The ‘Other’ Van Halen I Guitar?

August 24, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More

The middle and right photos above were recently posted on David Lee Roth’s website. Seems obvious they’re from the Van Halen I photo shoot that gave us Ed and the freshly striped Franky guitar on the album cover (left photo).

So for gear heads, this raises some interesting questions: Did Ed use that guitar (a Les Paul Junior with a P-90 pickup) on Van Halen I? Or did he bring that guitar for the shoot – or for a post-shoot gig – just because it looks like it has a cool color and a curly maple top?

At this point it’s a well-known “fact” – if there are any about Ed’s early gear! – that Ed played a Gibson Les Paul Junior (a ’55, I believe?) extensively on the SoCal bar and party circuit. It’s also a fact that Ed has amazing ears for tone, so it’s highly unlikely he played, let alone kept (see ’80s “guitar room” shot below), a guitar whose tone he didn’t like.

Ed still has that guitar!

Ed still has that guitar!

It’s also been theorized among Ed’s faithful legions that he really, really liked (and may still like) the sound of a P-90 pickup – which, if you’re unfamiliar with it, sounds very raw and clear, which certainly were hallmarks of Ed’s early tone. P-90s are single-coil pickups which don’t sound anything like the typical Strat-type single-coils, but do have the same string-to-string definition.

To my ears, P-90s have balls and output similar to a vintage humbucker, but better definition – but with single-coil hum (except for the new Lindy Fralin humbucking P-90s).

Is there a P-90 or a humbucker at the bridge?

Is there a P-90 or a humbucker at the bridge?

Not only that, Ed’s pickups – notably the new EVH Frankenstein and presumably the old Gibson pickup on his Frankie – have very good string-to-string definition.

And finally, the pickup in Ed’s original Frankie guitar allegedly read zero ohms when measured by Fender techs – which apparently can mean that one coil of the humbucker is shorted out. Not sure of the exact effects of such a short, but I took it as one coil was picking up the sound, like a single coil, and the other was bucking the hum but not contributing much in terms of output (engineers, feel free to school me on that one).

In other words, the pickup would sound single coil-ish.

The homemade VHII Strat is right there with the Shark.

The homemade VHII Strat is right there with the Shark.

Now the guitar: The Les Paul Junior has a Les Paul shape but a thinner body. Like it’s big-brother Les Pauls, the LPJr also is made out of mahogany (and also has a mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard), but does not have a maple top – although it looks like Ed’s does….

Last but not least, the guitars used on Van Halen I: Conventional wisdom, including a chart in the now-defunct ‘The Inside’ Van Halen fanzine, has Ed using only Frankie and the Shark (altered Ibanez Destroyer). But pickups and Frankie necks remain question marks – so could Ed have also used a P-90 guitar, or would it have been too noisy for recording?

My money’s on the latter, but bear this in mind: The same two guitars (Frankie and the Destroyer) are alleged to have been the only guitars used on the next album. But from the Van Halen II studio shots you can clearly see a custom Strat-style guitar on a stand with three single-coil pickups in it. Now with that in mind, go listen to “Bottoms Up.”


Check out this gem (audio only), allegedly recorded in 1974. Ed would have been 17 or 18 at the time, and he’s already got it!

Gentlemen of Leisure, recorded at Cherokee Studios in 1974?

Category: Edward Van Halen, Les Paul Junior

Comments (2)

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  1. Zzzzzzzzzman says:

    Yea that les Paul is a 52 he stripped and routed out for a bucker in the bridge. Also installed a standard les Paul bridge on it.

  2. KhrussBliss says:

    Awesome theory… I was reading an article on the forum by dave szabados called secret Edward van halen pickup, which led to some fascinating replies, NOTABLY an avid scritinous user named “doublecut”. By his assessment of photos, Eruption was played on a-get this, I had no idea- Black strat with a Rosewood neck with a MightyMite, magnet prob changed. Nonwhammy bar tunes, notably if they have toggling, were the Destroyer. After VH1 was recorded, it got the white coat (w black striping), the maple “Gibson” neck,the TZoTGLELESS homemade black pkguard, and for VH2, it got the overwound ES335 PAF as simulated by the SDunc 78. After Vh2, it got rewound to work with a floyd, and that is the sound embodied by the EVH Frankenstein. I gotta give doublecut massive props, he also addresses the 0 ohms issue-does not result in single coil sound but rather parallel sound.( But, I def hear what you’re saying, and my verdict is not out yet. Myself I’m a slave to the single coil hollowbody sound.) Check it out and let me know what you think (if you haven’t already.).lots of juicy by info just in the reply thread. Ex: variac=bs

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