A comprehensive chronology of perhaps the most famous guitar in rock history
Eddie Van Halen’s primary instrument from 1977 to 1983, known by such common monikers as ‘Frankenstrat’, ‘Frankenstein’, or, simply, ‘Ed’s Baby’, is perhaps the most iconic and valuable electric guitar in modern history. It is the guitar most associated with Eddie Van Halen through his career, particularly in his early years, only rivaled by the Kramer 5150 and his later ‘Wolfgang’ models. Unlike the latter contenders, the Frankenstrat was a true experiment that Ed personally modified and incrementally improved constantly over its 6 year use as his primary guitar, and even beyond its permanent retirement. Neck swaps, pickup swaps, and bridge swaps were common, and sometimes even occured on a day-to-day basis. This page is a collection of all history of the guitar, accepted/established and theorized alike, from its first days in Van Halen’s LA club gigs to its final live show on May 29, 1983 at Van Halen’s legendary ‘US Festival’ concert.
To better understand the complex history of the guitar, this article features a prelude to briefly cover at the major changes throughout it’s life. A majority of this information is an updated version of the legendary VH links article, originally authored by ‘jimi11580’ in March 2011, and contributed to by other seasoned Van Halen guitar experts of the time. Much of the knowledge put forward in this thread has evolved in the time since it’s original publication – a decade, as of the writing of this article – but it is important to credit the groundbreaking work that was done by its author and the other contributors in the context of when it was written. ‘Jimi’ has continued his search to uncover the history of the guitar in the years since his VH links thread, and has contributed major portions of the information to this article as well, along with Don Ward, Logan Schenk, and countless others who have contributed to the public discourse.
Prelude: The Big Picture
Body, Paint, Necks, Tremolos, and Pickups
It’s important to recognize that the Frankenstrat went through several ‘stages’ of paint, which lasted from merely days to over a year. Most notably, the guitar spent it’s early life (July 1977 to March 1979) with a clean and striking black/white stripe pattern, which caught on rather quickly and solidified Ed’s image as a flashy guitar-slinger.
In late March 1979, frustrated by seeing copies of his stripe pattern on off-the-shelf guitars (more on this later), he hastily prepped, taped up, and added a layer of red paint to the guitar, transforming it into what we commonly know as the Frankenstrat today.
Note that Ed had over a dozen red/white/black guitars during his time with Kramer – none of which were painted by him, and are NOT to be confused with the Frankenstrat. Many newcomers, therefore, seem to get unrelated Kramer guitars confused with Ed’s Frankenstrat, or simply misunderstand the relationship between Ed and most of his guitars. Ed’s Kramer guitars are documented here. Below is a concise summary of the evolution of paint on the Frankenstrat.
1. Natural Ash body, homemade black single ply 11-hole pickguard.
February to March, 1977
Photo: Shannon, Bo.
~Feb 18, 1977
2. Painted black, 1961 Stratocaster ‘mint green’ pickguard installed.
March to July, 1977
Photo: Lens, Jenny
May 27, 1977
4. Black/White stripes, 1/8″ pinstripes removed, white Charvel 8-hole 1-ply pickguard installed.
February to late March, 1979
VH II World Tour Rehearsals
5. Red paint, white Charvel 8-hole 1-ply pickguard removed, various jack plates added to house electronics.
Red paint added late March 1979.
Late March, 1979 to ~February, 1980
Photo: Young Guitar
6. White Charvel pickguard re-installed.
~February, 1980 to ~June, 1980
Photo: Zlozower, Neil
7. Small ‘pickguard’ fashioned from a vinyl record blank installed. 5-way CRL PA222-674 switch crammed into the middle pickup route
~June, 1980 to ~April 1981
Photo: Zlozower, Neil
September 6, 1980
8. . 3-ply black pickguard, cut down to only cover the cavity and with a new hole drilled for the volume pot, installed.
~April, 1981 to present
Note that some light blue paint was smeared/transferred to various locations around the edges of the guitar in the mid-to-late 1980s
MET Exhibit, New York City 2019
1971 Quarter (25 cents) Explanation
Undoubtedly the most convoluted and confusing aspect of the history of the Frankenstrat, neck swaps were a very common occurrence, even becoming nearly day-to-day at times. Below is a list of all necks that have ever been pictured installed on the Frankenstrat, in the order in which they were first pictured affixed to the guitar.
