The name Eddie Van Halen stands for a lot more than just otherworldly guitar playing. It’s also synonymous with technical innovation and intuition, and for good reason. Eddie’s keen sense for the building blocks of tone not only helped revolutionize the way that people played guitar, but how they built them.
Eddie’s name has graced a few excellent signature products throughout the years that reflect his innovative spirit. But now Eddie has a brand all his own. And with the cooperation of Fender Musical Instruments, the EVH brand has thrived, releasing the 5150 III amplifier and the Wolfgang electric guitar. The American-made Wolfgang was a major success, prompting the release of a less expensive model crafted in Japan—the EVH Wolfgang Special.
A Rose By Any Other Name
The Wolfgang Special is very similar to its American-made cousin in several ways. The body is lightweight basswood with a very attractive grain that’s capped with a Tobacco Burst finished maple veneer instead of the carved, ½” thick maple top that adorns the USA model. The veneer is impressive. Moving it about in the light revealed a noticeable depth that I tend to see in high-quality caps and slab bodies.
The quartersawn maple neck was equally impressive, and topped off with an AA birdseye maple fingerboard. In terms of specifications, this neck is essentially the same as the American model, all the way down to the compound radius of 12” to 16”. The unfinished texture of the neck felt wonderful—evoking thoughts of a well-worn Louisville Slugger. That being said, the neck’s size sat more at the midpoint between fat and thin. Meaty enough to grip, but thin enough to enable quick movement all over the fretboard. Eddie’s love of stainless steel vintage fretwire gives the Wolfgang Special accents the old school, hot-rodded guitar feel. More simply, this is one of the finest necks that I’ve come across in quite some time. The precision installation of the fretwire and shape the neck was remarkable, and the combination of the size of the wire, neck profile, radius and bare wood are clearly optimized for the rock player.
Signal output comes from the same two EVH brand humbuckers that are featured in its USA-made cousin, and are screwed directly into the body to help increase sustain and punch. An EVH-branded Floyd Rose locking vibrato system is matched with Eddie’s famous D-Tuna invention for instant dropped-D tuning—making the guitar feel and look almost identical to its higher-priced brethren, minus the carved maple top and multi-ply body binding.
Drop Dead Tone
The overall tone of the Wolfgang Special can be summed up in a general sense as balanced, yet bright. Eddie himself once commented that he never really thought of his sound as “brown” but as bright and authoritative. The Wolfgang Special reflects that school of thought—barking with a razor sharp, stinging quality when pumped through a Dave Friedman-modded Jet City JCAH-BES head. Even though the bridge pickup—rated at 14k—was pretty hot, it was crystal clear when playing big, open chords and heavy riff work.
All of the guitars in the EVH line have their three-way pickup selector switches wired backwards, meaning that the bridge pickup is on when the switch in the up position, and the neck pickup is active when the switch is flipped down. The wiring is an odd signature feature that Eddie is fond of, but I simply found it irritating. It’s easy enough to enlist in a capable tech to reverse the switch, but a shame that many players will want to change the wiring right off the bat.
The neck pickup displayed remarkable clarity and definition. When I dropped the guitar’s tone and volume controls to lower the output, the highs would naturally dissipate while the cutting quality of the pickups remained. I loved having this capacity at my fingertips—particularly since it evoked Eddie’s killer breakdown section in “Panama.”
The pickups’ true tonal nature really shone through when playing the amp clean, and were almost hi-fi sounding in comparison to a lot of other pickups on the market. While most hot pickups will push the amp’s preamp into overdrive fairly easily, the Wolfgang Special’s pickups just enhanced the clean punch of the amp. They had a big, three-dimensional sound that was very present, though at times it required some high-end frequency attenuation from the amp’s treble control. Hot and rocking these pickups might be, they are far from one-trick ponies.
The purpose of the EVH line of guitars was to capture the best of Eddie Van Halen’s design concepts and refine those features in a sleek, highly playable electric guitar that anyone can own and experience. The Wolfgang Special succeeds on all counts at a price that’s even more accessible than its American-made brother. The neck is terrific in every sense of the word, with a smooth, comfortable finish and impeccable fretwork. And the pickups are powerful and precise, yet brash with an unrelenting nature. This instrument was meant to be loud and proud— just as it should be with those legendary initials adorning its headstock.