Rose locking tremolo with EVH D-Tuna

TUNERS EVH/Gotoh

WEIGHT 8.12lbs

BUILT USA

FACTORY STRINGS EVH, .009-.046

KUDOS Intelligent design. Great tones. Playability.

CONCERNS Low-friction Volume knob might trip up some players who bash around. Pickup selector is “backwards.”

Specifications

CONTACT EVH, evhgear.com

Wolfgang Special Stealth

PRICE $1,599 retail/$1,199 street

NUT WIDTH 1.625”

NECK Quartersawn maple, bolt-on

FRETBOARD Ebony, 25.5” scale

FRETS 22, stainless steel

BODY Basswood

PICKUPS Two EVH humbuckers

CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way switch

BRIDGE EVH/Floyd Rose locking tremolo with EVH D-Tuna

TUNERS EVH/Gotoh

WEIGHT 7.84lbs

BUILT Japan

FACTORY STRINGS EVH, .009-.046

KUDOS Intelligent design. Great tones. Playability.

CONCERNS Low-friction Volume knob might trip up some players who bash around. Pickup selector is “backwards.”

Keep up-to-date on the latest news
Get our Free Newsletter Here!

COMMENTS

comments powered by Disqus

Featured

Reader Poll

How Often Do You Change Your Strings?



See results without voting »