The Edward Van Halen and Fender-backed “EVH” brand will soon be selling what they’re calling the EVH Frankenstein Humbucker – which implies that it’s a copy of “the” pickup in Ed’s first and main axe for many years, the Frankenstein, aka Frankie. That’s the guitar that was white with black stripes and then had red painted over it.
But is it a replica of “that pickup” – which implies “that early VH sound” – or not? The short answer: sort of. Here’s the skinny.
First the blurb, as printed on many e-commerce guitar sites: “The Eddie Van Halen Frankenstein Humbucker brings you the powerful guitar tone from Eddie’s legendary guitar! The Frankenstein humbucker is the legendary pickup from the guitar that changed music as you knew it. An all-new take on the original Frankenstein’s battle-worn pickup you’ve been craving since your youth. Built and wound to the original specs, Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstein is built to fit in any guitar equipped with a humbucker slot. This famous humbucker is available for a low price and is an excellent upgrade alternative to the ever growing supply of cliche replacement humbuckers.”
From such language the VH faithful are led to believe that: a) this is the same pickup as used in the $25,000 Frankie replicas Fender produced a little while back; b) the pickup in the $25K replica was the same as the “one” Ed used in the original Frankie; and c) this pickup will “make” or “help significantly” ordinary humans sound like Ed.
Let’s take a) and b) together. First, if you read carefully you will see from the above description that the Frankenstein Humbucker is NOT a replica of “the” original Frankie pickup: It says “an all-new take on the original Frankenstein’s battle-worn pickup.” How much is it different? Can’t tell.
Second, any big EVH fan will known that Ed used a multitude of different pickups on his Frankie guitar, and know one knows (or the few who knew haven’t said yet) exactly which guitars, let alone what pickups (plural), he used when recording, particularly on the first two albums. For example:
- Van Halen I – No one knows for sure which iteration of Frankie was used, and it’s entirely possible several guitars (beyond Frankie and the Ibanez Destroyer) were used.
- Van Halen II – Ditto. Ed was still experimenting with his gear, and was still trying to make the “Bumblebee” work.
- Women and Children First – Ed is pictured on the album art with the Skark/Destroyer, but some tunes obviously are done with a whammy-equipped guitar. I also have an audio interview in which Ed claims all the songs on this album were done with Frankie. Go figure.
- Fair Warning – This was done with Frankie, and it’s accepted that Ed switched to a Floyd Rose bridge for this recording, which thinned out his tone (hence his aversion to recoding with a Floyd before this album, though he used one live). Thinner tone no doubt meant pickup swaps to get what he wanted.
Plus Ed has said in interviews that he’s had to experiment with different bodies, necks and pickups to get tone combinations that worked for him.
So we are left with this question: Which pickup does this Frankie Humbucker replicate? Presumably the answer is, “the last one that was in it” – which if true would give you tones closer to 1984 than the first two to four albums.
But that’s all amateur detective work. Shockingly, no interviewer with access to Ed has had the balls to ask these questions.
- By the way, the cheapest price I’ve found for pre-ordering the new Frankie pickup is at the Van Halen Store: $139.95 + $11 shipping. (By the way, this apparently is NOT the pickup developed for the new EVH Wolfgang guitar, in case there was any confusion.
While there are many “brown”-type pickups out there, the only three that seem to have been built at the request of Ed with Ed’s participation are by Seymour Duncan: the $25K Frankie pickup, the former custom shop EVH (aka “Evenly Voiced Harmonics”) now called the ’78 or 1978, and the current custom shop IM1.
Here’s what we find out on the SeymourDuncan.com forums. These particular entries are written by Seymour Duncan staffers:
Although he’s used countless pickups over the decades, there are two “main” styles. The first is an overwound P.A.F. style with a few tricks. When someone wants that kind of sound, we refer them to the ’78, which matches a wire/wind/tension/traverse/magnet/magic recipe Seymour originated back at that time [allegedly with Ed's participation, though this was never declared publicly].
We cant sell the Frankenstein pickup because it’s a Fender-EVH exclusive [this is the new pickup that goes on sale in February]. However, we developed a Custom Shop pickup that has a similar sound, but using different magnet wire and a different magnet – degaussed Alnico 5 [first listed in a few topics erroneously as degaussed Alnico 2]. We call it the IM1. It’s available for $180 with aged cosmetics or $160 non-aged.
For the Mag Crowd
I also dug up these specs on the Seymour Duncan forum:
Seymour Duncan ’78 Model
Magnet: Fully Charged Alnico 2
Wire: Plain Enamel
DCR: ~ 9.0K
Magnet: Degaussed Alnico 2
DCR: ~ 14K
[Degaussed, as I understand it, means the pickup is "aged" to be more mellow, or to smooth out any tonal "humps" that may be there.]
So for the Alnico 2 (or II) vs. the Alnico 5 (V) crowd, there you go: The ’78 and EVH use Alnico 2 mags (degaussed for the EVH), while the IM1 uses a degaussed Alnico 5. If you’re not sure of the difference, here is what Seymour says about it:
Alnico 2, which is slightly weaker than 5, tends to have a smoother, warmer, rounder tone with softer attack. Alnico 5 has a brighter, more dynamic tone with a tighter bottom end than 2. Generally, this means Alnico 2 usually works well with bright-sounding guitars [like Ed's ash/maple/maple Frankie]. Alnico 5 generally has a brighter tone than Alnico 2, which makes it well-suited to warm-sounding guitars. Keep in mind that these are general guidelines. Some Alnico 2 pickups, like the APS-1 Alnico II Pro for Strat®, for instance, are actually bright sounding – not because of the magnet, but because of the low d.c. resistance and high resonant peak.
So there you have it. If you want the EARLY VH tone as spec’d by the man himself, you want either the Fender/EVH $25K replica pickup, the similar but not the same IM1 or the ’78 – all of which cost roughly the same.
You could opt for one of the many (some very good) “brown” pickups made by boutique builders. Some sound killer. But none were made with Ed’s participation.
After all this research, I ordered the EVH Frankenstein model, and I’m psyched.