More on Ed’s Shark: Pickups, Color

July 1, 2011 | By | 5 Replies More
A famous Shark shot, note likely Might Mite pickup in bridge.

A famous Shark shot, note likely Might Mite pickup in bridge.

Seems from photos that EVH did not change the stock Destroyer pickups until sometime after he chainsawed the guitar. Since Ed constantly messed with just about everything, this is very odd. So what does it tell us?

He liked the stock Super 70 pickups.

Why? Probably because they were (or sounded like) a higher-output pickup. Check this out, from the July 2011 issue of Vintage Guitar mag, interview with Jeff Hasselberger who was a big part of Ibanez in the early days:

VG: If there’s any rap on vintage Ibanez solid-bodies, it’s that the Super 70 and Super 80 humbuckers weren’t very good. They tended to be thin, which is why so many vintage models now have replacement pickups on them.

Jeff: Early on in the ’70s, we were focused on making pickups as hot as we possibly could. Of course, we overshot and made some pickups that were too powerful for their own good….

Shark with what looks like the stock bridge pickup.

Shark with what looks like the stock bridge pickup.

This makes sense because Ed liked and still likes “powerful” pickups. He appears to have used DiMarzio Super Distortions (possibly with the ceramic magnet switched to an alnico magnet), Mighty Mite copies of Super Distortions, and as we all know had at least one of his favorite Gibson PAF pickups rewound by “someone” (possibly a little-known-at-the-time Seymour Duncan) to be a bit hotter.

That was the old days. His newer pickups also are “powerful.” So he definitely likes higher-output pickups.

Cutting a chunk out of the Destroyer changed its tone, and at some point after that happened Ed tried a variety of pickups – maybe with his EQs (MXR 6-band and Boss GE-10) – to get that guitar’s mojo back.

Someone pointed out on the metroamp board that the similar sounds of Frankie and the Destroyer on Van Halen I could mean that both guitars were using high-output pickups: a DiMarzio or Mighty Mite in Frankie, and the Super 70 in the Destroyer. Interesting thought.

So the last line in the GW article I don’t think counts for much: “The chrome-covered pickups appear to be stock, which suggests that the secret to Van Halen’s sound was more about his fingers and not some magical Gibson PAF humbucker.” Few items:

1. There’s no evidence Ed used a Gibson humbucker on the first Van Halen album – although he might have because there’s no evidence for anything he used on Van Halen 1!

2. It completely misses the point that the pickups were left stock because Ed liked them as is. Ed changed everything, so the more interesting question is why didn’t he change those!

3. Obviously his fingers, heart and brain are the keys to his tone that us mortals can never have.

From owning a Destroyer I can tell you that the Super 70 pickups sound higher output, at least partly because of the Alnico 8 magnets used, and take some tweaking height-wise so they don’t sound harsh or thin.


In those old photos (1977, pre first album), the Destroyer looks white. We’re all assuming it is white – painted by Ed himself or someone else – because at the time Destroyers only came in natural to replicate the Gibson korina guitars.

BUT the Shark is painted red over silver. No one has explained that one yet, and it all points to a simple explanation: Ed painted the thing silver, then red.

Wonder if this was the first guitar Ed painted. Also wonder if Ed found a Destroyer he liked better than the white one, then painted it silver then red. Doubtful, but who knows!


> The GW article points out that Ed “replaced the Gibson-style top hat knobs with knobs from a Stratocaster and swapped the original chrome-plated bridge for a gold-plated unit.” I presume he did the former for color/style and the latter either for tone or out of necessity.

All I got on the Shark. Unload your thoughts below.

Here’s a sliver of the Shark live, starts at about 3:40. Sounds ballsy!

– End of part 2 of 2 –

Category: DiMarzio, Edward Van Halen, Ibanez, Mighty Mite

Comments (5)

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  1. E. Heisenberg says:

    THE TRUE: Obviously his fingers, heart and “B-R-A-I-N” are the keys to his tone that us mortals can never have.

  2. Ymi5150? says:

    I just completed a Shark replica and regarding silver, it’s a preferred basecoat for metallic paint. Ed used Schwinn paint for Frankie and likely used Schwinn’s Apple Krate red metallic for the Shark. Schwinn offered aluminum silver basecoat to apply under their translucent top coats. I used it on mine and it fits the bill nicely. See my website for images.

  3. Fyl says:

    AlNiCo 8, dudes… all-but-forgotten for 35 years, revived by the ebay bonanza for mij guitars and super 70 pups to the point that even Seymour Duncan releases one, the Alternative 8. Which, supposedly, misses the entire point.

    Point being:
    *AlNiCo 8 increases output 1.7 times
    *Super 70s are PAF-ish 7.8-8.0k on the meter to give a vintage sound
    *…BUT that 1.7x power boost makes this singing PAF crunch and sizzle with the big boys, with an output comparable to a JB or a Super Distortion.

    …which is the whole frickin point. A decade before somebody stuck a battery-powered preamp next to a twin rail pup, sealed the whole thing with epoxy gunk, and made teenagers interested in 9V batteries (and some 30 years before Seymour Duncan tried to make vintage-voiced active humbuckers), somebody out there was trying to take a tone they liked and up the power, without changing its flavour, for the best of both worlds.

    And the Super 70 succeeded. Sings like a PAF, sizzles like a Distortion pup, and drives an amp like an active might.

    No duh ED LIKED IT. The man’s all about supercharging classical tones and crunching up some tubes, and back then, he was AGAINST using effects and liked to plug straight in. Were he born today, he might be using afterburners or modular preamps on PAFs, but back in those times, the only actives around were EMGs, and the only non-pedal plug-straight-in ways of getting massive overdrive, besides the Distortion pups and clones, was the Super 70.

    Which, btw, is cooler than ever today. Crunches up one of the newly-popular 5watt tube amps sooo hard it’ll not only drive a 4×12 of Celestions, it’ll actually make ’em BREAK UP. At 1/3rd volume no less.

    Hehe. Stick that in your digital POD or 20-pedal effects chain and smoke it.

    • admin says:

      True but:
      > No one was using EMGs back then, and they were mostly bass pickups.
      > Ed never again used an A8 magnet, as far as we know anyway.
      > He didn’t like effects?!

      • Fyl says:

        2 admin: wasn’t that about the time EMG started picking up young endorsers like Metallica? Or am I like 5 years off? Looked it up just now, seems like Van Halen was around since 72-ish, but did VH1 in 1978, and EMG was around since 76 and made actives in 78, too. Maybe they weren’t that well-known, but then again, Ed wasn’t born famous either…

        A8 magnets weren’t really offered by anyone but boutique builders from the 80s on, until Seymour Duncan made their Alternative 8, what, a couple years ago as of 2013? That’s a 30 year gap… Plus, if Van Halen knew what exactly gave the Super 70 it oomph, he’s kept real quiet about it. That and who knows what all those modded pups of his really were, might’ve been more than a few magnet swaps involved.

        As to plugging in straight into a head, I recall some youtube clip interview with the older, short-haired EVH saying that he’d started out doing that into some hotrodded Marshall (or just hot-sounding? can’t recall), and that when the time came to spec out his signature amps, one of his main requirements was that it’d work well and sound good straight up, not just after a chain of effects that left left little or none of the sound and tone up to the amp.

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