Van Halen Frankenstein Electric Guitar

  • images for Van Halen Frankenstein Electric Guitar-thumbnail 1
  • images for Van Halen Frankenstein Electric Guitar-thumbnail 2
Description (Brief)
This guitar was played by Dutch-American musician Edward “Eddie” Van Halen (b. 1955) while on tour in 2007. It is a replica of the guitar invented by Van Halen in 1977 and named “Frankenstein” by fans. The self-taught performer’s colorful, virtuosic style has made him the premier guitarist of his generation and one of the most emulated musicians in rock history. In 1974, brothers Eddie and Alex formed the band Van Halen, whose innovative California influenced heavy metal continues to attract global audiences.
Currently not on view
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
E.L.V.H., Inc.
Credit Line
Eddie Van Halen through Jeff Cary, Senior Vice President, Fender Musical Instruments Corp.
Physical Description
red (overall color)
black and white (overall single or multi-hued designation)
wood (overall material)
metal (overall material)
plastic (overall material)
overall: 39 in x 12 3/4 in x 5 in; 99.06 cm x 32.385 cm x 12.7 cm
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Musical Instruments
Music & Musical Instruments
Object Name
ID Number
accession number
catalog number

Frankenstrats and families: Inspiring family engagement in our "Draper Spark!Lab"

Rolling across the Potomac on any given Sunday morning in the late 1990s, you could probably find a white Volvo with my dad driving my brother and me into the city, where we would visit one of the city's museums—like the National Museum of American History. This trip into the city wasn't a silent one though, because music was always playing, tunes that began to slowly shape my own music tastes. It wasn't just the rides over that have made these memories stick for the last 15 years; it was also the experiences my family and I shared. Today, as an intern for the museum, I see families creating similar memories together, sharing experiences through different objects and activities. So, what better place to spend time with family than a hands-on, interactive learning space, like Draper Spark!Lab?

Photograph of museum space with large Spark!Lab sign overheard. Desks, stools, and supplies for a hands-on activity can be seen among display cases and colorful setting.

Located in the Innovation Wing of the museum, Draper Spark!Lab is a is an invention workshop, developed and operated by the museum's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, where families can come to learn, play, and invent together. Activities in Draper Spark!Lab are based around different themes, like "Things That Make Sound" or "Things That Help Us See." With the current theme "Planet," visitors engage in hands-on activities focused on building a planet-friendly building, helping clean up the ocean, moving water from place to place without pipes, testing renewable energy, powering up a solar tree, and "upcycling" e-waste (reusing discarded material to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original). At the Hub, they can also create their own original invention using cardboard, Popsicle sticks, straws, and other materials. To complement these activities, Draper Spark!Lab is also host to interesting objects that tie in with each activity theme—objects include a 19th-century stethoscope as well as a cold-fusion cathode. My personal favorite however, is Frankenstrat, Eddie Van Halen's beloved red, white, and black-striped guitar, which tied in to the "Things That Make Sound" activity theme.

In a black velvet lined case, a red and white electric guitar.

Well, Frankenstein 2 to be exact (RIP, Frank 1). This 2007 replica, used by Van Halen on a 2007 tour, can currently be seen in Draper Spark!Lab. This guitar resulted from Van Halen's tinkering and desire to find a sound that had not yet existed. As the head of exhibitions and interpretation for the Lemelson Center (and the museum's resident electric guitar expert), Monica Smith explained that Van Halen knew the sound he was going for, but lacked the equipment to produce it. Taking a variety of parts, including a Gibson humbucking pickup, and putting them into a body of a Fender Stratocaster, Van Halen created the "Frankenstrat."

The guitar introduced new thrashing and sawing sounds to rock and was, as Van Halen described, "an instrument that wasn't offered as an 'off the rack' guitar by any other manufacturer at the time." Innovations like Van Halen's show exactly what we in Draper Spark!Lab are trying to encourage in kids—curiosity and innovative thinking to solve everyday problems.

Draper Spark!Lab can also create lasting bonds in families the same way music can. Both have the great potential to spark fantastic conversations and engage families in a way that can often only be found in an informal learning space, like a museum. Family engagement in museums, as free-choice learning professor and author Lynn Dierking explains, often leaves a lifelong impact on families and children, fostering a love and habit of museum-going. Taking home the skills they learned in Draper Spark!Lab, visitors continue to think innovatively at home—and perhaps (with the permission of their parents) begin tinkering with equipment like guitars.

Small, handmade car designed from cardboard pieces in red, white, and brown.

In fact, one inventor was so inspired by the guitar that she created a car that rocked Frankenstrat's iconic red, white, and black stripes at the invention hub during Draper Spark!Lab's "Things that Roll" theme. After her father introduced her to Van Halen (during car trips), they bonded over the music. The two were pumped to see the guitar, especially since they were attending a Van Halen concert later that week! This kid inventor and her father are certainly not the only two visitors inspired by the guitar. As one of the Draper Spark!Lab interns, I got to witness firsthand parents introducing the guitar to their kids, and in turn, the music that inspired them when they were young.

The Frankenstrat represents a new generation of sound, and also new perspectives and connections among families. Whether it's the band Van Halen itself—where Eddie Van Halen's son, Wolfgang, is now bassist—or in the Draper Spark!Lab, family engagement will continue to inspire connections that can last a lifetime.

Children work on activities in Spark!Lab. In the background, a case featuring red and white guitar.

