Eddie Van Halen’s DIY Maker Story

Dale Dougherty describes the DIY origins of Eddie Van Halen’s musical career. Eddie began by hacking his instruments — the electric guitar itself — to make it do what he wanted it to do.

“What drives me to tear things apart is,” he says, “some of it is necessity, some of it is just experimenting. I’m always pushing things past where they are supposed to be.” He explained that some of what he did, he had to do because he couldn’t afford some of the equipment that others had.

He goes on to explain how he liked the vibrato bar of a Fender guitar and the humbucking pickups of a Gibson guitar, and he wanted both in the same guitar. He liked the “much fatter sound” Gibson’s pickups, which cancelled out some of the hum caused by the vibrato bar. So, he mashed them together, buying a knockoff Fender body — a second, and then ripping the pickups out of Gibson guitar. He describes using a hammer and chisel to make a hole in body for the Gibson pickup. “I screwed the pickup straight into the wood,” he said, mentioning that the Gibson Stratocaster has three pickups. “I routed out the body and crammed (in) the humbucking pickup. Mind you, everything was just lying there, unsoldered.” He struggled to figure out how to connect three pickups to two knobs. “How am I going to hook this back up? I had no clue.”

He wondered if he could hook up the humbucking pickup up to one knob. He tried it and “it worked!” He called it “The Frankenstein” guitar, sometimes called “Frankenstrat” and one of them is in the National Museum of American History. The Frankenstein guitar helped him produce the sound he wanted.

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