Sunday, July 26, 2015

Music Man Luke Signature Model with Flaking Finish Problem

I met with my good buddy Reggie for lunch recently to talk guitars and gear, and also for him to pass me a batch of his superb homemade cheng tng -- a sweet Chinese dessert known for its cooling or 'yin' properties.  We all need to balance our yang with some yin once in awhile. And if we can get our yin while satisfying our sweet tooth, so much the better.

Tupperware containers of cheng tng firmly in hand, Reggie told me he wanted to show me a guitar he had left in a music store that was awaiting a refinish. I thought it was going to be just another 'vanity refinish', much like the refinish job I had done on my Gibson Les Paul BFG a few months ago. Purely cosmetic and didn't really need to be done, but you know how it is -- a newly refinished guitar is the next best thing to a new guitar!

We entered the shop, made some small talk with the owner and looked around a little bit. Reggie disappeared into a corner of the shop and reappeared holding a guitar. It was going to rain outside and it was getting a little dark in the shop, but judging from the silhouette (no pun intended!) of the headstock, I could tell it was a Music Man guitar of some sort.

And when he brought it into the light, I could hardly believe my eyes.

There it was, an Ernie Ball/Music Man Luke model sans strings and looking a little worse for wear.

Which is probably a huge understatement.

music man luke
Finish flaking off the headstock face of this Music Man Luke 

The black sparkle polyester finish seemed to have cracked and was lifting off in chunks, leaving either bare wood or the black undercoat. Indeed a small piece cracked off as I was examining the guitar and when I picked the piece up off the floor, I found it had the texture and brittleness of a potato chip, yellowed, hard and crumbly.

It was something that, in my 40 years of being around guitars, I had never seen before. And as we all know a polyester finish is as hard and durable a finish as you can get.

music man luke
Finish on the guitar's top 

My luthier friend, Luca Quacquarella, was just complaining to me a few months ago about how difficult it was to scrape off a polyester finish, saying that even an overnight soak in paint remover sometimes failed to do the job!

music man luke
Back of the guitar

But frankly, Ernie Ball/Music Man finish problems are something not entirely new to me.

Another good buddy of mine returned from the States in the early 90's with a fire-engine red 5-string Music Man bass. It played great and sounded even better. Ernie Ball chose not to mess with the original Leo Fender-era Music Man bass's design and electronics, and the pickups on this bass were classic Sting Ray with all their growl and clarity.

music man luke neck joint
Close up of the finish around the 5-bolt neck joint

Paired with a highly figured bird's eye maple neck, the glossy red finish was also really something to behold.

But after a couple of months of owning the bass, things started to go south rather quickly.

That wonderful red polyester finish started to dull and become tacky and sticky to the touch. It got so bad that fibers from the inside of the hardcase were actually sticking to finish like tiny hairs.
Fortunately, there was no Ernie Ball/Music Man dealer in Singapore at the time, or else they would have been faced with quite a sticky situation -- literally -- as this was not an isolated case.

Put it down to Singapore's 90% humidity and tropical heat I suppose. But strange that other major instrument brands never had the same problem.

Oddly enough, Reggie owns another Music Man Luke also from about 2005 and in exactly the same color, and it is in pristine condition!

ernie ball music man luke
Reggie's other Music Man Luke from 2005 

The only thing indicating its age is that the Luke logo has yellowed from its original silver.

ernie ball music man luke
Black sparkle finish on Reggie's other Luke

(Pictures courtesy of Reggie Tan)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ordering A Tokai LS173 From Ishibashi's U-Box

I recently ordered a pre-owned Tokai LS173 from Ishibashi in Japan and received it in the mail a few days ago. That is, if you could call going personally to Singapore Post's headquarters not once, but twice, 'receiving it in the mail'.

It all started when the guitar was delivered at 5pm on a Friday evening, with no one home to receive it.

I hate when this happens. I immediately start imagining a disgruntled postal worker schlepping a bulky cardboard box containing a delicate guitar and hurling it unceremoniously into the back of the van after a failed delivery, prominent 'fragile' stickers notwithstanding.

After a couple of fruitless calls to customer care that same Friday night -- both of which promised a call back which I never received -- I decided to try my luck and go to Singapore Post's headquarters on Saturday morning to collect the guitar.

