Eddie Van Halen’s namesake guitar company brings us two different takes on his Wolfgang guitar concept, and they’re surprisingly affordable, all things considered. Words by Peter Hodgson.
Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #131. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Eddie Van Halen ignited a custom-guitar revolution when he landed on the scene in ‘78. Yeah, there’s his famous ‘Frankenstein’ parts guitar, which has undergone all sorts of iterations over the years, but that’s just scratching the surface.
Eddie took a saw to an Ibanez Explorer, put Danelectro necks on Strat-style bodies, chucked a Floyd Rose on a Les Paul, and on and on. And it turns out that all this experimentation was a sort of de-facto product research, because Eddie went on to pour all of that practical know-how into his first signature guitar – the Ernie Ball Music Man Edward Van Halen Model – and then into the Peavey Wolfgang – an instrument which was clearly an evolution on ideas first expressed in the Music Man guitar.
Eddie’s EVH brand (in partnership with Fender) has been around for quite a while, and he’s still refining his vision of the perfect guitar, informed by decades of road-tested trial and error. The two models here represent an affordable instrument that bares most of the hallmarks of the primo USA-made stuff.
Of these two instruments, the Wolfgang Special Matte Army Drab looks the closest to the Wolfies that Eddie plays onstage. On a visual level, this guitar’s binding and zebra pickups are consistent with Eddie’s stage guitars. Meanwhile the Wolfgang WG Standard Ferarri Red has more of a stripped-back vibe, with plain black humbucking pickups and no binding. Let’s check these two babies out.
The Wolfgang Special has a solid basswood body with an arched top, but is missing the maple top of Eddie’s main guitars. The body is finished in satin urethane and the neck is a bolt-on chunk of quartersawn maple with a hand-rubbed urethane finish. The fingerboard is maple with a 12-to-16-inch compound radius fingerboard and 22 jumbo frets. It’s a bummer they’re not stainless steel, because Eddie kind of led the way on the use of that material on production guitars.
The position inlays are simple dots. The bridge is an EVH-branded Floyd Rose licensed locking tremolo with an EVH D-Tuna device for dropping the pitch of the low E string down to D, paired with an R2 locking Floyd Rose nut (string spacing clocks in at 41.3 millimetres). The pickups are a pair of high‑powered direct-mounted Wolfgang humbuckers with Alnico 2 magnets; Alnico 2 is often used in lower-powered, vintage-voiced pickups, but it has some really unique qualities when used with a hotter coil wind.
The Wolfgang WG Standard also has a basswood body, but in this case the top is flat instead of arched, with the exception of a Strat-style forearm contour. The neck is still a maple bolt-on, but this time it’s a single piece with an oil finish. Again there are 22 jumbo frets with a 12-to-16-inch compound radius, and the same Floyd Rose R2 nut. The bridge is an EVH‑branded Floyd Rose Special, and although the D-Tuna is absent here, you can buy them aftermarket.
The pickups are, again, EVH Wolfgang Alnico 2 humbuckers mounted directly to the body.
HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF
Make no mistake: both of these Wolfgangs are aggressive sounding guitars. No, they’re not designed to give you Eddie’s classic Van Halen I sound; think more along the lines of his fuller, fuzzier tone from albums like Balance and A Different Kind Of Truth. It’s rude, it’s brash, and it freaking lives for heavy distortion.
Pile on as much gain as you like, and these pickups will maintain their identity and definition because they’re high-powered beasts to begin with. And yet, the neck pickup has a distinctive ‘noodly’ tone, which preserves your pick attack, but follows it up with a great wallop of sustain.
Oftentimes it’s one or the other with hotter pickups: you can have sustain but your pick attack is mush, or you can have clarity at the beginning of the note, but then it rapidly muffles. But here, on both of these guitars, the sonic integrity is maintained wherever you turn the gain knob.
The true clean tones aren’t necessarily the most characterful, however, but players who like to roll their guitar’s volume knob down to achieve a clean-ish overdrive tone are going to love what happens here.
THE BOTTOM LINE
These guitars are both different takes on the classic Wolfgang concept, with the WG Standard leaning a little more towards a traditional Superstrat (despite its shape).
The Wolfgang Special definitely comes out on top in terms of its overall vibe and feel, but the Standard is a great little bruiser as well. At a certain point, it’ll come down to aesthetics.
Either way, these are both killer guitars that embody everything Eddie has learned about the guitar through many years of trial and error.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Classic Wolfgang outline
• Wolfgang pickups
• Compound radius fingerboard
• 25.5-inch scale length
• D-Tuna on Special model
• Killer tones
• Great neck shape
• Well balanced
• Clean tone? What's that?
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