How to build a Frankenstrat…
Although this was officially the first guitar for me to begin all the way back in Year 9 woodwork, it was the 5th for me to complete.Why did I wait so long? Well, in class this guitar had been damaged, and I had the idea in my head that it would take a lot to repair. a mere six weeks after beginning the repairs, however, and it was completely transformed from a standard red & white strat, into a Van Halen Frankenstrat (left-handed, of course!) complete with wiring mods, and accurate parts (as accurate as possible!)
What follows is a tutorial on how I completed the replication of the paint job, parts and other minor details!
As this is a glorified stratocaster, I will assume you have already built the strat body (or bought one you wish to modify!)
Here is one I prepared earlier… around 1996 in high school woodwork, to be precise! I used Kauri Pine for this build, which is now a restricted species… I was lucky to get a piece from my local timber yard before it was announced protected. I think it is a lovely timber to work with, unfortunately there was damage from people in my woodwork class, so I was pressured into painting it.
Now, 15 years later, I have decided to strip it back, as it was simply sitting in a cupboard doing nothing, and proceed to convert it into a frankenstrat! Here you see the guitar being stripped, with the assistance of an orbital sander.
Once it is all stripped back and smoothed with a finer sandpaper, an undercoat primer is applied. I chose to use grey, however you can use any colour you might have available.
After about 5 coats of undercoat to make sure I have a nice smooth working surface, I sprayed a further 5 coats of matt black. I chose to paint all coats with the guitar suspended in my carport, so I could gain access to all sides at once. This is done by nailing a scrap of wood into the neck pocket, and tapping a few nails in the opposite end for a loop of rope to be supported.
Once the black coats are all done and dry (leave for a few days, regardless if you THINK it is dry) the next step is to tape it up ready for the white coat. I used plain masking tape for this step, which measured 18mm wide.
In the final step, I will link to the paining template I used for these stages, which I printed at 100% and painstakingly copied onto the guitar.
After taping the guitar up on top of the black coat, it is time to spray it white. give it about 5 coats of white to ensure a good coverage. After a few days, remove the tape and admire! This is how Eddie Van Halen played his guitar in the 70’s, until too many people began copying him, and he chose to retape it and do the red coat.
This is important to know, as for a few years, this guitar was used on the road, and copped a beating or two, so, if you want authenticity, it is time to ‘relic’ your masterpiece. Either sand it down to wear it, or bash it with the side of a hammer or a large chain to dent it up.
If you rollover the image, you can see the ‘relicing’ that I have done on the back to simulate wear and tear. this is optional, but I was trying to replicate the frankenstrat as closely as possible (who wants a pristine guitar that is meant to replicate a rock icon?!)
Next step is to tape it up again, this time using two different widths of tape. The wider tape is 24mm, while the thin green tape is actually car detailing pinstriping tape, which measures 6mm. I know these pictures don’t show it too well, so please check the final step for all the templates!
Remember however, that Eddie did all of this taping freehand and completely randomly. This is not a precision exercise, however if you wish to copy exactly what is on the original, I have drawn as closely as possible in my templates.
So yet again, suspend the guitar from the scrap of timber, so you can access all sides of the guitar for each coat of paint.
This tape is in preparation of the final red coats which I will show in the next step.
These pictures show the red coat during application. Remember, Eddie painted over the black and white, but left them visible through the red, so don’t paint too thick on this coat, or you will lose everything you have done so far! I used 3 coats only on the red (compared with 5+ each for white, black and primer).
When the black is still visible, but the white is well coated (the black will be a little darker than in these pics, as these were taken after 1-2 coats) stop spraying, and leave it alone!
When the paint has dried (another few days!!) peel the tape off carefully to reveal the final colour scheme!
Here is the final colours straight after removing the tape. Not bad huh? But this guitar should not look so clean and untouched… It should look like it has been on tour for 10 years!, so, out with the 1200grit sandpaper, and get to making it look worn down and bashed up again!
Of course, you can decide to leave it at this point, it is entirely up to you! I wanted mine to look like the original as much as possible, so decided to sand, bash and trash it up a bit.
Notice how the black shows though a little through the red coat? that’s what I was talking about in the previous step!
I almost forgot to mention the neck! I purchased a neck for this one (as I usually do) however, I was having trouble finding the headstock shape I wanted, so I decided to get a paddlehead neck. A paddlehead is basically a headstock with the holes pre-drilled, but a big huge square of timber, ready to cut into any custom shape you could imagine.
I was only after a simple 1970’s style Stratocaster headstock, so it was easy enough to get a photo of one, enlarge to the correct size and trace onto the headstock. cutting was achieved with the help of a jigsaw, some files, a sander and some hand sanding.
As I will be using a Floyd Rose bridge on this guitar (as Eddie uses!) the guitar requires a Floyd Rose lock nut. this is achieved by chiseling out the section of fretboard between the tuners and the nut (don’t go further than the nut!!) and simply screwing the lock nut into place. there may be some slight gap under the lock nut, however don’t be tempted to cut any more of the fretboard, as where the nut begins determines where the notes are. if the nut moves, you will need to move ALL the frets! Seriously, don’t do it…
Eddie does not have any artwork on his headstock, only cigarette burns. I have not done these yet, but the next person to leave some ciggies at my house will benefit in knowing that the helped achieve this step on my guitar! 🙂
Once I had sanded it up a bit and made it look worn and a bit trashed, I also decided to put a clear coat over the top (not authentic) and left it in direct sunlight to dry (against recommendations) which caused the clear coat to crack and become brittle (what I wanted) which has given it an even more junkyard look!
I decided enough was enough, and proceeded to assemble all the parts, wiring in a little gimmick that not even Eddie has. Eddie does not use his single coil, as the selector switch is located in the centre pickup cavity, but I have included a push/pull switch on the volume pot, giving me the option for the regular Van Halen tone, followed by a tinny Strat sound.
Notice that the Humbucker is mounted on an angle? This is one of the tricks that Eddie has used to give him that unique sound (as well as his choices of amps etc)
If you rollover the image, you will also see some reflectors. Eddie used to use these when playing in smaller venues. He would flip the guitar over during a solo and catch the house lights in them, creating a one-man-lightshow. I purchased these from ebay as a set, and they match the patterns on Eddie’s guitar. Not even the Fender Relic version which sells for $24,999US has these! 🙂
I am happy with the final outcome of this guitar! It turned out pretty much how I wanted it to turn out, and sounds better than I expected it would! Expect to hear this guitar in some upcoming recordings…
The templates are located HERE
The file contains:
Front White Layer
Front Red Layer
Back White Layer
Headstock Cigarette Burns