After a sneak preview of a prototype at NAMM 2008, Eddie Van Halen's EVH line of Wolfgang guitars and accessories is in shops this month and is sure to be a talking point of NAMM 2009, where they officially debut.
Eddie Van Halen is without doubt one of the world's most-lauded guitar players, but he's also one of the most commercial. No, not in the musical sense, but when it comes to business deals.
The EVH Wolfgang guitars – built by Fender, named after Eddie's son – are the third line of EVH signature guitars, after those Van Halen co-designed guitars for MusicMan and Peavey. Plus, his endorsements for Charvel and Kramer guitars earlier in his career.
Indeed, aren't the Fender-built EVH Wolfgangs of 2009 remarkably similar to the Peavey Wolfgangs of the '90s?
So what, you might say. Gibson's Les Paul – the pioneering model of signature guitars - has remained largely the same for long periods of its 50-plus year history. And when it comes to guitars – bits of wood and wire and simple electrical circuits, at their core - if it ain't broke, why fix it?
Signature guitars = $
Well, there is money to be made. There's long-been a rumour in the guitar industry about the money it costs for Eddie Van Halen to endorse a product. The rumoured sum is huge.
"This is my last attempt to get things done right, and I took it seriously" Eddie Van Halen
Still, it has to be said, Eddie has taken his time to get things "right". After all, his most lauded-sound was on the first two Van Halen albums of the late-'70s when his guitars were mostly handbuilt and painted (by himself) from parts. His most famous, the 'Frankenstein', cost him $125 to make.
And the first part of his deal with Fender for the EVH line was a replica of said road-battered Frankenstein. Its cost in 2008? A mighty £16,000 in the UK. Still, it was a limited run of 300, so fans were at least buying a collectable.
"This is my last attempt"
"In the past, guitars with my name on them weren't as good as my own," Van Halen says of the 'new' new Wolfgangs. He says a Wolfgang bought off the rack in 2009 is identical to the one he uses on stage and adds somewhat cryptically, "This is my last attempt to get things done right, and I took it seriously."
But does the guitar world need yet another EVH guitar?
Guitarist magazine's Simon Bradley, an expert on all things EVH says: "These new EVH signatures certainly resemble the old Wolfgang. But as they were decent guitars in their own right, that's not too much of an issue however closely the spec might resemble that of the now-deleted Peavey.
"These new EVH signatures certainly resemble the old Peavey Wolfgang" Guitarist magazine's Simon Bradley
"They won't be anywhere as costly as the lauded Frankenstein replica either. And, recent tribulations aside, Ed is still up there as one of the best and most influential guitarists of all time.
"That said, we reckon anything would be an improvement on the tiresomely nepotistic name... EVH Eruption, maybe?"
The new Fender-made EVH Wolfgang. Look familiar?
If the new Wolfgangs are not for you, Fender's EVH brand also includes, of course, amps, amp covers, picks, straps, strings, guitar cables and – 'coming soon - EVH shoes. Yes, with 'Frankenstein' graphics.
"I don't need to do this for financial reasons," Van Halen told Guitar World recently, "I could have just stayed at home and built this guitar for myself. I do this because a lot of people ask if they can get what I use. Well, yes you can and what you get is identical to what I use."
So, fair play to Eddie? Or, given that Van Halen have released just three new songs in the last 11 years, is this another example of the brand now being more important than the band?