Eddie Van Halen’s “monster” of a guitar rocks American History

From Stradivari’s violin to Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet, the collection of musical instruments at the American History Museum pays homage to some of the world’s greatest musicians. Now, a guitar made famous by one of
arena-rock’s most driving, tube-amp-stacked, influential rock guitarists of all time has joined the collection. Eddie Van Halen’s  “Frank 2,” (or Frankenstein Replica) is one of a limited-edition number of guitars made in 2006 in a joint venture between the artist’s EVH Brand and Fender.

Frank 2 (Photo by Hugh Talman)

“We collected ‘Frank 2’ not just for the significance of the guitar, but because Eddie is such an influential, talented and innovative musician whose techniques are still emulated,” said Eric Jentsch, deputy chair and curator in the museum’s Division of Culture and the Arts.

Edward “Eddie” Van Halen is a Dutch-Indonesian-American guitarist, keyboardist, songwriter, producer and self-taught inventor of guitar technology and technique. He is the lead guitarist and cofounder of the hard-rock band Van Halen and is known for his blues-based rock, finger tapping and “false harmonics” (a combination of tapping and harmonics), intense solos and high-frequency feedback, and his energetic and acrobatic stage performances. His use of two-handed tapping, natural and artificial harmonics, vibrato, and tremolo picking have influenced an entire generation of guitarists. According to All Music Guide, he is “second to only Jimi Hendrix” in influence, originality and talent.

Van Halen formed in Pasadena, Calif., in 1974. Initially, the band had trouble getting gigs at popular Los Angeles clubs because Eddie was too loud; to get his amplifier to sound its best, he would turn it all the way up (to 11). To muffle it, he would turn it around or put padding in front of it; later he adjusted the amp’s voltage instead of volume.

Eddie Van Halen and the original Frankenstein

In 1975 Eddie realized that no existing guitar had the features he needed to create his signature sound. A constant tinkerer, he set out to construct a guitar to fit his standards, needs and playing style, combining different elements of long-established guitar designs into one instrument. Fans nicknamed the custom creation “Frankenstein.” By 2006, the original “Frankenstein” guitar had been in service for more than 30 years and was retired from performances. Chip Ellis, a master guitar builder at Fender, replicated every detail of the original guitar, which, when presented to Eddie, appeared to be indistinguishable from the original. During the Van Halen 2007-08 North American tour with original lead singer David Lee Roth, Eddie used the replica guitar, “Frank 2” for the majority of the performances.

The band’s self-titled debut album was released Feb. 10, 1978.  Since then, Van Halen has sold more than 80 million albums worldwide.

There are no immediate plans for the guitar to go on display, but it will likely be part of a larger exhibit on American entertainment to come in a couple of years.

Van Halen, “Dance the Night Away” 1979 via Van Halen TV

Posted: 16 February 2011
About the Author:

Marilyn Epstein is an editor in the Office of Communications and External Relations.

One Response to Eddie Van Halen’s “monster” of a guitar rocks American History