David Lee Roth says he came up with the idea of adding stripes to Eddie Van Halen's guitar so it didn't look like Jimi Hendrix's white Strat

David Lee Roth has explained how he helped to design Eddie Van Halen's iconic striped electric guitar design on his 'Frankenstrat'. And that it was indirectly inspired by Jimi Hendrix

After Roth revealed his artwork called Big Wave, he released a video in response to comments he'd received about its similarity between his work and the stripes on the late Van Halen guitarist's instruments.

"That's because it's my work," says Roth in the video above. "Alex Van Halen and I speak on the phone frequently now and we laugh like pirates. And we were laughing not that long ago on the phone about, and Alex was there, when I walked in with free rolls of tape; one roll of grey duct tape, one roll of black – not very sticky and the rucking thing kept coming off – electrician's tape, and one roll of blue art tape we use for pinstriping. I still use that today, whenever [I] put something on the painting or whatever. 

Eddie Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen circa 1978 (Image credit: Fin Costello/Redferns)

I invented coffee, they invented a cup

"I said to [Ed], because this was in mid '70s – '75/'76, [try] an expanding linear pattern because the white plain guitar is eerily reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix" continues Roth.  "At that time Hendrix was still very nearby, having recently departed. The plain white Strat, a little bit reminiscentamundo… at that point I said, 'An expanding linear pattern'. What is that? We laid it down and kaboom, within like four minutes I laid it out, including the little squiggle. What that's from is from the non sticky, shiny electrician's tape that's designed to be put on and taken off very quickly. It would pull, because we were playing five sets a night and it would get all sweaty and not ready, and it would contract.

"Much to their credit later, and I haven't even looked at the guitar in years. I haven't done research, this isn't a science lesson, this is just my memory…" explains Roth. "The tape instantly pulled and it made the squiggle. Later on, ok we'll spray paint it and pull the tape, like pinstriping a lowrider… and you get what you call a half tone version of it, that's what I call it… it's what a negative is to a regular photograph. So essentially – I say with a great big sense of humour - I invented coffee, they invented a cup."


(Image credit: DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images))


Roth's involvement looks like it may have continued beyond Eddie'd first black and white guitar and on to the his most famed guitar; the Red, white and black Frankenstrat.

"Later they added colours to it, gloriously," says Roth. "We were playing in San Bernardino and there's a famous truck stop out there," Roth recalls. "And I came back with one of those little bubble convex mirrors and a couple of little red reflectors and said, 'Cherry on top, bingo Ringo!'… Eddie drilled the holes and put it in there and, see you at the Smithsonian. Alex and I were laughing like pirates. I was laughing at how quickly it all happened and Alex was laughing at how much I got paid."

Eddie Van Halen

(Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

They started an industry – it's not just a franchise. It's a-way-of-thinking guitar

Jokes aside, Roth is well aware of the impact the striped design has had, in combination with Eddie's trailblazing approach to guitar design. 

"Subsequent guitars, once they started painting and pulling the tape, I would come to Eddie's parents house… and in the garage area would be hanging a really think wooden version of the guitar, spray-painted with the tape getting ready to pull. Then they just started using only the pullable art tape. And Rudy Leiren, our guitar tech at the time, gave each version a name. And the very first name, I don't recollect, it may well have been Frankenstein, and they developed an industry. Eddie was way better at business than I have ever been. 

"They started an industry – it's not just a franchise. It's a-way-of-thinking guitar. One of the most recognisable symbols of all time in the sport in this regard. It's on everything from electric toothbrushes to shoelaces"

5 songs guitarists need to hear by… Eddie Van Halen

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.