Daze - by Steve Z
Thanks again go out to Steve
for his contribution to Vintage Kramer!
The Day after I stayed late to help Ed Van Halen build his first custom
Kramer, I was tired and a little hungover but I figured work would be
business as usual. It was anything but. From the moment I arrived there
was an atmosphere of excitement at the factory and everyone wanted to
hear details about the night before and everyone was wondering why the
factory was littered with empty beer bottles and cigarette buts. I went
in to the fret room to get some work done. I was hardly a workaholic
or dedicated employee but keeping busy made the day go by faster. I
heard a commotion at the assembly area and I peaked out to see that
Ed had returned with Mike Anthony, the bass player from VH. everyone
was instructed to keep working but I knew we weren't going to be building
a lot of guitars that day. Most of the Latino employees in the buffing
and sanding rooms went about their jobs since they weren't big Van Halen
fans. One employee was sent out to fill a non-prescription for the visiting
artists, another ran home for a decent amp, etc. Production was instantly
brought to a stand-still. Normally management would have been angry
that we weren't making instruments but that day they all wore big smiles.
There were all sorts of strangers walking around trying to get Ed to
play through a new effects unit or other guitar related inventions.
After trying one little overdrive unit, Ed exclaimed, "Where the
hell was this when I started playing?" It really did sound great
and I wanted one but the owner said it was a prototype and not for sale
yet. I thought it was funny that one guy had a guitar he wanted Ed to
try with pickups that could be swapped in and out through the back on
little wood block modules. Why would they let someone show him a non-Kramer
guitar? Ed thought it was funny too since he preferred one pickup bolted
right to the body.
I went back to the fret room but I peaked out from time to time to see
what was happening. The crowd had moved down to the repair and paint
room end of the factory and Tom, the painter, was having a blast spraying
cheap spray can paint with Ed and Mike, They painted their shoes and
walked on guitar bodies and other weird experiments. Tom was a Viet
Nam vet and liked to wear military themed T-shirts. That day he had
one with a skull and crossed bombs and the words "Seek and Destroy"
which Mike really liked. They painted it on the body of an aluminum
neck Bass for him. Dennis asked Ed if Michael was going to play Kramers
and if he liked the bass. Ed said it didn't matter what he played. He
would set his amp so that it sounded the same. Later Mikey tried to
smash the "Seek and Destroy" bass at a Madison Square Garden
show we went to. I though Tom was going to leap on stage and kill him
but Mike probably regretted slamming an aluminum necked instrument on
to the stage. It wouldn't break and he ended up jumping up and down
on it as a finale.
At lunch our usual group went out to the parking lot to smoke pot. Ed
joined us and no one complained as we passed a joint around the circle.
Someone said they didn't know Ed partied and he said "What are
you kidding me? I wrote and recorded that song Cathedral while tripping
on mushrooms" It was a little surreal to have him making confessions
in the parking lot while sitting on the hood of my junker car. I still
had a camera with me but I didn't think he would appreciate a snapshot.
After lunch the guitar was dry enough for final assembly and a test
run. I think every one in the factory and a few people from across the
parking lot came to hear him play once he cranked up the amp. To this
day that is about the finest guitar playing I have ever heard, from
him or anyone else. I went out that night and bought Diver Down so I
could hear a song called Cathedral for the first time.
I grabbed some pizza on the way and went back to work. When I got there
a handful of people were there already including Andy, Dennis, and Liz
from the front office. Ed's famous striped guitar was on the bench in
a case and I got someone to take a picture of me playing it. I was amazed
at what a piece of crap his guitar was.
Then I went over to the tuning bench and started setting up a few instruments
to kill time. When Ed came in everyone was fussing over him so I ignored
him while I continued to work. After a few minutes he walked over and
asked if I was going to help him build a guitar. I replied that he probably
didn't require my help but to let me know when he needed something and
I went back to tuning guitars. I wasn't trying to be aloof I was just
very tired and I knew it was going to be a long night. Andy sent me
out for Pizza, a case of Heineken, a bottle of Wild Turkey, and some
cigarettes. After everyone had a bite to eat we went to work on Ed's
guitar. Ed looked at all of the unfinished bodies we had available and
didn't like any of them. He wanted a maple "Strat" style body
to look similar to his other one. Andy sent me up in the loft to try
to find and old "Walker Pacer" body that would work. When
I gave it to Ed he was happy because it was just what he wanted and
JAN26 was stamped in the neck pocket by 'Sports' when it was made. It
was his birthday and he was apparently superstitious about his guitars.
