RED DEVIL II
RED DEVIL II
Where do I start? This is the second guitar I ever purchased, back in the early summer of 1984 (I was 17). I was going to the beach with a friend of mine (Edmundo!) and we were driving through Pacific Beach and we went by Zolla Guitars in P.B. and I saw the guitar of my dreams - a beat-up old '79 Tokai* Strat (serial number 9006555) that had been striped with a Van Halen II-inspired red and black design (the paint job was OK, but it had a wax-like substance for a finish). It had a black pickguard with two single-coil pickups, a Bill Lawrence humbucker in the bridge, a stock trem, and a rosewood neck. Bill Zolla wanted $159 for it so I put down a $20 deposit and came back a week later with the balance. Now it was time to take it apart!
* I did not realize this was a 1979 Tokai Springy Sound "Strat" until 2021, when I was researching the serial number (9006555). I always thought (hoped) it was a real Fender, but online Fender serial number data banks were way off. Then I stumbled on a Tokai serial number database and the number matches up perfectly to a '79 Strat model (900 = 1979). Tokai is a Japanese manufacturer that specialized in Les Paul and Strat knockoffs in the late 1970s. And someone in San Diego bought one, sanded it down, painted it red, taped it off, and then sprayed it black. Mystery Solved.
Later that summer, I also picked up a black Peavey T-60 with a maple neck with chrome Gotoh tuners; I took that neck with the tuners and placed it on my Red Devil II (an explanation of the name Red Devil II will follow). I even painted the headstock red and black to match the body. The Peavey T-60 also had an old zebra Seymour Duncan Distortion humbucker (circa 1981) in the bridge position, and I took that out and put it on the Red Devil II, too. Just like Edward Van Halen's guitar, I disconnected the neck position single-coil pickup, removed the middle pickup and screwed in the partial 5-way pickup switch, and cut the pickguard to expose the pickup cavity. I also took off the original strap buttons, and installed eye hooks similar to what Ed used. The guitar was starting to take shape.
The next big step was to replace the stock Strat tremolo with a genuine Floyd Rose. In June of 1984, I went to the Guitar Center in downtown San Diego ("C" Street) and bought a chrome Floyd Rose tremolo (R2) for $159. I took the guitar and the Floyd to the repair guys at Moze Guitars by San Diego State University and they installed it. Putting the Floyd bridge on was a major job, as they had to add some wood to the bridge area so the right pivot stud could anchor in wood. They really did an incredible job to get the Floyd on there. The maple Peavey neck was too thin, however, to have the Floyd nut installed, so the guys at Moze installed a black All Parts behind-the-nut locking device. I added a 1976 quarter to the body to prevent the bridge from hitting the wood. I knew Ed put some circular piece of metal in the same place on his guitar, but I honestly didn't know he used a quarter. I guessed right, I suppose.
The guitar remained in this state until the fall of 1985, when I replaced the Peavey neck with a maple Chandler neck - with the Kramer-like, hockey-stick headstock. I didn't exactly plan on going out a buying a new neck for the Red Devil II. I actually went out and bought my third guitar in October, a red Kramer Striker 100 from Guitar Center for around $150. It sucked. It played terrible and sounded like crap. I returned it within a few days, but I had to do an exchange. That day, Mark "Shortly" Foster (at the time, the Accessories Department manager and my future manager at GC) was putting away some new necks and he was showing them to me. I decided to exchange the Striker for the Chandler neck. Guitar Center did pretty good in the deal, as I later sold those necks at GC for $79. Oh well - live and learn. Besides, the neck I got was killer!
I put the new neck on myself and immediately painted it red and black to match the body. I then took the guitar with the original chrome Floyd Rose R2 locking nut I bought the previous year to Guitar Trader in Clairemont for installation. Dan Astor performed the job (he also installed a few pickups for me over the years). I even put on a Kramer Floyd Rose allen wrench holder on the back of the headstock. The guitar was now complete. I was totally, 100% happy with it. It sounded great, played great, and looked like something Mr. 5150 - Edward Van Halen would play. Little did I know that this guitar had quite a future in store for itself.
Red Devil II - pre-EVH signature (1985)
In the summer of 1986, I began working at Fairchild's Catering (my sister got me the job). I was working part-time at Baskin-Robbins still, but the extra money was nice and the perks were pretty cool. Not only did we cater weddings and parties, but we had a contract with Avalon Attractions in San Diego to cater all the concerts at the Sports Arena. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
Van Halen had a big year in 1986. They released their first post-Roth CD, 5150, and started a pretty big tour that spring with new singer Sammy Hagar. They were coming through San Diego June 28-29, the beginning of the second leg of their tour. We also had to work on June 27, as Van Halen had a rehearsal the night before the first show. No fans that night and there were no seats on the floor, but the band and their crew (and MTV who was there to film a segment) still had to eat. I think you see where this is going.
On June 27, I went to the beach with my sister and I remember discussing what I would bring to the Sports Arena to have Ed sign. The conversation started off with a simple piece of paper and concluded with my Red Devil II. I showed up for work that evening at the Sports Arena and was setting up some food backstage. (I also knew the people who were picking the brown M&M's out of the bowl.) Anyway, I heard what certainly sounded like Ed's guitar coming from the stage, so I went to the front of the stage (the floor didn't have any seats yet) and saw Ed up on stage by himself, wailing away on his guitar. (The stage was about five or six feet high off the floor.) Ed ripped through some lines by himself for about 10-15 minutes and when he was done and was heading off the back of the stage, I motioned for him to come over. I told him that I had a guitar just like his and asked him if he'd sign it if I brought it inside (the guitar was in a case in my trunk out in the parking lot). He replied that he would, as long as I could bring it inside. Apparently, he wasn't sure if I'd be able to get the guitar inside. That thought was going through my mind as I raced out to the parking lot.
