“That guitar went through a lot of different phases and changes... I kept changing it because I was tired of people copying my guitar”: Eddie Van Halen on Frankenstein, and why he never apologized for modding

Eddie Van Halen performs onstage with Van Halen at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, Illinois on April 26, 1979
(Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Eddie Van Halen was never one to sit still in the realm of guitar gear. Having constructed his modded “Frankenstein” Stratocaster himself – creating nothing less than an entire genre of electric guitar in the process – Van Halen always looked to tinker with established tools until they fit his needs. 

Consequently, despite the iconic status of his most-used guitars – none more famous than “Frankenstein” – Van Halen himself did not view them as museum pieces, even though Frankenstein would later become a literal museum piece

Speaking to Guitar Aficionado in 2014, Van Halen reflected on the evolution of Frankenstein, revealing that its changing specs came in part due to the guitarist's desire to keep copycats one step behind. 

“That guitar went through a lot of different phases and changes,” the late guitar hero said. “On the first [Van Halen] record, it had a stock vintage Fender Strat vibrato, then the Floyd came around, and then I added the dummy pickup at the neck. I kept changing it because I was tired of people copying my guitar.”

According to Eddie's son, Wolfgang, that cavalier attitude toward the legendary instrument never changed with time, even long after the former had stopped using it onstage.

Prior to Eddie's death, Wolfgang brought the guitar out of storage to use on two of the tracks on what would become his first album under the Mammoth WVH banner. Though he described the experience of holding it as “terrifying,” Eddie had no such feelings.

“When we were pulling it out of its safe, Dad picked it up and he was just noodling with it for a second,” Wolfgang told Total Guitar in a 2021 interview. “He’s like ‘Yeah, feels about the same’ and he tossed it onto the couch. Everyone just gasped when he did that. To Dad, it’s just a little piece of junk that he built himself, but to us it’s the most famous thing in the world.”

Jackson Maxwell
Associate Editor, GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.

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