Katie Fapp completed a Draper Spark!Lab internship, part of the Lemelson Center for Innovation and Invention here at the museum. When not inventing out on the floor, she is a junior at the University of Arizona studying history.

Intern Katie Fapp
Posted Date: 
Wednesday, October 5, 2016 - 10:00
American History
National Museum of American History
National Museum of American History
See more posts
Blog Feed
Published Date
Wed, 05 Oct 2016 15:28:05 +0000
Blog posts
Smithsonian staff publications
Conversations and talks
Blog posts

5 intriguing electric guitars from our collections

Happy 100th Birthday, Les Paul!

June 9, 2015, is an important day for the guitar and music world: It is the centennial of the birth of electric guitar icon and innovator, Les Paul, who was born in 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. An American jazz, blues, and country guitarist and songwriter, Les Paul is remembered for his experiments with innovative recording techniques and with solid-body amplified guitars.

Les Paul playing guitar, black and white photo

In a salute to one of the grandfathers of the unforgettable sound of the electric guitar, we are taking a moment today to look through the array of electric guitars in the museum’s collection. Did you know that we have over 90 acoustic and electric guitars and bass guitars in our musical instruments collection? Join us as we share five electric guitars from the collection, highlighting exciting moments in history that led to the electric guitar as we know it today.

Guitar on red background

The concept of an electric guitar, or a guitar amplified "by means of electricity," started in the era of big band jazz, early recordings, and radio broadcasting, around the 1920s and into the 1930s, all around the singular challenge of making the guitar louder.

There were many early inventions and experiments that explored this challenge but, as we know today, what truly won out was the solid body electric guitar. Les Paul is widely known for his first attempts at a solid body guitar, nicknamed "the Log," developed in the early 1940s.

The Slingerland Company based in Chicago introduced a solid-body electric guitar for commercial sale in 1939 in their company catalog. Seen above, the guitar echoes the traditional "Spanish-style" acoustic guitar shape adapted to a solid wooden body with a combination of magnets in its pickup to capture string vibrations. While Slingerland stopped producing electric instruments in the 1940s to focus on percussion instruments, this guitar is possibly the earliest solid-body electric guitar on record.

Electric bass guitar on red background

By the 1950s, the solid-body electric guitar had risen significantly in popularity, largely thanks to the jazz, blues, and country musicians who explored new sounds and ways to play with this electrified instrument. But what about the other stringed instruments in a band? In 1951, Leo Fender—whose company created the iconic Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster solid-body electric guitars—introduced the first electric bass that could be worn and played like a Spanish-style guitar.

The Precision Bass (or "P Bass" as it is usually known today) revolutionized the music world as it took the stand-up bass, an instrument that was difficult to transport, tune, and amplify, and simplified it down to the essentials. While there were already electrified versions of the upright bass, the ability to play the bass like a guitar was groundbreaking and its amplified voice became a musical sensation.

Black and white guitar on red background

With the arrival of the 1960s, the cultural revolution of rock and roll was in full swing. Guitarists were less and less interested in the clean sounds that earlier musicians had sought to achieve and instead began experimenting with ways to create a more unique electric guitar voice that suited their own particular music and sound.

This Danelectro Silvertone acoustic-electric guitar belonged to Jesse Fuller (1896-1976) who purchased it from a Sears store in Detroit when his original guitar was stolen and he needed an instrument for a gig later that evening. A blues and folk music one-man-band, Fuller would play his guitar along with a harmonica, percussion and a foot-operated double-bass, which he built himself and dubbed "fotdella." Talk about unique sounds and innovations!

Red, white, and black guitar and black case

The search for even more volume with the rise of heavy metal music and the power chords, flashy solos, and raunchy sounds that defined rock and roll in the 1970s and 1980s led to changes in both the technology of the electric guitar and the aesthetic design.

In the 1970s, Eddie Van Halen began to experiment and push the limitations of his instruments, and ended up building his own electric guitar using the body of a Stratocaster and pieces and parts from other guitars. The end result was an instrument lovingly nicknamed by his fans as "Frankenstein," which he decorated with strips of colored tape.

Yellow cloud guitar

As guitarists sought to establish increasingly personalized musical styles, the visual design of guitars began to blossom. Because solid-body electric guitars don't depend on the physical shape to produce sound (as compared to hollow-body acoustic guitars), musicians and manufacturers alike could experiment more with the design and shape of the instrument itself. For music genres from heavy metal, to psychedelic rock—the guitars themselves became identifiable "signatures" of those styles.

Musicians were equally focused not only on the sounds they could tease out and create with this instrument, but also with the look. One of the best examples of this is none other than Prince's Yellow Cloud—which he designed himself and adorned with his distinctive symbol along the fingerboard.

So, are you ready to become a guitar expert and to learn more about the electric guitar's invention, commercial success, and design? Now that we've sampled a little bit of each decade, take a moment and journey through The Invention of the Electric Guitar online exhibit by the museum's own Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. It's a fascinating story about the creative people, groundbreaking technology, and inventive American spirit that coalesced to create this iconic instrument.

Megan Salocks is a project assistant in the Office of Programs and Strategic Initiatives, where she focuses on jazz and food history. She recommends that you sign up for the museum's jazz newsletter to learn more.

Megan Salocks
American History
National Museum of American History
National Museum of American History
See more posts
Blog Feed
Published Date
Fri, 05 Jun 2015 16:36:17 +0000
Blog posts
Smithsonian staff publications
Blog posts