Jul 18, 2016

Building an Eddie Van Halen Frankenstrat Part 2 of 2

If you haven't seen Part I: The Painting yet, go ahead and check that out first: if you have, now's the time to check out how this fantastic Frankenstrat turned out for only about $100.

As you saw before, here's the body just after painting.  It needed a few hours to dry and a few days to cure, then I took it in for relic'ing and sanding.

Scrub a dub dub, time to abuse this body like it was gigged for two decades.

After relic'ing again and smoothing out all the paint.  It doesn't have a factory gloss type finish because that's obviously not how the original was done, which conveniently is much easier for the average Joe to do alright in the garage.  Great news!

On test-fitting the pickguard, I noticed a small problem.  I added a Gibson pickup selector switch to mine, and it's a pretty tall switch, taller than usual for this Strat style body.  I smashed away at it with a drill, true Frankenstrat style.

Now this was a PITA to discover: the Floyd tremolo I had was a 32mm block.  Too short to work with the Strat body.  I had to order a 42mm block online for about $16.  Annoying but it works.

Left: original zinc Right: pricey nickel coated brass

And with that, I wired it all up and put it together!  Strats are the greatest guitars for having been designed with the assembly-line automobile in mind; everything is removable and replaceable.  With the Frankenstrat's sawn pickguard, this is even more convenient than ever.

I mentioned opting to wire a little differently - I added a three-way Gibson pickup switch and actually wired the neck pickup to it as well.  This means that unlike the non-functioning neck pickup in Eddie's Frankenstrat, the neck pickup is a fully functioning MiM Strat pickup.  Hey, if you got it there, might as well put it to use!

Upon assembling, slight problem - the action was atrocious!  This is because the Floyd Rose is naturally taller than the normal Strat bridge, so the neck needs to be shimmed accordingly.  My first attempt at a full-pocket neck shim created this beautiful (special?) shim made from popsicle sticks glued and clamped into a single piece of wood. 

While as a piece of woodworking I can consider it rather successful by my standards, as a shim it was a bust - the angle was actually way too steep the other way!  Despite the time and love put into this special shim... I chucked it and started over.

Plan B worked perfectly the first time, and with significantly less effort.  Turns out this was all that was needed.

Sandpaper added another section thinner than the wood to fill some of the gap and prevent neck warping, if not necessarily helping with vibration transfer.

Time for the professional touch - the quarter under the Floyd Rose.  Initially I was skeptical of the "value" of a bit of cash under the bridge, but it is indeed the perfect size and helps the Floyd rest against the body.  Non-floating Floyds are much easier to tune and deal with, although you do lose out on a cool special effects.

And with that, it all came together!  I can't say it's perfect, but I can say I damn well tried.

There are a few design differences that make it not an exact replica, which I'll go over now:
  • The bridge pickup is a Jackson.  Not sure what was on the original (think it was a PAF)
  • Mine was painted over a sunburst, albeit a very worn down one, not directly on the wood.
  • I added the three-way switch to allow full use of the neck pickup, pretty much unambiguously an improvement by adding variety.
  • The fretboard is scalloped; big playability difference for sure, although not much of one cosmetically.
  • The quarter is from 1988 not 1971, sorry 5150 aficiandos.

Video demo and crazy Van Halen solos in the works, stay tuned!

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