At SingPost, I gave them the tracking number and waited for 20 minutes while they tried to locate the carton. They finally came back and told me that the guitar was in the 'holding area'. And the clincher was that the staff member on duty who had the key to the holding area was nowwhere to be found, and neither was this person answering their cell phone.

Well done, SingPost. Looks like you have a disciplinary problem on your hands.

I was told I could collect the guitar 'probably' on Monday or Tuesday, with more promises of a call back. So off I went home, guitar-less and slightly agitated.

Make that very agitated.

I was up bright and early on Monday morning and back at the post office -- call backs be damned -- reminding myself not to lose it if they gave me another 'holding area' story. The cheerful girl at the counter, who seemed to be harbouring a nasty cold, took note of my tracking number and went around back.

I felt like Mel Gibson in the final climactic scene in the movie 'Signs' -- "his lungs were closed, his lungs were closed, no poison got in, his lungs were closed.."

Except my chant was "the holding area is open, the holding area is open, someone has the key -- and that person is there -- the holding area is open.."

Sure, we laugh about it now, but those were some intense moments.

Tokai LS173
The Ishibashi carton at the post office -- finally!
Thankfully, this time they located the carton with my guitar in it.  I decided it would be prudent to check the guitar there and then for any possible shipping damage.

The guitar, snug in its case, was well packed in an Ishibashi carton with lots of bubble wrap. Opening the Tokai hardcase I found more bubble wrap around the headstock and the strings completely loosened.

It's always wise to loosen a guitar's strings for shipping, especially on Gibson-style instruments with angled headstocks. If a guitar at full string tension is accidentally dropped during shipping, the delicate headstock and neck joint is more likely to crack from the impact because of the strings pulling at it.
Tokai LS173
Safe and sound

After a few light taps on the back of the neck to check for a rattling or broken truss rod, I looked the guitar over and was surprised at the extremely new condition it was in, especially for a used instrument. These Japanese guitar players either baby their guitars or hardly play them at all!

Put it this way, I was expecting a guitar in a far more used condition based on the description Ishibashi sent me:

=Used TOKAI / LS-173 GT /03-315959009 

Some light used appearance as light scratches and some tiny dents could be seen on whole item

On the top, there are scratches and some tiny dents

On the back, there are some buckle wear scratches and dents

Edge and side body, there are scratches and dents

Neck condition is good

Fretwear could be seen, approx 80-90% remains

Working condition is good

Serial number : 1433041
WEIGHT : 4.4kg

It comes with original hard case

Tokai LS173
The guitar as listed on the Ishibashi website
I literally cannot spot any of the scratches and tiny dents described, which I think is something very telling about Japanese retail culture. They would rather err on the side of extreme caution than to send out a used guitar to a customer as 'near mint', no matter how microscopic the imperfections.

But why a Tokai Les Paul-copy you might ask?

Tokai LS173
Amber celluloid inlays

If you remember my series of articles on Sherman's Les Paul Quest, my good buddy Sherman's  most recent acquisition was a Tokai Pacifix Exclusive, based on a 1956 Gibson Les Paul goldtop. Pacifix is a high-end music retailer in Yokohama, Japan that collaborates frequently with Tokai guitars to produce limited run models built to their exact specifications.

Tokai LS173
Meticulous fretjob

Sherman has been through so many Les Pauls and Les Paul-type guitars of late that I've lost count. But his newly aquired Tokai was unique. It had a vibe and tone that rivalled the best and most expensive of Gibson's custom shop Les Pauls. And at about a third the price.

I'd always thought Tokai guitars were cheap Japanese knock-offs. I had no idea that they also made very high-end models priced at what Gibson was charging for some of their custom shop Les Paul Standards.

Needless to say, my curiousity about Tokai guitars was piqued.

A Little Tokai History

Tokai Gakki started out in 1947 manufacturing harmonicas. Based in Hamamatsu prefecture, Shizuoka, the original factory is still where Tokai is based. A family-run business, the current president, Shohei Adachi is the grandson of Tokai founder Tadayouki Adachi.

