Eddie Van Halen and the Dawn of DIY Guitar Modding

I grew up in the 1980s, and was obsessed with the guitar, and playing guitar, as a little kid. Van Halen wasn't my favorite band, but I had a couple of their records, listened to them a ton and was as blown away as everyone else by Eddie's playing. As of the time I'm writing this, it's been two weeks since he died, and I've been thinking a lot about a lesson he indirectly taught me, about modding guitars.

I remember, way back then, seeing an article in one of the guitar magazines about the Frankenstein guitar, how it was just parts, a modified humbucker, a hand-cut pickguard, household items holding it together and thinking..."you can actually do that?!?"

 EVH's Frankenstein guitar
Image from Van Halen News Desk

I was totally struck right away. I had seen the guitar here and there, on album jackets and posters, but never had any clue that he actually made the damn guitar. And, made it well...so well in fact that his sound was unmistakeable and very good.

I knew I had to do it too. I began my modding journey, learning how do wiring, kit builds, and all the fun stuff that comes with it. When I started playing live semi successfully, I primarily used partscasters, and modded them to my needs. I had Gibsons, Fenders and other big brands, but the guitars that I played for my part-time income were parts guitars. That interest was absolutely what led me towards building a guitar parts business.

 a JT guitar experimentImage of one of my early builds/experiments

I often see people post on social media (and in magazines) examples of home-made DIY guitar mods, like using deck screws on a bridge, or duct tape, or some weird glue holding something down, often followed by some version of "look at this abomination, LOL!"

Close up of EVH's Frankenstein guitarClose up image from Van Halen News Desk

It makes me laugh just like anyone else, but then it also makes me think that this person really wanted to play that guitar. They did what they could with what they had so they could keep playing. I rather think that's somewhat noble. There was a long stretch of time where I didn't have any money, and I admit, I did things like that so I could keep playing my guitar.

Eddie Van Halen did it too, and for the same basic reason. He wanted to play, and he wanted it to be functional and sound the way he liked, and he took the shortest route to get there, despite the materials he used or the way it looked. Now there's nothing more rock & roll than that. He used that parts guitar to deliver some killer songs and tour the world. In 2019, Frakenstein was on display at The Met in New York as part of the "Play It Loud" exhibit.


We need to have fun with our guitars, learn how to tinker with them and make sure, above all else, to play them. Don't be afraid of what it looks like, or what you sound like. We need to all be like Eddie and share it with the world.


P.S. - If you are interested in the EVH Frankenstein wiring, see this article at Premier Guitar for starters.

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