Evidence EVH Used Hum+Single Pickup Combos

March 31, 2011 | By | 9 Replies More


We all “know” what Edward Van Halen used on the first six records, right? Frankie (mostly), a variety of bridge-position humbuckers, mostly MXR effects plus a few others here and there, his magical 100w Super Lead with Sylvania 6CA7s, 4×12 cabs with Greenbacks (mostly), a Variac.

That’s the base tone for sure. But as much of a tinkerer EVH was, I’m sure we’re ignorant about a lot. Maybe a ton. Here’s one thing that may run counter to years of conventional EVH wisdom. More on the way….

Single Coils

Ed used and liked single coils. He liked a Les Pauls and Les Paul Juniors with P-90s, but likely replaced them with humbuckers for “buzz” reasons.

He liked Strats too, but his bandmates weren’t a fan of the thin sound single-coils got (thus Frankie was born). Ed also used Strats in the studio (“Women in Love” intro, possibly “Bottoms Up,” “Hear About it Later”).

And for a time he appears to have had the Frankie neck single-coil wired up to the humbucker. Yep, it worked.

Don’t know if the following video conclusively proves the latter point, but to me you can clearly hear what sounds like TWO single-coils on this clip, like in one of a Strat’s two “inbetween” settings.

I know the amp was 100w, could’ve been set clean or sounding clean or whatever, but a humbucker alone driving a clean amp doesn’t sound like that. And even if one of the Frankie humbucker coils wasn’t delivering the goods, one coil alone doesn’t sound like that either.

The Secret Switch

If you heard what I heard in the above clip, you may be asking yourself, why is Ed playing a whole song with that tone?

Who knows. Maybe he liked that tone that day or that week. But here’s another theory: Maybe he didn’t know that’s what his tone sounded like.

How is that possible? Because it was live and stupidly loud, and because he had a secret switch on his guitar that switched between humbucker-only and hum+single-coil.


This “secret switch” possibility was first noticed by Ed-tone guru Rockstah on the metroamp forum a couple years ago. Listen to and watch the following video at 4:45.

You see Ed manipulate something and hear an audible click. The video Rockstah first linked to is no longer up but was zoomed in closer, and Ed made a face when he clicked whatever it was that was like, Holy crap, did everyone hear that?!

It may be worth noting that Ed was just coming out of a part of his solo where he wanted a cleaner tone.

Photo Evidence

Also worth noting is that photos from the era (above two vids are from ’82 Largo, MD show) seem to clearly show that the red neck-position single-coil was hooked up.

Top arrow shows wire running from neck pickup over middle. Second arrow shows two wires (not one) running into a "secret" mass of electrical tape.

Top arrow shows wire running from neck pickup over middle. Second arrow shows two wires (not one) running into a "secret" mass of electrical tape.

That photo is from another metroamp forum thread, and it’s worth noting that people in that thread then tried the humbucker + neck single combo and loved it.

I’ve also done this, with a George Lynch-like setup (humbucker at bridge, single at neck) and a 3-position switch. With the humbucker and single coil on together, the tone is fatter and clearer than just the humbucker alone. It sounds really good, but is noiser thanks to the single-coil.

Note that I did not get that inbetween Strat sound like Ed does above.

Try it, you may dig it. I’m itching to try it again….

Category: Edward Van Halen

Comments (9)

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  1. Jon says:

    I would say he had a coil tap volume pot switch here

    Didnt someone say the the winding on the frankie pup were broken and it had been functioning as a single coil for a while. maybe when he had it fixed he had this option added

  2. Howell says:


    Yeah, the tech who was working on the Frankie replicas for Fender said that….originally he thought he had fried the pickup because the output was so low. Apparently the pickup was functioning kind of like a Gibson H90, where an extra single-coil is wired in to block hum but doesn’t affect tone.

    Also, I read once that the “I’ll Wait” solo was played on a Strat. This stuff only gets more interesting to think about when you consider there are more overdubs later on the DLR era, and everything sits clearly in the mix (“Drop Dead Legs” outtro)…..did he have multiple main studio guitars with much different pickup settings/sounds?

