This isn’t a review as much as it is they story of how I came to own my favorite and probably most played guitar of all time. My white EVH Wolfgang special. This is what it looked like the day it arrived in the mail. I had seen pictures of it online, but I had no idea the case was red crush velvet. Every time I open this bad boy in front of someone that hasn’t seen me open the case, they are wide eyed and say “wow!”. Beyond the way the inside looks, this is a high quality ATA approved SKB flight case with snap latches and professional locks. This may or may not seem like a big deal to you, but if you’re used to traditional stock Fender or Gibson cases – this is surely an upgrade.
Now that you’ve seen what it looks like when you open it, let’s talk about how it plays. My wife showed me this guitar online, and I had never played it before. I watched several videos online to get a sense of what it would sound like. You never know how that will work, because different amps and pedals, even different hands make a difference in how a guitar sounds. Even the equipment used to record it can change the sound. Having said that, I viewed some videos that at least showed me the guitar could easily be used for everything from Jazz and blues to hardcore metal – and everything in between.
Here’s a good video review from Paul Riario playing one of the earlier versions:
Now let’s talk about how this thing plays. For years I had been in search of a better playing guitar. Better for me anyway. I had Strats and Teles – lots of them. I tried Schecter, Ibanez – both old and new. I had Washburn, Peavey, even a Les Paul and an SG. You name it – I tried it. I had made in Mexico, Korea, China, Indonesia, Japan, even made in America.
I read the specs of this guitar and the two things that stood out for me were the pickups and the frets. The frets on the model I purchased were stainless steel. I’m not sure they do that anymore on the new ones (now). Almost all guitars have nickel frets (that wear out over time). Stainless steel frets don’t wear down – they’re good forever. The difference between these and most guitars is that they are medium-small frets (which is what Eddie prefers and they’re called “vintage frets”). Most guitars have medium-large frets – which are better for bending strings (and normally called “jumbo frets”). Medium small frets are better for hammer-ons, pull-offs, and legato style playing. Before getting this guitar I don’t think I realized that this was the way I prefer to play. Also, the neck is super smooth, and playing is almost like playing on glass.
*UPDATE 2016* The Wolfgang Special guitar has been made in multiple locations including Japan, China (Indonesia), and (now) Mexico. Be aware that while the guitar is essentially the same, all of the new ones made in Mexico appear to have jumbo nickel frets and not stainless steel. Depending on what your preferences are, just be aware of that when making your purchase.
As far as the sound goes – the pickups are so incredible they are hard to describe. They are high gain – but not like you think. They are high gain in the sense that if you plug in this guitar and set your amp to the perfect volume setting, and then plugin a different guitar (like a strat, tele, or paul) you’ll find you have to increase the volume quite a bit to be at the same level. But they aren’t hi-gain like EMG’s or Dimarzio Super Distortion, or even Pearly Gates. At every single volume level they are clear as a bell. But they will take on the characteristics of whatever you put them through. You can play using your volume as the main control for distortion and lead volume, or keep it at one consistent volume and let your pedals do the work – it works equally as well either way.
Let me explain. My amp has one clean and two dirty channels. If I stay on the clean channel by itself, and the volume in the guitar is all the way up – you might get a tiny bit of breakup, but for the most part it’s clear as a bell. Tone for days and days. If I turn up the gain a little on the clean channel I can do anything from Stones tone to country, or even blues. Turn up the gain a little more and we’re in classic rock territory. If I switch over to the crunch channel I can get everything from Def Leppard to Judas Priest, Foo Fighters to Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer, with some higher gain you can even get Slipknot, Korn, Avenged Sevenfold – you name it. On my channel the thing just sings and sings.
All of this is just through my amp. I think that many people (at first look) would classify this as a rock guitar (which it can be and it excels at). However, it can adapt to the sound of nearly any amp or pedal. I should say that it complements the sound of any pedal or amp (and makes it better). I have pedals that go from light crunch to full stack and they all sound awesome through the EVH Wolfgang special. I’ve been in cover bands where I needed to sound like country, rock, pop, metal, 80’s hair metal, blues, emo – and I’ve had no problems at all making the same guitar sound like all those styles (and more).
The last thing I’ll say about this guitar is the price. Nearly all the guitars I’ve had were under $1,000. This was one of the first ones I ever paid more than $1,000 for. It appears that the price has gone down since they first came out on some models, find them from about $900 – $1,500 today depending on model. It was the best investment I ever made for a quality instrument.
If you know anything about Eddie Van Halen at all, it is that he has extreme (probably OCD) attention to detail. I read a story once that when Peavey made Van Halen 5150 amps the owner of Peavey (Hartley Peavey) wanted to skimp a little bit on speaker cabs. They were being made in baltic birch, and before things got shipped Eddie would get a sample and take it all apart to make sure it adhered to his standards. It turned out the cabinets were made in baltic birch, but to save a few dollars the tiny block braces inside were cut from cheap plywood. Eddie complained to Hartley, who said I’ll setup 16 cabinets in a line and only one will have baltic birch braces. There’s no way you could ever do it, but if you can pick that one out I’ll not use the cheap plywood anymore. The story goes that Eddie went down the line of cabs only playing one single searing note through each, and stopped and said “that’s the one”. Of course he was able to pick it out (and the cabinets were never made with cheap plywood braces).
I only mention that story because (to me) that attention to detail really shines when you get a Wolfgang guitar. When you guy a new EVH, it plays out of the box just like it had been professionally setup by a personal guitar tech. I have never played a guitar out of the box that literally needed no adjustment at all straight from the factory. I’m told that this is because so many had initially been rejected by Eddie for small nit-picky things. If you get one for yourself, I think you’ll be thankful his OCD attention to detail shines through.
One last thing you could consider is getting one from eBay. Sometimes you can get a great deal used. Just click on one of the pictures below to explore what’s currently listed for sale. Now that they’ve been around awhile there are many different types of colors and finishes available on the Wolfgang special, such as the Stealth, Burnt Cherry, and the infamous striped series.
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