Tokai started making guitars in 1967. Its sole model, the Hummingbird -- not to be confused with Gibson's steel-string acoustic of the same name -- was Tokai's take on Semie Moseley's Mosrite line of guitars.

By the early 1970's, Tokai's quality had improved to the point where they had begun to take on sub-contract work from other larger Japanese companies. Tokai was even commissioned by the iconic American acoustic guitar company C.F. Martin to produce guitar parts and to manufacture their budget-priced Sigma line.

When the contract with Martin guitars ended, Tokai continued to produce acoustic guitars under their own Cat's Eye brand which were excellent copies of various Martin models. Interestingly, the Cat's Eye series is still being made -- by a single craftsman who builds every Cat's Eye from scratch! Pun slightly intended.

By the early 80's, Tokai was making about 100 different models, almost all being direct copies of Fender and Gibson guitars and basses. And they had begun exporting to Europe and the United States.

Tokai Les Paul Reborn, Reborn Old And Love Rock

In the beginning, Tokai unabashedly named its Les Paul copies 'Les Paul Reborn' -- emblazoned in large script in gold letters on the headstock, no less -- which naturally caused Gibson to threaten legal action.

'Reborn Old', and subsequently, 'Love Rock' replaced the 'Les Paul Reborn' script.

The 'Reborn Old' model designation was used for a short time and are the rarest of the vintage Tokai models, making them quite sought after by collectors. 'Love Rock' remains Tokai's model designation for all their Les Paul clones.
Tokai LS173 Love Rock
'Love Rock'
These days, Tokai makes guitars almost exclusively for the Japanese domestic market with only a handful of small companies handling their distribution in the UK, Australia and Europe. And because they are meant for the Japanese market and produced in relatively small quantities, they are able to copy Gibson's headstock design exactly without fear of legal repercussions. Or, more likely, fly under the radar just enough for Gibson not to bother.

Tokai LS173 Premium Series Specifications

In 2014, the Tokai LS173 model designation replaced the previous LS160 model.

Tokai LS173 Love Rock
Quartersawn mahogany neck
The LS173 features a one-piece mahogany back, two-piece maple top, long tenon '59-profile  mahogany neck with 18 degree headstock angle, amber celluloid inlays and a nitrocellulose lacquer finish. Hardware includes an ABR-style bridge with brass saddles, aluminum tailpiece and Gotoh tulip peg tuners.
Tokai LS173 Love Rock
Beautifully figured one-piece mahogany back
The LS173's electronics feature US-made CTS potentiometers, Sprague orange drop capacitors, a Switchcraft outout jack and Switchcraft 3-way selector switch. The pickups are Japanese-made PAF-Vintage Mk II's.
Tokai LS173 Love Rock
Sprague orange drop capacitors and CTS pots

What I found particularly conspicuous about the LS173 were the yellow brass saddles.  I was familiar with nickel plated cast metal saddles, graphite saddles, and even nylon saddles -- but brass?

Tokai LS173 Love Rock
Brass saddles
A quick consult with the oracle of all things Gibson (my good buddy Sherman) revealed that original Gibson '59 Les Pauls featured brass saddles which Gibson chose to nickel plate to match the rest of the hardware.

Looks like Tokai was trying to make a statement by showing off their brass saddles au naturel.

Setup And Tweaking The Action

The guitar came with .010 - .046 nickel plated strings, and was intonated perfectly by the setup guys at Ishibashi before shipping. The neck was adjusted with a tad more relief than I liked -- I like my necks almost straight -- so I popped the truss rod cover and gave the nut a quarter turn. There seemed to be almost no tension on the truss rod nut and it turned with minimal effort.

Tokai LS173 Love Rock

Straightening out the relief brought the action extremely low, perfect for checking for potential uneven fretwork. Applying the ubiquitous 1-2-3-4 fingering exercise along the whole range of the instrument revealed no overly buzzy frets or fretted out notes. A sign of a good and very even fretjob!

Raising the action out of ultra-low Allan Holdworth territory to a more playable height, I could almost feel the guitar chomping at the bit to start wailing at its first gig that very night.

How It Sounds

Not exactly a featherweight at 9.7 lbs, the LS173 is nevertheless very lively when played acoustically. Even unplugged, chords jangle loud and clear and single notes ring true with no dead spots.