Ed’s quest for the perfect utilitarian instrument to suit his style of playing would not be complete without finding an adequate tremolo unit to accommodate his flamboyant use of the technology. After many extensive ‘hacks’ to make a standard 6-point trem stay in tune as best as is possible, Ed discovered a new lead via Lynn Ellsworth; a friend of Floyd Rose and Ed’s source of custom necks at the time.
He was quite likely the first person to receive a prototype Floyd Rose after Mr. Rose developed the very first 2 units for Randy Hansen in late 1978 and early 1979. Ed, while enthusiastic about this new development, constantly bugged Floyd to make incremental improvements to the design, which essentially directly led to the common Floyd Rose we are all familiar with today.
Read more in this VintageFloydRose.com article on Eddie’s tremolos, which discusses the history of use of Floyd Rose units on the Frankenstrat (and his other guitars) in great detail.
1. Fender – 1961 Stratocaster
February 1977 to December 1977
December 1977 to March 1979
Photo: Young Guitar
2. Mighty Mite – Brass Tremolo, ‘Keyhole’ Saddles
December 1977 (Very brief use)
‘Van Halen’ Album Cover
3. Fender – 1970s ‘Cast’ Tremolo
March, 1979 to April, 1980
Photo: Young Guitar
Zebra pickup on raw wood Frankenstrat. PAF?
Black Humbucker on white/black incarnation. PAF, eventually fixed by Seymour Duncan
Melted Dimarzio PAF on Frankenstrat 1979 Japan world tour.
Dimarzio Super distortion
Black Humbucker, late 1981. Current pickup in Frankenstrat today.
Frankenstrat: From the Beginning
1977: Pre VH-I Album (Club Days)
Our Story begins in late January, 1977. Edward has been playing a modified 1961 Stratocaster for some time, likely purchased from Wayne Charvel in 1976, equipped with a few humbuckers over it’s tenure, wired directly to the master volume and out to the jack. This platform was an immediate success for Ed, and would become the basis for all of his primary instruments for the remainder of his life – A tremolo, bridge humbucker, and master volume; everything else was secondary.
Ed had recently painted his Ibanez Destroyer, another mainstay instrument of his collection, white and was itching to customize his other instruments to try to carve out an identity for himself as attention was growing around Van Halen. As we enter February, Ed takes his 1961 Sunburst Strat and sprays white lacquer right over the existing nitrocellulose finish. However, this was a temporary and last ditch attempt to modify this guitar before something very important would happen.
The story, as Ed tells it, involved him hanging around Wayne Charvel’s shop, as usual, and spotting an Ash Strat style body down on the floor. Ed inquires about the body, to which (presumably) Wayne responds that it is a ‘second’. Ed, initially thinking that this simply mean the body was “second in line to be manufactured”, was informed that it was cosmetically unfit for sale at full price, in this case due to a knot on the edge of the body inside the lower horn. Ed, unphased by the blemish, purchased the body for a reported $50 ($225 in 2021, adjusted for inflation), where the catalog price for a non-blemish body was $89.95 ($405 in 2021, adjusted for inflation).
The body itself, a ~5-1/2 lb Northern Ash ‘Boogie Bodies’ branded Strat clone, made by Wayne Charvel and Dave Schecter – *using Schecter’s templates* – in a batch of 100 Ash bodies in 1976, was advertised by Charvel to have “improved tonal properties” as a result of the “heavy ash body”. This “upgrade” was the next step in Ed’s experiment.
Upon receiving the body, he would proceed to cut his own single humbucker pickguard from a black plastic sheet, and cannibalize his 1961 Stratocaster in order to bring to life, for the first time, the Frankenstrat
Ed, with his newly assembled guitar, pictured at what is believed to be the Pasadena Civic Center on February 18, 1977
Photo: Inertia Graphics
For additional info on this stage of the Frankenstrat, please refer to the below video by Johnny B.