Then we needed a neck. Ed brought a new Floyd Rose with fine tuners
and it was only the second Floyd I ever saw. The first one was on a
replica of his (Women & Children First) Destroyer we made a few
months earlier. He returned that one so it was sitting in the rack collecting
dust. I had no idea how to set up this new tremolo system and no one
had any experience routing a neck to accommodate the locking nut. Ed
suggested that we just use the neck from the Destroyer copy since it
was already set up and routed. I thought he meant temporarily until
we could configure a regular beak neck the next day. I thought a strat
body with that big banana headstock looked ridiculous and I said so
but Ed thought it looked cool. Whatever........Ed and I went in to the
fret room to work on the neck. I didn't get it since the neck was already
perfect. He said he wanted to get the finish off of the fretboard so
I showed him how to scrape it from between the frets with a razor blade.
He asked me if I was sure that I wanted to be there since I wasn't very
enthusiastic. I told him I was just tired and I was there as long as
he needed me to be. Ed said he thought he might have something to perk
me up but that's a whole other story. I dressed the frets and then watched
in horror as Ed used sand paper followed by steel wool to finish the
fret job. The wood was bare and now gray with dirt. Perfect! he said.
Now that I got my second wind I was ready to make a guitar. I routed
the body to accept his hand-wound and dipped in wax Seymour Duncan humbucker,
opened up the neck pocket a little and cut off part of a plastic pickguard
with tin snips. I was having a hard time with all of this type of crude
guitar building but I was able to keep my mouth shut for a change. I
think I already insulted Ed a few times including my fit of laughter
when he told me he just came from recording some tracks for Michael
Jackson's new album. "You mean little Michael from the Jackson
Five?" OK, I'll shut up now. Was he joking? I wasn't sure.
I'm not entirely clear on the sequence but at one point Ed and I were
alone in Paul's repair room and he gave me his original guitar to play
while he accompanied me on a 'Duke' Bass. Needless to say I was a little
nervous but I started to close my eyes and get into it a little when
we were rudely interrupted by another employee, but that's a whole other
After a lot tweaking and adjusting we managed to bolt his guitar together
and get it playable around 11:00. For some reason I was wide awake.
Ed had gone through most of the beer, most of the Wild Turkey, and miscellaneous
other intoxicants. He seemed to be completely unaffected. We agreed
that it was getting late and we would finish the guitar in the morning.
Ed stayed at Dennis' house that night and everyone else went home.
August, 2003 Archived:
This is a new addition to the site to allow Steve Ez, a former Kramer
employee and friend of the site to share his stories from the old days
at Kramer. Thanks Steve!!!
to go to Atlanta for the NAMM show this weekend?" Said Ron. Ron,
aka "Rockin' Ronnie" and I had become pretty good friends
since he started at Kramer earlier that year. Everyone at the factory
had been preparing for the June 1982 NAMM show for over a month and
it was no secret that Edward Van Halen would probably be stopping by
the Kramer booth since he was now officially an endorser.
can we go to Atlanta?" I said, "We weren't invited."
Ron explained that he had already talked to Andy, our boss, and we could
attend the show if we paid our own way. Within two days we had our tickets
and were on our way to Atlanta. We caught a cab at the airport, got
settled in to our fleabag hotel, showered, and headed over to the convention
center. They didn't have our name at the door so we had sent a message
to the Kramer booth that Ron and Steve were here for the show. Surprised
that we actually made it, Andy came up and arranged for visitor passes.
spent most of the remainder of the day wandering around the show checking
out the new instruments. We made sure to find out where all of the parties
and hospitality suites were and we went back to our room to relax and
get some dinner. Later that night we stopped at the Atlanta OMNI hotel
where the rest of the Kramer folks were staying and we met for drinks
in the lobby. Eddie Van Halen and his wife Valerie joined us! I tried
my best to act nonchalant which meant drinking lots of beer. Ron, Ed,
Val, and I posed for a picture and Valerie had to push my beer out of
the way so her face would be in the picture. The whole time other hotel
guests were walking through the lobby without a second glance.
evening we set out to take advantage of the open bars. We wandered from
hotel to hotel and got pretty drunk all the while making sure that our
Kramer NAMM badges were prominently displayed. After we were ejected
form a few hotels we decided we should get some sleep before the big
day. We got to the booth early and I spotted a couch to lie on since
I was very hungover and in no shape to help with the booth. Not that
I was expected to since we weren't invited or on the payroll. I woke
up with Valerie Bertinelli burying her head in my shoulder to escape
the throngs of people that had gathered around to meet her and Ed. Eddie
was busy signing autographs and Ron went to get drinks for them. Heineken
for Ed and Gin and Tonic for Val. Ed and a bass player, I think his
name was Alfonso, picked up a few of the display instruments and played
a little for the fans. The guitar wasn't even set up at the factory
since it was meant to be for show only but Ed made it sound great. Ronnie
kicked over Valerie's drink and apologized profusely. Valerie graciously
told Ron not to worry about it since she needed an ashtray anyway. My
impression of her was that she is very sweet and down-to-earth. I spotted
the guys from the Charvel booth, who were eyeing our Kramer badges earlier,
out in the crowd craning their necks for a better view of Eddie playing
a Kramer in public. Word was out, Kramer was no longer that metal neck
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