But I was a little concerned about the pickups. And I'll be honest, outside of the Ibanez Super 58's -- which I think are really fine --  I have never been a fan of Japanese-made pickups.

The general consensus on the various Les Paul forums was that the pickups the Tokais came with should be immediately removed, quarantined and destroyed, lest the hapless Tokai owner develop a life-threatening case of Horridtoneitis causing him to be shunned by band members, past, present and future. They were supposedly that bad.

The pickups, not the band members.

Plugging in the guitar at home for the first time instantly allayed any doubts I had about the PAF-Vintage Mk II's that come stock on the LS173's.

The neck pickup was warm without being wooly or dark. And the Sweet Child O' Mine intro lick -- don't laugh, its my go-to lick for testing neck humbuckers -- sounded throaty and absolutely convincing with the tone control backed off.

The bridge pickup, meanwhile was sweet sounding, with that elusive cry that Les Paul players crave and sell their first-born for.

But seriously, that cry, that sweet top-harmonic that adds a lilting tail to the high notes, is why people throw big bucks at boutique pickup makers. Unbeknownst to many, the quest for this ghost harmonic is a walk to the edge of a very slippery slope, leading to an endless loop of buying, selling and replacing of pickups. It's a descent into gear acquisition madness.

You know you're in trouble when your pickup soldering chops have superceded your ability to play the A minor pentatonic scale in 8th notes at 120 bpm in the fifth position.

But yep, that tone -- that cry -- is right here, folks  Go get your pair of Vintage-PAF Mk II's if you can find them.

Using the Tokai LS173 at my regular Monday blues-rock club gig that night confirmed my opinion further. These pickups sound as good or better than any pickup on any top-end Gibson Les Paul  I've played.  And frankly, Emperor's New Clothes aside, don't you think that some of those pickups on those custom shop signature Gibson Les Pauls are downright anemic sounding?

So there it is. You might say that I'm a total Tokai convert.

And why I wasn't hip decades earlier to this dark horse of Japanese guitar manufacturers I'll never know.

Friday, February 20, 2015

EVH Striped Series Guitar Review

I recently ordered an EVH Striped Series guitar from Japanese online music store Ikebe-Gakki and received it in the post a couple of days ago.
evh striped series red black white
Carton from Ikebe-Gakki

This is my first time dealing with Ikebe-Gakki and I must applaud them for the quality of their communication and their prompt replies to my emails. They only accept payments by bank wire transfer for purchases from outside Japan, though, making a schlep to the bank to fill out forms necessary.

The EVH Striped Series guitars ship in a softcase so I requested that they pack the guitar with extra layers of bubblewrap to ensure it got to me in one piece.

And did they pack it well!

The guitar was shipped thoroughly bubble-wrapped and double-boxed. And despite the Floyd Rose nut not being locked, the guitar was actually pretty much in tune when I took it out of the softcase, with only the G and the B strings slightly flat. Ikebe-Gakki will definitely be seeing more business from me in the near future.
evh striped series red black white
Carton within a carton and generous amount of bubblewrap!

The Mexican-made EVH Striped Series is manufactured in Fender's Ensenada factory. Fender Mexico has really upped their game in recent years -- the Roadworn series in particular, stick out as very well-made instruments with tons of vibe. In my opinion they gave more bang for the buck than any relic'd guitar from the Fender Custom Shop.

Eddie Van Halen is well-known for being very hands-on with the design of every guitar model that bears his name, choosing wood combinations, hardware and voicing pickups.

He is also legendary for giving guitar manufactures a hard time whenever he visits a factory, simultaneously striking fear and a sense of awe into the hearts of those who happen to be tweaking guitars in the final setup department on that particular day.
evh striped series red black white
It's here! Shrouded in mystery

I reckon it was his early experience with Kramer in the 80's where only his name and likeness were used in ad campaigns to sell guitars, with virtually no creative input from Eddie himself, that set him on a tangent of being very involved in the design and manufacture of every one of his guitars and amplifiers, from Ernie Ball/Musicman, to Peavey, and now, Fender EVH. In all honesty, I can't recall ever having played a bad guitar or amplifier that had Eddie's mark on it.

