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.
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).
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.
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?