After some time, Eddie’s continuing development on the guitar itself meant that he sought out models other than the Gibson Les Paul as he was pursuing the sound that he desired. He was interested in using the tremolo system that is available on some guitars, and quickly sought out a Fender Stratocaster, notably for the tremolo arm. Eddie was interested in using the tremolo arm to change the sound of the guitar and expand it as he saw fit. Indeed, Ed’s music involves some often rather unnoticed tremolo techniques, most noticeably though the dive bomb. Indeed, Eddie referred to in a 1979 interview as “like another instrument1” which is a very accurate statement of what the tremolo arm is used for.
The Fender Stratocaster is necessary for those who wish to explore this step.
Once again, Ed may have been following developments in what he was listening to at home. Many famous guitars players such as Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore and Eddie’s big influence Eric Clapton all played Fender Stratocasters at some point. However, although the influence of many rock guitarists of the time may have influenced Eddie, it was most likely the Eric Clapton influence once again who shaped this choice as Eric Clapton had switched to the Stratocaster. As Clapton said: “I keep coming back to the Stratocaster because it’s so practical”2. Indeed it is still his main guitar of choice today.
Eddie was probably looking up to Eric Clapton once again in his use of the Stratocaster, although not entirely as he was following his own journey as a guitarist.
But perhaps it wasn’t the Clapton influence after all. Eddie has described himself many times as a “tone chaser”, so perhaps although he was fond of the sound of his Les Paul, he described it as “the clichéd rock and roll guitar”3.
There is little information on why Eddie actually used the Fender Stratocaster for some time in the first place, apart from the use of a tremolo arm. Indeed, it seemed almost purely that he used it for the tremolo arm. Still, he based his Frankenstrat and many other guitars on the construction of the Fender Stratocaster in later years. For now, however, we will focus on this guitar.
The Fender Stratocaster is seen as (probably) the most popular rock guitar out there, and certainly the most iconic. There are a variety of Stratocasters out there, but if you want to follow this part of the Van Halen story, you ought to start out with the American Fender Stratocaster Standard, retailing at roughly $1 300 US4, though this really depends upon which model and customisations you are using. No matter the budget, it is not impossible to find a model that suits you. But remember if you are following Eddie himself, it is best to purchase one with a tremolo arm to explore further the sound that Ed was looking for. This generally is a bit more expensive (about $200-$300 US extra) so be prepared to open your wallet/purse a bit more for that.
Nonetheless, the Fender Stratocaster is THE classic rock guitar, and a worthy addition to anybody’s collection. Below are some stats, courtesy of the Fender Official Website:
Model Name: American Standard Stratocaster®, Rosewood Fingerboard, 3-Colour Sunburst
Model Number: 0113000700
Series: American Standard
Colour: 3-Colour Sunburst
Body Material: Alder
Body Finish: Urethane
Body Shape: Stratocaster®
Neck Material: Maple
Neck Finish: Satin Urethane Finish on Back of Neck with Gloss Urethane Headstock Face
Neck Shape: Modern “C”
Scale Length: 25.5” (648mm)
Fingerboard Radius: 9.5” (241mm)
Number of Frets: 22
Fret Size: Medium Jumbo
String Nut: Synthetic Bone
Nut Width: 1.685” (42.8mm)
Position Inlays: Dot
Truss Rods: Bi-Flex™
Truss Rod Nut: 1/8” American Series
Bridge Pickup: Custom Shop Fat ‘50s Single-Coil Strat
Middle Pickup: Custom Shop Fat ‘50s Single-Coil Strat
Neck Pickup: Custom Shop Fat ‘50s Single-Coil Strat
Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1. (Neck Pickup), Tone 2. No-Load Tone Control (Middle and Bridge Pickups)
Pickup Switching: 5-Position Blade: Position 1. Bridge Pickup, Position 2. Bridge and Middle Pickup, Position 3. Middle Pickup, Position 4. Middle and Neck Pickup, Position 5. Neck Pickup
Pickup Configuration: SSS
Bridge: 2-Point Synchronised Tremolo with Bent Steel Saddles
Hardware Finish: Chrome
Tuning Machines: Fender Standard Cast/Sealed Staggered
Pickguard: 3-Ply Parchment
Control Knobs: Aged White Plastic
Unique Features: Bent Steel Saddles with Elongated String Slots, Copper Infused High Mass 100% Metal Bridge Block, Thinner Undercoat Finish for Improved Body Resonance, Tinted Neck, Aged Plastic Parts.
The reason I am adding these extensive lists is so that you can refer to them if you decide to build guitars of your own that are similar to Ed’s.
Fender is one of the most recognised and most popular brands out there internationally for musical equipment.
Picture courtesy https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fender_logo_svg.png
Another thing to add is that Eddie has actually used Fender Stratocasters for various recordings, such as Cathedral on Diver Down, and most recently for some of the tracks on the A Different Kind of Truth album. Although he rarely uses the Fender Stratocaster, the design and makeup of the guitar itself has been a large influence on Eddie to this day.
If you are finding that, like Ed, the sound of the Stratocaster is too thin, there are a number of alternatives for you to explore. Below are some examples:
Gibson Les Paul Axcess Standard
The Gibson Les Paul Axcess Standard is basically a Les Paul with a Floyd Rose tremolo system. It retails at around roughly $4 000 US5 which is not very cheap, but worth checking out if you prefer the feel and style of the Les Paul, with the added Floyd Rose tremolo. The Floyd Rose wasn’t around when Eddie was first making music, only beginning operations in the late 1970s. Perhaps if Eddie were first starting out today, he would have used something like this. Worth exploring if you feel up to it.
The Gibson Les Paul Axcess is an alternative to consider.
Fender American Standard Stratocaster HSS
The Fender American Standard Stratocaster HSS is basically the main Fender Stratocaster with a tremolo and a humbucker pickup made by Fender in the bridge position. It is a viable alternative to both the Stratocaster and the Frankenstrat that Ed later built. If you want to pick one up, it is $1 300 US6.
The Fender American Standard Stratocaster HSS is another good alternative.
Fender Standard Stratocaster HSS with Locking Tremolo
This guitar is much closer to what the Frankenstrat was in terms of sound, but not 100% so. It has the classic Floyd Rose tremolo that Ed has used in the majority of his guitars, meaning that the strings are much more likely to remain in tune. This one is quite cheap, at $700US7 so definitely worth checking out if you wish.
The Standard Stratocaster HSS with Locking Tremolo is definitely a good alternative to Ed’s Frankenstrat if you are short on time and money to make your own Frankie.
I would recommend that if you find the sound of these unsatisfactory and you don’t want to blow the budget to replace the pickups with DiMarzio or Seymour Duncans if you wish, but we will come to that later. Or pick up a Fat Strat. In any case, these choices are all down to you.
That’s all for now. Hope this has been enough information for you.
Eddie is a guitar collector just as much as a guitar player. On the second from right is his Frankenstrat going through a transition phase.