I figured I was only gone about 7-10 minutes, but by the time I came back with my guitar case, the whole band was on stage blowing through some songs and checking levels. I patiently waited for what seemed like an eternity (probably 30 minutes) for the band to finish or take a break, so I could hand Ed my guitar for him to sign. When the band did finish playing, Ed and the rest of the guys headed off to the back of the stage. I got Ed's attention and told him that I had my guitar now. He didn't say anything, but motioned for me to wait and continued to walk to the back of the stage, disappearing into the darkness. Did I miss my chance? Should I head backstage to go find him?
Before I knew it, Ed had walked around from the back of the stage and had come around to the floor to see what I had.
"Ok," he said. "Let's see what you got."
As I mumbled something incoherently, I pulled my Red Devil II out of its case and handed it to him. I think I said something like, "it looks just like yours" or something ridiculous like that. He gave it an approving strum and said, "cool." I also handed him a big black permanent pen that I had swiped from Baskin-Robbins earlier in the day. Ed seemed puzzled at this point.
"Where do you want me to sign it?" he asked with a hint of sarcasm.
I had never thought of this. The guitar was (is) black with red stripes, and I just handed him a black pen - duh! Where was he going to sign it? The back of the neck? While all of this was going through my mind, Ed must have been studying the guitar and figured that the thick red stripes were sufficient for his autograph.
"What's your name?" he asked.
I must have said "David" because that's what is on the guitar, but I honestly don't remember saying it. He signed the guitar, To David, Edward Van Halen.
I talked to Ed for a minute, telling him he was my guitar hero. He seemed genuinely humbled by that. He was a really cool guy, although I imagine he was a bit lit. After we finished working backstage, a bunch of us stayed around and watched the band continue their rehearsal. During breaks, I got up the nerve to walk over to Sammy and Ed and talk to them about all sorts of stupid stuff, like David Lee Roth's solo videos, which were in heavy rotation on MTV. Speaking of MTV, they were there that night, too, interviewing the band for a VH "Rockumentary". Overall, I probably talked to Ed and Sammy for about 15 minutes. Ed chain-smoked the entire time and they were both downing cans of Schlitz beer. I worked the next two nights for the real concerts, meeting Valerie Bertinelli backstage on June 28. She wasn't as friendly as Ed - she seemed really paranoid. This had to have been the most exciting three days of my life! I kicked myself, however, for not bringing a camera to capture some of this on film. Oh well, my sister was there to witness it.
Having a guitar signed by Edward Van Halen made me the envy of all my music-loving, guitar-playing friends. I built a special "display case" for the guitar for my room, and didn't play it for a while. I saved the strings that were on the guitar that day, and I put the date Ed signed the guitar on the back, 6*27*86. Eventually, I did start to play it and his signature was slowly wearing off, so I lacquered over that part of the guitar body in order to protect it. In September of 1986, I got a job at Guitar Center and I quickly became the Accessories Department Manager. I brought my Red Devil II guitar in and put it in the display case (what as I thinking - it could have been stolen!) Thousands of people ended up seeing it in there, and a lot of people asked me questions about it. I think it was a hit, because soon after, Guitar Trader in Clairemont put a blue- and white-striped Ed guitar in its display case - except this one wasn't autographed, but it did have an interesting (and dubious) story behind it.
I purposely don't play this guitar that much anymore and I haven't done any recent major modifications to it, either. I've had it re-wired twice and put in new volume pot. I switched the original black tone knob with a white one and replaced the eye hooks with chrome Schaller straplocks. In 2002, I added a gold Kramer decal to the headstock. I've also done some minor fretwork and sanded down the back of the neck. All in all, it's basically the same guitar as it was on that June night in 1986.
So what's with the name Red Devil II? I remember reading somewhere that Ed called his original red, black and white Charvel guitar Red Devil. EVH only calls it Frankenstein now, but I think this 1982 article in Circus magazine reviewing the Kramer Pacer guitar must have been it. Or maybe it was the hot sauce?
Here is the oldest photo I have of the Red Devil II - with the Peavey T-60 neck after the Duncan pickup was wired in, but before the Floyd Rose was installed (May/June 1984). Taken by the front door at 5911.
Pictures of the Red Devil II with the Peavey T-60 neck and Floyd Rose (bridge only) during the summer of 1985:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Pictures of the Red Devil II with the new Paul C's neck (with Floyd nut installed) taken after December 1985 and before June 1986, when Edward Van Halen signed it:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Here is the Van Halen/Red Devil II shrine I built after EVH signed my guitar, which sat on top of the amp housing I built for my Fender Super Champ.
UPDATE: July 2015
I was in the midst of replacing most of my Floyd stock sustain blocks with the thicker brass Big Blocks, and I decided to swap the thinner block on my '84 Red Devil Floyd with an oversized titanium block. It wasn't cheap, but this guitar is worth it! And yes, I held on to the original '84 block.
UPDATE: August 2018
I was cleaning the guitar and decided to open the butchered pickguard and check out the electronics - forgot it's a WD 500K pot and it looks the original input jack wiring. I also pulled out the '81 zebra Seymour Duncan Distortion humbucker (DD). Man that's an old pickup! The baseplate isn't embossed with the Seymour Duncan logo - just the DD sticker. You can even see where I "edited" the long legs and re-drilled the holes for the mounting screws (can't believe I did that!). I measured the DC resistance and it checked in at 15.83K (new stock is 16.6K). I was thinking about updating the wiring, but I plugged it in and everything still sounds and plays great.
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