To think that Kramer missed out on a golden opportunity, all those years ago, to recreate an Eddie Van Halen signature model, stripes and all!

But on to the review.

EVH Striped Series Main Features

The EVH Striped Series guitars are available in three color combos -- black stripes on white, yellow stripes on black, and the iconic red, white and black.

All models feature a hand-rubbed, oil-finished quartersawn maple neck with built-in graphite reinforcement rods, an easy access trussrod adjustment wheel at the base of the neck, Stratocaster headstock, jumbo frets, EVH-branded tuners, basswood body, Wolfgang humbucking pickup, single volume control via an EVH-branded 500k low-friction pot, and side-mounted output jack.

Of course, the Striped series just wouldn't be EVH enough without a Floyd Rose bridge.

Oil-Finished Neck With Graphite Reinforcement 

evh striped series red black white
Quartersawn neck with 'quarter flowers'
The necks on these guitars are devoid of any kind of finish other than a couple of coats of oil applied at the factory. Oil-finished necks, or any neck that has not been hard-finished in lacquer or polyurethane, are prone to shrinkage, expansion and warping, depending on the relative humidity the instrument is stored in.

All EVH Striped Series guitar necks are carved from quartersawn wood for the simple reason that  quartersawn necks are much more resistant to twisting and warping than flatsawn necks. And if you're dealing with an oil-finished neck, quartersawn is much more stable and definitely the way to go. You can tell a quartersawn neck from flatsawn by the vertical grain pattern and visible row of 'quarter flowers' running down the centre of the neck.

And to make doubly sure the neck on your EVH guitar lasts through years of sweaty gigs, the built-in graphite reinforcement rods add even more stability. Graphite is so stable that some companies like Vigier guitars have even done away with trussrods entirely, relying on graphite rods to keep their necks stable and fingerboard relief constant.

The Neck of Legend!

The first thing that struck me when I picked up the EVH Striped Series was the neck profile. This is the neck that vanished from the face of the earth!

In 1987, when Ibanez released the first Steve Vai JEM guitars in that lurid Loch Ness Green, I remember trying one out and being immediately amazed by the profile and feel of the neck. Even before plugging it in, I wrapped my hand around that neck and I just knew.
evh striped series red black white
EVH-branded tuners

But the mystic, magical properties of the original Loch Ness Green neck was forever lost after that limited run of seven hundred and seventy seven guitars.  The many subsequent incarnations of the JEM series did not use the same neck profile as the Loch Ness and I could never understand why. It was as if someone decided to simply can it, the blueprints relegated to some secret archive in the Hoshino factory.

Or Steve Vai's basement.

I was really happy when I reached into the softcase to pull out my guitar. There are some things you just cannot forget. The neck profile on the EVH Striped Series is exactly like the one on the almost mythical Loch Ness JEM!

The EVH's neck profile can best be described as a slim 'C', with beautifully rounded, rolled fingerboard edges. The glued-on maple fingerboard features a compound radius that goes from a Gibson-like 12" at the nut, to a very flat 16" at the fingerboard end, allowing for super-low action without fretting out when bending strings. I'm not an ultra-low action kinda guy -- I like a teeny bit of fight from the strings but they must still be low enough for me to throw in the occasional right-hand tapped legato run with ease.

But just for a lark, I brought the EVH Floyd Rose down about as low as it would go, and the guitar still played very evenly, with no odd chokes or fret-outs at random points indicating that some fret were higher than others. Kudos to Fender Mexico for the stellar fretwork. And did I mention that the jumbo frets on this guitar were polished to a chrome-like, mirror shine?
evh striped series red black white
Gleaming frets!

While waiting for my guitar to arrive in the mail, I came across a few negative reviews on a couple of guitar forums that said that the EVH Striped Series guitars came with sharp fret ends. This was not my experience with my own guitar, but I can understand why this might be the case for some.

As I mentioned earlier, oil-finished maple necks are sometimes prone to expansion and contraction, depending on relative humidity. If the guitar has been stored in a relatively dry environment for several weeks, the wood is likely to contract, causing the fret ends to protrude slightly. Some guitar manufacturers cut the fret tangs a little shorter at the fingerboard ends for this very reason. Fortunately this is something that can be easily fixed by any competent luthier or repairman. A quick buff of the fret ends with a fret rounding file, a dash of linseed oil to restore the finish on the fingerboard edges, and you're done.

