David Lee Roth Says He Helped Design Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstrat
David Lee Roth detailed how he helped conceive the design for Eddie Van Halen’s iconic Frankenstrat guitar.
The frontman recently shared a painting titled “Big Wave,” which fans apparently thought bore a resemblance to Van Halen’s signature red, white and black Fender Stratocaster. On Friday, Roth uploaded a video to YouTube in which he explained that the similarities were not coincidental.
"We've been getting a lot of cards and letters — digitally, so to speak — in regards to [the fact] that there's similarities between my work and the stripes on Eddie's guitar, and that's because it's my work," Roth began. He then reminisced about walking into band practice circa 1975 or 1976 with a roll of gray duct tape, black electrician’s tape and blue art tape, all of which would prove instrumental in the design of the Frankenstrat.
Roth said Van Halen’s guitar was originally white and “eerily reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix.” He suggested the guitarist implement an “expanding linear pattern” to differentiate his axe from that of Hendrix, whose 1970 death was still fresh in people’s minds.
“We laid it down and kaboom. Within like four minutes, I laid it out,” Roth continued. He said the “little squiggle” on the guitar body came from the black electrician’s tape, which quickly pulled as Van Halen worked up a sweat while performing “five 45-minute sets a night.”
David Lee Roth Explains How He Helped Design Van Halen's Frankenstrat
To combat the pulling of the tape, Van Halen instead opted to “spray paint [the guitar] and pull the tape, like pin-striping a low-rider,” creating a “half-tone version” of the body akin to a negative of a photograph. “Essentially — I say with a great big sense of humor — I invented coffee, they invented a cup,” Roth joked.
The singer said Van Halen later added colors to the Frankenstrat and recalled stopping at a “famous truck stop” in San Bernardino, Calif. “I came back with one of those little bubble convex mirrors and a couple little red reflectors and said, ‘Cherry on top,’” he remembered.
Roth said Van Halen’s guitar tech, Rudy Leiren, gave each version of the burgeoning Frankenstrat a name. “The very first name, I don’t recollect. It may well have been Frankenstein,” he said.
The singer also said his former bandmate "developed an industry" with his guitar design. “Eddie was way better at business than I have ever been,” Roth confessed. “They started an industry. It’s not just a franchise. It’s a way of thinking [about] guitar. It’s one of the most recognizable symbols of all time in the sport in this regard here.”
Roth made sure to emphasize that his idea for the Frankenstrat was merely a kernel, which Van Halen brought to fruition. “Somebody somewhere said, ‘Wouldn’t it be easier…’ which is Latin for, ‘Spray paint the motherfucker and pull the tape,’” he joked. “That design wouldn’t have gone anywhere without Eddie sending it and giving it the shape and shine that it did. I’m just proud to have been part of it. The first part.”