As Van Halen is such a mentored guitarist, it seems appropriate to review the third Edward Van Halen signature guitar (the second made by Peavey) a classic in the axe-mania public.
For those readers unfamiliar with the Eddie guitar saga, here is a brief recapitulation. In the early Nineties, the Van man teamed up with the Ernie Ball/Music Man company to create the Edward Van Halen Signature Model, an excellent—if extremely pricey—instrument that featured a uniquely contoured birdseye maple neck, a vaguely Telecaster-shaped, maple capped basswood body, a Floyd Rose tremolo and two specially designed DiMarzio pickups that were mounted directly to the guitar’s body to increase resonance and sustain.
Van Halen then parted ways with Music Man and struck a deal with Peavey, the Mississippi-based company that had already done him right with their 5150 line of signature amps. The alliance soon bore fruit in the form of the Wolfgang guitar, named after the guitarist’s son. This carved-top, more ergonomically contoured double-cutaway instrument sported similar materials and construction to the Music Man’s but featured new Peavey-designed pickups. This instrument, too, was pricey.
This brings us to the Wolfgang Special guitar, an extremely cool, lower-priced version of the aforementioned Wolfgang. While made in the same factory as the higher-ticket models, this instrument forgoes binding and a maple top in order to reduce costs but otherwise features the same graphite-reinforced neck and high-quality electronics and hardware as the other Wolfgang guitars. Ironically, the reasonably priced instrument, with its no-frills design, is probably closest in spirit and construction to Ed’s original Frankenstein axe, which was made entirely of parts that were heavy on the tone and light on the frills.
Thankfully, the tone is what this guitar is all about. Each guitar’s body is constructed of basswood carefully selected to adhere to a specific weight and grain tolerances. The two custom-wound Peavey pickups are mounted directly to the body, and the controls—a single master volume and a pickup selector mounted on the top bout—are kept to a bare minimum in order to reduce the amount of electric meandering the guitar’s signal has to travel through.
Run through a cranked 1973 Marshall Super Lead, the Wolfgang Special produced pure vintage Van Halen tone. Mucho ballsy, super chunky yet amazingly clear. The test model boasted a wonderfully musical top end and tight, well-defined lows. Rolling back the volume knob produced any range of tasty in-between tones that retain their integrity and definition even at the lowest whisper settings. Both of the guitar’s pickups seemed ideally voiced for their respective roles. The bridge had a midrangy toothiness reminiscent of the best old Gibson P.A.F.s; the neck was full and round, yet clear and open. Like a single-coil P-90 on steroids, it excels at clean tones and Hendrix-inspired whammy bar excesses.
And with this instrument’s rock-solid Floyd Rose-licensed tremolo. You can dive-bomb all day without having to come up to tune. And thanks to an ingenious device of Ed’s invention, the low E string can be dropped a whole step to D simply by pulling a little lever that rests unobtrusively below the bridge’s fine tuners. It’s instant “Unchained” or Alice In Chains, depending on what your musical bag is.