So what's with all the hype about oil-finished necks?

To put it simply, oil-finished necks feel as smooth as butter -- much smoother and silkier to the touch than any kind of man-made polyurethane satin finish. But like it or not, when the naturals oils from the hand react with the wood of the neck, it will start to darken up in some areas more than others. You can pretty much analyze a guitarist's playing style and even his knowledge of the fingerboard by looking at the grime marks on an oiled maple fingerboard after a couple of years. The more evenly marked, the more it shows he uses more of the fingerboard!

On my old black Ibanez JEM 77V, I sandpapered the finish off the back of the neck in an attempt to replicate the feel of the Loch Ness JEM I mentioned earlier. Despite being lightly finished, the back of that JEM 77V neck felt unusually 'hairy' with slightly raised grain. Strange.

To counter the hairy, slightly rough feel, I buffed it down with very fine sandpaper and applied several coats of Warwick beeswax to seal the wood. I checked just now, and the contents of that one-and-a-half-decade old can of beeswax had solidified into clumps that resemble a broken yellow candle.

Guess I'll stick to Dr Duck's AxWax for general maintenance of the EVH neck.

That, and as Ritchie Fliegler mentions in his book The Complete Guide To Guitar And Amp Maintenance, regular wipings of the back of the neck with oil from the forehead every morning!

How's that for a personalized guitar?

After playing the EVH for a couple of days at home and at one of my regular Monday night gigs, the fingerboard is starting to darken up in the more well played areas. Not so much from finger grime, mind you, but from the black carbon residue from the factory-installed strings. My fingertips were literally a gun-metal grey from playing the guitar out of the box for a couple of hours when it first arrived. Ok, maybe there was a wee bit of grime involved.

Before my guitar arrived I thought about taking some fine steel wool to the body to take away some of that glossy shine off from the polyurethane finish. Now that the guitar is in my hands, I kinda don't have the heart to. But I think that as the oil-finish starts to dirty up some more, it will save me from having to relic the body in any way -- a well-played dirtied up neck will take the eye away from the 'too new' poly finish body. And we all know how awful it looks when a poly finish guitar body is relic'd.

evh striped series red black white
EVH Floyd Rose with D-Tuna
As I mentioned earlier, the EVH guitars feature a handy trussrod adjustment wheel at the base of the neck. No popping off the neck to do a simple truss rod adjustment. The wheel can be tightened or loosened accordingly using any metal object that can fit into the holes on the adjustment wheel and they have even provided a simple, slim hex-wrench for this purpose.

EVH-Floyd Rose Tremelo System with D-Tuna

The EVH Striped Series just wouldn't look right without a Floyd Rose trem system.

And the EVH-branded Floyd Rose that comes standard on these guitars is not some licensed cheap knock-off. According to the Floyd Rose website, the EVH Floyd is exactly the same as the German-made Floyd Rose Original, except that it is made in Korea. Same specs, different country of manufacture.

As stated on their website also, the EVH Floyd is OEM and made exclusively for the EVH line of guitars, meaning that you can't buy an EVH-branded Floyd Rose off the shelf. But if you do want to buy one, the equivalent model would be the Korean-made Floyd Rose 1000 series.

And you've got to give it to the Koreans. Aside from the hex wrenches needed for the bridge and locking nut screws, they even provided an additional regular length string lock screw and one more longer string lock screw that fits the D-Tuna!
evh striped series red black white
Obligatory hex wrenches and complimentary string lock screws

Which means also, that if you do not wish to have the D-Tuna installed, you can remove it and install the shorter string lock screw in its place, for a more traditional Floyd Rose look.

A nice touch!

Like the Floyd Rose Original, the EVH Floyd features hardened steel saddles and baseplate, nickel-plated brass trem block, a stainless steel tremelo arm and a locking nut to clamp the strings down

The EVH-branded Floyd Rose tremelo also comes with a D-Tuna that allows you to instantly drop the low E string to a low D, just by pulling out on the knurled post attached to the low E string's locking screw.

evh striped series red black white
EVH-Floyd Rose
Of course, in order for the guitar to still be in tune when the D-Tuna is pulled, the entire bridge must have it's back end resting firmly on the body. If you set the Floyd to a floating position, activating the D-Tuna would throw all the other strings out of tune.    

