EVH Wolfgang

MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT THE IMPACT that the original Eddie Van Halen guitar has had on the way that guitars are played, manufactured, and regarded by even non-guitarists. From a strictly guitar culture standpoint, it’s not an exaggeration to put Van Halen’s influence up there with icons like Elvis, the Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix. By the time Mr. Ed was into his seventh or eighth record, however, he had pretty much moved away from the bitchin’ striped super-Strat that had made him famous and was playing signature instruments that he helped design with Ernie Ball and later Peavey. Gone were the slapped-together, singlehumbucker project guitars and in their stead were comparatively fancy, maple-capped axes with two humbuckers. Van Halen’s tastes and music had changed, and the guitars he played reflected those changes.

A big part of what drove a lot of that was the fact that VH wanted to be more in control of his own destiny. He saw every manufacturer on the planet lift a bit of the mojo that had made him a hero and get rich off it (not to mention hearing how many rock guitarists blatantly ripped off his licks). The culmination of Eddie’s quest was his partnership with Fender to launch the EVH brand of amps and guitars in 2007. GP reviewed both the 5150 III amp and the $25,000 (yikes!) Frankenstein replica in the April, 2008 issue. This year, EVH unveiled the new Wolfgang solidbody, an instrument identical to the one that Van Halen tours with. We tested it through a Soldano 44 combo, a Marshall JVM half-stack, as well as through several distortion pedals feeding a Traynor Hand-wired Vintage Reissue YGM-3.

The cosmetics of the Wolfgang are very pretty. The maple top is nicely figured but not overly extreme. The binding is perfect and the tobacco sunburst is sweet. The headstock shape provides perfectly straight string pull, which doesn’t really matter, of course, because of the locking nut. The top of the headstock, which looks a little like a fish with its mouth open, elicited the greatest number of comments, mostly negative. The zebra pickups and chrome Floyd lend a cool, workman-like vibe and keep the guitar from looking gaudy.

As is my wont, I put some time in on Wolfie before plugging in. Not surprisingly, this thing plays flawlessly. The neck feels like a well-worn baseball glove—totally broken in and smooth in all the right ways. Front to back, it’s what I would call medium beefy—not massive, but substantial enough to support your hand. The compound radius feels flat but not overly so. One of the boldest features of this instrument would have to be the stainless-steel frets. Difficult to work but almost impossible to wear down, these things should insure that the Wolfgang plays consistently for years, with no need for fretwork or setup beyond minor trussrod tweaks—easily accomplished with access just past the 22nd fret. The frets themselves, however, are small. EVH calls them vintage-sized, and they would seem to go against the oldschool Van Halen fret preference. I find that I have to be a little more careful when going for big bends on these frets—it’s not as easy to get under the string—but once I do, I can bend into the stratosphere and it’s smooth as silk. The other benefit is I can’t squeeze notes or chords sharp, and that contributes to Wolfgang’s amazing intonation. The only thing curious about the unplugged experience is how quiet this guitar is acoustically. Every other solidbody we have in the office is noticeably louder when not plugged in.

None of that mattered when I finally did plug in, because the Wolfgang instantly sprang to life. The bridge pickup, which is accessed by flipping the 3-way switch up, is clear, ballsy, and detailed. Harmonics jump out at you and VH-approved 17th-fret squeals are a cinch. The Bourns pot on the Volume control is super smooth and perfectly voiced. Rolling it back cleans up even viciously distorted tones for “Hot for Teacher” plunk—nice! As tough as it is for me to accept a neck pickup on a Van Halen guitar (at least a working one), this humbucker sounds gorgeous. It never gets into the wooly zone that renders some neck pickups unusable. This one is articulate and balanced.

The recipe for this instrument really does bring in some of the best attributes of Les Pauls and Strats. Think about it: two humbuckers and a maple top, but with a 25.5" scale and a bolt-on maple neck. Factor in the basswood body and it’s clear that the Wolfgang has its own thing going. It’s not a red, white, and black striped Frankenstein, but it’s a great piece of work, designed and blessed by a living legend.