Ed would only play the guitar in this configuration very briefly. As of present, we only have 2 confirmed shows that it was played at before being painted gloss-black. One show (above) is undated, but has reasonable evidence to support its date, which is speculated to be 2/18/77 at the Pasadena Civic. The other is confirmed to have been February 25/26, 1977, at the Whisky A Go Go. It appears evident that, in the interim between the late February Whisky gigs and the mid March Golden West Ballroom gig, Ed would spray the guitar gloss black and reinstall the mint 3-ply pickguard from the 1961 Stratocaster. He would also briefly install white pinstripe tape around the perimeter of the body – a technique that would return at a later date.
Ed prepares for a gig at the Whisky A Go Go, with his now-black Frankenstrat.
Photo: Lens, Jenny
May 27, 1977
For additional info on this stage of the Frankenstrat, please refer to the below video by Johnny B.
‘Inspiration’ would strike Ed sometime in the summer of 1977. It is unclear exactly when the guitar was striped, but, as of present, the first documented image of the guitar was taken on August 1, 1977.
As for what prompted Ed to make this change, it seems highly likely that he copied the idea for the visuals, essentially EXACTLY, from a local punk musician named Chip Kinman from a band called The Dils. Chip had a white Les Paul that he wrapped electrical tape around, essentially creating the same exact visuals that Ed would immortalize with his Frankenstrat afterwards.
Chip Kinman of The Dils performs with his crudely striped Les Paul
Photo: Santisi, Donna
Edward performs with his newly striped Frankenstrat at ‘Magic Mountain’ in Valencia, CA
Photo: Hanes, Kat
August 1, 1977
Coinciding with the fresh black and white paint scheme, Ed ditched his 1961 Strat neck for a new Boogie Bodies Birdseye Maple neck. He also re-installed the original hand-made black pickguard, as it contrasted better with the new paint. Supplemental 1/8″ black vinyl pinstripes were added immediately to compliment the finish. This configuration of the guitar would solidify Ed’s identity with stripes for the remainder of his life.
Photo: Young Guitar
For an incredibly brief (and important) time in the guitar’s life, Ed had a brass Mighty Mite trem installed on the Frankenstrat. It is unclear how long it was installed for, and it was only ever pictured for the Van Halen album shoot. Given Ed’s reputation of intentionally lying and deceiving, particularly early in his career, to thwart copycats, it is entirely possible that he installed this trem EXCLUSIVELY as a feint to those who would inevitably try to decode the method to his madness; a task that is still ongoing and incomplete to this day, nearly 45 years later.
1979: Massive Changes
With a grueling first World Tour under Ed’s belt, Edward now had an image: A young, flamboyant guitar prodigy with a visually striking guitar.
Near the end of the first world tour, in the Fall of 1978, Charvel, now under the direction of Grover Jackson who would finalize on his acquisition of the company by November 1978, built Ed a yellow and black copy of his Frankenstrat as a gift to him. This could have been a great opportunity for Grover to secure an endorsement from the young Ed, but all chances of that went bust when Grover would go ahead and make more copies for sale at Charvel without Ed’s consent. Ed took notice of this while attending some club gigs in LA while on break after his tour concluded, only to see no-name guitarists sporting his flare. Furious by this, he demanded Grover stop, but he did not. This began a grudge that may have never been reconciled, and led Ed to toy with the idea of making permanent changes to his guitar to avoid association with the Charvel clones.
Above, Edward performs at the Van Halen II World Tour rehearsals. He has replaced the neck with a Rosewood fretboard Boogie Bodies/Charvel neck that came installed on his Charvel ‘Star’ guitar, removed the pinstripes, and replaced the pickguard with a white 8-hole single ply pickguard from Charvel, which houses 2 additional single coil pickups.
Not satisfied with these tweaks, Ed would take an irreversible leap and make massive changes to the guitar that would forever transform it into the beast it is known as to this day. Ed would ‘prep’ the body by sanding with approximately 80 grit sandpaper, which would cause significant damage to the already worn finish, tape the body up with gaffers tape, ripped down to desired widths, and spray red over the existing black/white stripes. For more details on how Ed actually prepared and sprayed the Frankenstrat body red, watch the excellent video below by Johnny B
The initial configuration of the guitar immediately after the red paint was applied is seen below. The original Boogie Bodies Maple neck returns, the single coil pickups remain, and the electronics are screwed to the edges of the control cavity, with the switch being screwed directly in, and the volume pot and mini toggle switch being mounted in Les Paul output jack plates.