I'm leaving the D-Tuna on mine for now to see how it works out in a live playing situation. If not, then it's back to floating the trem and removing the D-Tuna.

For good measure, and to ensure that there was minimal friction at the fulcrum points, I applied Rene Martinez's GraphitAll guitar lube to the Floyd's bridge posts and knife edges, really getting it in there with a toothpick.

EVH Striped Series Finish

The stripes on the EVH finish were sprayed on one by one, in layers.

A painstaking process no doubt, which probably went something like this:

  • Over an undercoat of primer, the body was first sprayed black. 
  • The black base coat was taped up and the entire body was sprayed white. When the tape was removed, the result was black stripes on a white body. 
  • More tape was applied and red paint was sprayed, again over entire body. 
  • When the tape was removed, the final red-white-black combination was achieved.

What I find amazing is how Fender managed to replicate Eddie's original red-white-black finish down to the smallest detail, using tape just like he did. No easy task when you consider that the factory's finish department has to do exactly the same graphic on hundreds of guitars! No wonder the Striped Series is made in Mexico -- American guitar factory workers would probably have gone on strike!

evh striped series red black white
EVH striped finish back detail
Eddie's original guitar -- the one featured on the cover of the Van Halen I -- started out as a white guitar with black stripes. As his popularity exploded, he soon found his guitar being copied not only by fans but also by a few Japanese guitar companies who were making a few unlicensed 'tributes'. To throw them for a loop, he masked off certain areas of his black and white guitar with tape and sprayed everything red. When the tape was removed... well, you know the rest.

Fender could have just gone with a single template and sprayed all the different colors on all at once, but it would probably have caused the colors to run into each other, and the lines would not look quite as crisp as if they were sprayed on one by one, with each color layer allowed to dry separately. And you can see this in the finish -- the lines look slightly raised at the edges where the tape was peeled off after each color was sprayed.

EVH Wolfgang Humbucking Pickup

Earlier in his career, Eddie preferred a single humbucker screwed right into the body in the bridge
evh striped series red black white
Double Phillips screws on each side of the pickup
position with a single volume pot and no tone control. He has said that he cannibalized the pickup, an original PAF, from an old Gibson ES335 he owned and dipped it in paraffin wax to stop microphonic squeal.

True to form, the bridge EVH Wolfgang humbucking pickup is screwed right to the body, but with two smaller Phillips screws on each side of the pickup instead of just one screw on each side. This makes for a very solid mount and I can't even get the pickup to move even a tiny bit back and forth when I grab on it!

The EVH Wolfgang pickup features Alnico II magnets, have a DC resistance of 14K and are double wax-potted to ensure absolutely no microphonic squeal even at ear-shattering arena volumes.

How It Sounds

All this jibber-jabber would mean diddley-squat if the guitar didn't sound good.

When I brought my EVH Striped series to my usual Monday night gig, I was a bit worried as to how it would fare tonally, with only a bridge pickup and a single volume control.
evh striped series red black white
Low-friction 500k volume pot -- most likely a Bournes pot

My band's repertoire is pretty wide -- Hendrix, Cream, Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd -- and I do a fair amount of switching between the neck and bridge pickup during songs and on solos, along with much tweaking of the tone controls.

To be honest, I didn't feel I was missing my neck pickup at all. Although to compensate, the worry wort in me decided that I needed to set each of my overdrive pedals differently, one brighter, and one much darker with the tone almost rolled off.

But I found that I was fine with just hanging with one pedal into an early '90s Marshall SL-X head and cab the entire night. The Wolfgang pickup performed admirably, cleaning up nicely when I backed it off, and really laying on the juice when cranked.

And that low-friction pot -- it'll get away from you if you're not careful!
evh striped series red black white
My guitar as it appeared on the Ikebe-Gakki site 

The EVH Striped series is, all in all, a joy to play. And if you've been jones'ing to dust off your Van Halen riffs and licks with some Floyd Rose divebombs and stratospheric harmonic screams thrown in, this guitar is for you!

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