Eddie Van Halen doesn't just have a signature guitar - as befits one of the world's most influential guitarists, he has an entire brand all to himself called, of course, EVH! We couldn't let our Van Halen special pass by without looking in some detail at the latest incarnations of Eddie's own Wolfgang guitars - these days made in close association with Fender. Jamie Humphries got the gig. It's a tough life, but someone has to do it!
Eddie has always set trends with his guitars, from his home constructed "Frankenstein", featuring his signature striped finish, single humbucker and Floyd Rose vibrato system, to his "Hockey Stick" headstock Kramer guitars from the mid-80s.
The original "Wolfgang" style guitar - or at least where the body design started - was with the Ernie Ball Musicman EVH signature guitar that Eddie co-designed and used exclusively from the late 80's to mid 90's. Following his departure from Musicman, Eddie turned next to Peavey to produce his "Wolfgang" guitar. The version was similar in many respects, but featured a slightly extended top horn. Then, after Eddie ended his agreement with Peavey, he turned to Fender for a limited run of Charvel guitars featuring various striped finishes marking different eras in Eddie's career. This relationship proved fruitful and Eddie next set-up his own EVH brand under the Fender banner, and during the highly successful 2007-2008 US tour, the band once more reunited with David Lee Roth, plus the addition of Wolfgang Van Halen on bass, Eddie rigorously and brutally road tested various prototypes of the new Wolfgangs. He would have new prototypes brought out on tour and if you look at pictures from the tour you can see different ones with the prototype numbers sprayed on the front.
The story goes that the guitars were pushed to the max - beaten and broken and parts replaced until they didn't break and could stand up to the torture and stress that Eddie puts his guitars through - and that's not to mention the ability to produce exquisite tone!
All of which bodes well for the guitars we were sent to review by Fender UK: the USA-built "carved top" Wolfgang, the USA-built "set neck" USA Custom, and the Japanese-built "Flat top" Special. Sadly, all of the models sent to us were hard tail versions, and seeing as Eddie is renowned for his whammy bar skills I have to say it would have been nice to have tried out the EVH version of the Floyd. Still, saying that, I was lucky enough to be able to test and compare all three of the models, which was quite a treat!
EVH Wolfgang Special -
The first guitar up for 'the treatment' was the Japanese-built Wolfgang Special. This instrument boasts many of the features of its bigger USA brother, but at a more affordable price. The guitar features the familiar Wolfgang style body shape, although in this version comes with a flat top. The wood is basswood, with a maple veneer top. The neck features the same compound radius as the other Wolfgang models and is made from AA bird's eye maple, with an oiled finish. The frets are vintage style made from stainless steel and the nut is a Floyd Rose locking nut, which is quite unusual for a fixed bridge guitar. Moving onto the headstock, we have EVH branded machines, plus a string retainer for straight string pull, and a maple veneer. At the body end of the neck there is a wheel for easy adjustment of the truss rod, something all the EVH guitars share.
Now for the body and controls, where we have two zebra stripe EVH Wolfgang humbucking pickups. There is a single volume and tone arrangement that uses low friction pots for a very smooth action, with MXR style knobs. One the top horn we have a three way selector, which works in the opposite way to a Les Paul, with the down position being the neck, and the up position the bridge, with both pickups selected when in the middle position. The bridge is a TonePro's model that has fine tune adjusters, to adjust the tuning if it slips slightly while locked with the Floyd Locking nut.
In use, the guitar is very well balanced and sat perfectly on my knee or on the strap, without the neck heading towards the floor. The body shape is also very comfortable, and the neck joint allows access to the higher frets. The controls feel great, the low friction volume is a great addition, although the pickup selector takes a little getting use to. The guitar produces great cleans, rich crunch and warm, sustaining leads, and the when the volume is backed off, the guitar cleans up well. Also the tone control is very effective, and produces great pseudo wah tone effects, when backed off and both pickups engaged. How good is it? We've put all that together at the end of this feature in a single conclusion.