A new bridge is also installed at this time; a 1970s Fender ‘cast’ tremolo. This bizarre CBS era tremolo construction saw the sustain block and the tremolo plate made as a single piece of cast metal, which was then chrome plated. That is to say, the tremolo block doesn’t screw to the plate, like on a normal tremolo, but the two are made from one piece of metal. It is evident that 2 of the 6 saddles – G and high E – are not chromed and appear to be of the earlier pre-CBS stamped steel variety, with the high E saddle missing one of it’s 2 height screws and therefore sitting at an angle on the plate. It is worth noting that this is the exact tremolo that the Charvel Bumblebee was built with. The Bee was not pictured around this time, and later emerged with a Floyd Rose FRT-1 prototype. Therefore, this trem seen on the Frankenstrat may have been the Bee’s original trem, albeit with 2 replaced saddles.. Below is an example of one of the 70s Fender tremolos in question.
The above configuration would prove to be very short lived, as within weeks of the guitar receiving it’s red top-coat, Ed would swap out the original Boogie Bodies neck with the black lacquered neck from his Charvel Bumblebee. From early 1979 until later in the tour, the Bumblebee was disassembled, freeing up the neck (and, as previously mentioned, perhaps the tremolo) for other guitars. It appears that, during this time, Ed sanded the black lacquer off the back of the neck, leaving it only on the heel and headstock. It was installed on the Frankenstrat in April, 1979 and would remain for the rest of the 1979 World Tour. Below are several photos of the guitar in this configuration.
Photo: Young Guitar
Note, the bridge humbucker installed in the guitar, starting from the February, 1979 Tour Rehearsals, is a DiMarzio PAF that Ed melted while trying to pot in wax. Also note the high E saddle sitting at a strange angle, thanks to one of the two height screws being missing.
At this stage, only 5 reflectors are present. If you look closely between the large amber reflector and the red cortina reflector along the bottom edge, you can just make out the perimeter of a mirror that had briefly accompanied the reflectors prior to this photo. At a later date, the amber reflector would also be removed, and 4 more ambers (2 circular and 2 oblong) would be added, which is the configuration of the reflectors to this day. Again, you can see evidence of the 70s ‘cast’ Fender trem, with the chromed block and the hole and stamp pattern which is unique to those units.
Above, the Frankenstrat and Bumblebee in 1979. The Bee is now equipped with a new neck, made by Lynn Ellsworth to accommodate the prototype Floyd Rose that Ed commissioned from Mr. Rose earlier that year. This neck would later be installed on the Frankenstrat when it was retrofitted for a Floyd in 1980, and would meet its fate in September, 1981 after an on-stage incident snapped the headstock off.
1980: Floyd Rose FRT-1, Cream Pickup, Another neck
1980 begins with the Frankenstrat mostly in the background – This is a continued trend from 1979, where the Bumblebee saw more use than the Frank on the 1979 World tour. It is also evident from interviews at the time, as well as some logical analysis, that Ed used the Bumblebee and the borrowed Chris Holmes Destroyer in late 1979 and early 1980 to track ‘Women and Children First’, meaning the Frankenstrat saw very little, if any, use on that album. This is clear, because tracks without trem use exhibit HUGE bends that are really only possible on the shorter 24-3/4″ scale of a Destroyer, and tracks with tremolo use clearly exhibit evidence of a Floyd Rose – stock Fender trems cannot dive as drastically as a Floyd, and Ed even talked about the fact that he was able to achieve specific sounds on the record using his “new Floyd Rose tremolo” in a now-deleted Steve Rosen audio interview. He also discussed in that interview that he was “in the process of” having Lynn Ellsworth build him a new 2 inch thick Mahogany bodied Strat, that “would be getting” a Floyd Rose. This means that Ed only owned ONE guitar with a Floyd Rose at the time of the tracking of ‘Women and Children First’, and it was the Bee.