  3. j9fd3s says:

    interesting! that show has ALWAYS sounded different. judging from pics, though that switch/pg setup only stays that way for a short time (the humbucker changes too, it turns white, then black again).

    of course in the later iterations, the single coil is still there, and it looks like the wire still goes to the pot


    so it still might be hooked up…

  4. Gee Halen says:

    This is REALLY interesting, correlates with what John Suhr said, qutoed right here, on WoodyTone: http://www.woodytone.com/2010/07/21/the-final-word-about-evhs-super-lead-pt-2/

    I read through the thread. I have a Kramer with an original, vintage Floyd Rose – some people say there it’s the sound of the Floyd. Well, I disagree. That sound is a really “attackish” sound, definitely sounds like a switch _on this video_.

    On the other hand, let’s be reasonable right here: if it was a switch, why hiding it? I know Eddie started spreading bullshit about his stuff when everybody was ripping him off, but really – if there was a switch, he’d gone for a switch. I really cannot explain why hiding it.

  5. Ian says:

    I don’t really buy it. When Seymour Duncan and Co. examined the guitar to replicate the pickup for the Frankenstein replica, the single coil was dead. Maybe he used something like that during ’79 when had all three pups in there, but I think the headroom of the live rig gave his single humbucker a cleaner sound. This isn’t hard to test if you have a JCM800 which he used live and play a similar single ‘bucker guitar through it. It isn’t as thick and fuzzy as his studio tone at all. What you hear in a studio is rarely exactly what comes out of the speakers and Donn/Ted team could exploit Ed’s tone in such a way that wasn’t possible live. Besides, the single coil was so low in the cavity, it would barely pick up any usable sound at all. I also don’t buy that his last pickup was a 14k humbucker like the replica leads you to believe. That pickup was also damaged, reading “0” although it still worked (this is possible, because the series circuit can work with a shorting coil). There is also the possibility that his pickup was damaged, as Ed admitted that his pickup, at some point, had a damaged coil but he liked the sound and continued to use it up until he retired the guitar in 83. What you hear in the ’82 clip is either the 9k bucker Seymour Duncan wound for him in 1978, or a “humbucker” that was essentially a single-magnet P-90. That’s my $.02.

  6. Jon says:

    Ed was definitely expanding his tone pallete by Diver Down. It quite feasible he would have a coil tap on his HB to get a more single coil tone. The sound he gets here to me is very like a coil tapped HB

  7. Nelah Nav says:

    I think its just a low output HB through his dimed plexis. Low output HB tend to have a single coilish attack. Plexi also have a distinct tone which also helps get that spank. The wood and floyd adds a little thiness and brightness to the tone.

  8. Ed says:

    My $.02 as well,… Watching that video, either he had techical difficulty with the guitar thus the “o sh*t” face made by Eddie and the horrible my guitar has a ground issue sound at the end of the sound or he meant to run with that tone,… Eddie known for being a tinkerer tried new things all the time, he loved to mix n match, thus the creation of Frankie,… Being a trend setter in technique and sound, yes many wanna copy and try to profit from his uniqueness of trial and error. That’s just human nature,.. ;-) But back to the secret switch, it wasn’t a secret, it was right there in view lol ! in an odd place true, and you can get good clean tone out a quality single coil that’s in reasonable distance from the strings. I’m sure early on the single coil was on, not dead and used til Eddie realized the true brown sound came from the humbucker, floyd rose, poplar body, maple neck, tuning in 420 combination worked best. Thus Dcing the single coil later,.. But to know the truth,.. Ur gonna have to ask the man himself ! He’s a pretty nice guy,… ;-)

  9. Ken says:

    I just came across this video (better late than never!) with a guy demoing one of Ed’s 1980s touring Kramers. I don’t know if it’s legit or a hoax/copy, but the background details seem plausible.


    Interesting tidbit that makes it germane to this post: the single coil pickup is indeed wired up to a selector switch, but the switch is jammed inside the empty middle pickup cavity! Unlikely that Ed might access it there during a performance without it being super-obvious.

    I’m sure not all his touring guitars were set up the same way, or that this one wasn’t always set up the way that it is, but I think the clicking sound in the “secret switch” video (apparently no longer up) sounded an awful lot like the amplified slippage of a trem spring. It doesn’t sound like any electronic pop that I’ve ever heard.

    If he was exploring other tones out of his guitars at the time, the other commmenters may be onto something with the coil tap suggestion. To me, the “Somebody Gets Me A Doctor ’82” clip sounds like it could be a in-between Strat position, but it also sounds like an HB with the coils running in parallel. Compare to Malcolm Young’s guitar tone–the Gretsch Filtertron pickups are wired in parallel. It’s a very clean, defined, spanky sound, even with dirt added on.

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