Ed slowly began to rely on the Floyd Rose trem and incorporate it into his style of playing. However, he wasn’t thrilled with the Bumblebee overall, particularly in regards to growing tensions with Grover Jackson over making unlicensed Bumblebee copies without Ed’s consent and selling them for a relative fortune; $1,000.00 USD, which is over $4,000.00 adjusted for inflation to 2021. This would ultimately come to a head at an ill-fated encounter between Ed and Grover at a NAMM show in 1980, leading to Ed disassembling the Bee and never using it again.
An example of a Floyd Rose FRT-1 (above). The FRT-1 is considered the first Floyd Rose available to artists. Eddie used the FRT-1 extensively on many of his guitars in in 1980-1981: Frankenstrat, VH-II, RUDE, Unchained, Star.
1981: Quarter added, black humbucker.
The quarter (mounted Face up) is affixed to the body. A black humbucker replaces the cream one from 1980.
Late 1981: “Round-heel” neck put on from RUDE guitar
The neck previously on the RUDE guitar is put on the Frankenstrat. However, the holes in the neck pocket didn’t line up. Therefore, we see a large gap in the neck pocket, and the scale length was theoretically too long to intonate correctly. Hence why this neck was taken off shortly afterward.
1982: Floyd Rose FRT-4, Kramer Deal, First-seen Floyd Rose FRT-5, Square-heel neck
1982 was a vital year in that the Kramer Guitars and Floyd Rose deal was officially made. Eddie would play the first ever Floyd Rose with fine tuners (FRT-4) and a strathead Kramer Pacer neck with the “Kramer” logo sanded off due a lawsuit by Fender. Eddie would play this version from approximately August 1982 – December 1982.
Eddie sported a gold FRT-4 prototype with vertical fine tuners, which was the first Floyd Rose with fine tuners. The photo on the right shows the fine tuners vertical as opposed to the bent back “Whale tail” style original version you see today. Fernandes Japan produced these officially Floyd Rose versions and are very rare to find. However, Eddie’s may have been a hand-built USA version.
Above you see the vertical fine tuners. The quarter is also removed during this time.
Kramer Pacer strathead neck before the logo was sanded off. Eddie had a chrome locking nut on this neck.
Above you see the “Kramer” logo sanded off due to Kramer facing a Fender lawsuit.
The square heel neck on the Rasta (unchained) guitar was eventually taken off and replaced with the different painted neck on it today. The Rasta guitar today is owned by Dweezil Zappa.
Eddie would sometimes swap out the Kramer Pacer strathead neck during the 1982 tour and put on this Square-heel neck when it wasn’t attached his to Rasta (Unchained) guitar. It had a gold locking nut (as opposed to the chrome locking nut on the Kramer Pacer neck). This neck would be put back on the Frankenstrat in 1997 and is currently still on the Frankenstrat today!
First-known FRT-5 Design (November/December 1982)
There are two no-logo Floyd Rose FRT-5 prototypes seen during this time: One on the Frankenstrat, and one on the Rasta (Unchained) guitar, which is taken off and put on the “Kramer ad” guitar shortly afterward.
The Floyd Rose FRT-5 is the “final” design of the fine tuning Floyd Rose. There are two known prototype versions Eddie played before he sported the APM FRT-5 whale tail in 1983. The first showing of the tremolo is circa September 1982 during the “Hide Your Sheep” tour and was sported on the Rasta (Unchained) guitar before being put on the “Kramer ad” guitar in approximately November 1982.
The Frankenstrat, however, featured it’s own FRT-5 prototype version in November/December 1982. Floyd Rose was contracted out with Fernandes Japan during this time and supposedly had a factory in Kyoto, Japan fabricate many of his Floyd parts. Therefore, based on the Japanese-style FRT-4 prototype saddles and chrome fine tuners, it’s speculated that these ultra-early versions of the FRT-5 are made with Japanese parts and assembled by Mr. Rose.
Above you see the very first version of the Floyd Rose FRT-5 on the Frankenstrat circa November 1982. Notice the chrome fine tuners and Japanese FRT-4 prototype saddles. These are features of very early Fernandes Japan FRT-4 and 5 designs, although this is debated. It’s possible they were made of USA and Japanese parts.
The Rasta (Unchained) guitar above guitar is technically the first guitar ever seen with an FRT-5 design in September 1982. This is separate unit and not the one previously discussed on the Frankenstrat during this time.
This same tremolo on the Rasta with black fine tuners (Frankenstrat version had chrome) would go on the “Kramer ad” guitar in circa November 1982.
Above is the “Kramer ad” guitar with the same no-logo FRT-5 prototype previously seen on the Rasta guitar. Notice the black fine tuners, and although the tremolo seems brown in this photo, the tremolo is indeed chrome.
December 1982: Eddie’s guitar tech, Rudy Leiren, holding the Kramer Ad guitar. Eddie (center) holding the Frankenstrat with new no logo FRT-5 prototype, Vitas Gerulaitis (right).
1983: Danelectro neck, Kramer Beak neck, Floyd Rose “APM” whale tail FRT-5
Eddie would take off the Kramer “beak” neck and put on a Danelectro neck for the “Starfleet Sessions” with Brian May in April 1983.
Above are more photos from the sessions.
Kramer Pacer “Beak” neck
Eddie played a Kramer “beak” neck made by Sports USA (contracted through Kramer). The back was slightly birdseye and featured an R5 nut with. However, Eddie used an R2 nut on it. It just had a “Kramer” logo on it with the “a” portion slightly gone. The decal doesn’t say “Patent Pending” on it like other beak versions.
Eddie has the USA Floyd Rose FRT-5 built by American Precision Metalworks (APM) from the Starfleet sessions. He would have this Floyd Rose on the Frankenstrat until 1996.
Late 1985: Tom Anderson neck, Floyd posts moved
The original Floyd Rose posts on the Frankenstrat were actually too far back and couldn’t be intonated correctly when either the FRT-5 was put on (due to the saddles being further back), different necks not fitting correctly, or other various reasons. It’s actually rather ironic to think Eddie actually played this guitar for many years like this.
Tom Anderson worked with Kramer during the mid-1980s and made parts for the Kramer Ripley guitars and basses. He also made prototypes for the Elliot Easton models. Kramer decided to have Tom redrill the new posts and move them closer to the bridge pickup. Furthermore, Tom made Eddie a banana-style neck with his “even-taper” profile he was known to do even today on some of his necks.
The Frankenstrat was considered”retired” by this point, and the Tom Anderson neck stayed on until 1997.
1993: Blue Paint
Although many people assume blue paint on the Frankenstrat was recent, it was already on the Frankenstrat in a 1993 photo shoot, as seen above. There are a few theories as to why the blue paint appeared, and they consist of Eddie accidentially placing the guitar in wet blue paint.
- Wet paint from VH banner.
- Wet paint from walls at a venue before a show.
The above photos are from the 2019 Metropolitan Museum of Art “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll” which better display the blue paint. Because many people didn’t notice the blue paint until the 2019 MET display, it’s incorrectly assumed that the blue paint is very recent, which it’s not (as seen in 1993 photo).
1997: Square-heel neck back on, German Floyd.
After semi-retiring the Frankenstrat in 1985, The Frankenstrat is not seen very often, probably due to Eddie’s Endorsement with Ernie Ball and putting the Kramer days behind him. The Frankenstrat is next seen in 1997, this time with the Tom Anderson neck taken off and replaced with the Square-heel neck played during the 1981 tour. Also, the APM FRT-5 Whale Tail is replaced with a standard German Floyd.
This incarnation of the Frankenstrat is the last neck, Floyd, and pickup change we will see and can basically be considered the “last” incarnation of the Frankenstrat.
The Frankenstrat is unchanged in 2004 when Eddie is rehearsing for the world tour. The photo above right shows it hanging in the 5150 studio in 2004.
2019: No change from 1997
The Frankenstrat was displayed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll,” from April 1st – October 1st, 2019 and allowed many people to see the Frankenstrat up close and personal. Furthermore, it allowed people to take high quality photgraphy to see the Frankenstrat in extreme detail.
The Frankenstrat is unchanged from 1997.
Frankenstrat in 2021
Since Eddie passed on October 6th, 2020, Wolfgang Van Halen mentioned that the guitar is in a heavily secured vault with other guitars and assumed to be retired.
Below are fan photos from the MET display which show extreme detail for your liking.
Cheers to the most iconic and famous solid body guitar in music history. May you live on forever.