When you’re at the absolute top of your game, you tend to hang out with people who also operate at peak performance. So it should come as no surprise that in the early 1980s, as Van Halen was making their ascent to eternal rock god status, Eddie Van Halen and tennis star Vitas Gerulaitis became fast friends. The both shared a passion for music and In 1983, backstage at Madison Square Garden, Vitas received an amazing gift from Eddie Van Halen: this Kramer “5150” style guitar. This very guitar was used by Ed on the ’82/’83 Van Halen world tour, and is based on the legendary “5150” guitar that he built himself at the Kramer factory. The Music Zoo acquired this piece of rock and roll history directly from the Gerulaitis estate in 2005, and we’d like to share the details and background of this special guitar with you.
There is no question that Vitas was a tremendous tennis player. This Brooklyn-born Lithuanian-American would win 25 top-level singles titles and 8 doubles titles during his career, culminating in his highest singles ranking of #3 worldwide in 1978. Vitas was also a classically trained pianist as well as a guitarist, and he and Eddie would reportedly get together often to hang out and jam. Tragically Vitas would pass away in an accident in 1994, but he always cherished this symbol of his friendship with Eddie Van Halen until the end of his life.
The Music Zoo’s owner (and huge Van Halen fan) Tommy Colletti became aware of the guitar and eventually met with Ruta Gerulaitis, Vitas’ sister, to discuss purchasing it. Vitas had a large collection of guitars, some gifts from stars like Eddie and Eric Clapton, as well as vintage instruments and they were all being sold. Ruta was pleased that Tommy would give the guitar a good home at The Music Zoo, and it’s currently on display in our showroom.
According to Tommy, who has examined every inch of this instrument, “the guitar is what you’d expect from the mastermind of Ed. It’s got a Floyd Rose set to the body and direct mounted slanted humbucker in the treble position with no middle pickup. It has a non-working single coil dummy pickup in the rhythm position and switch mounted in the route for the middle pickup. The paint work is rather rough and reminds me of articles I’ve read about Ed using Schwinn bicycle paint to finish his original black and white Charvel in the mid seventies. This is not a gloss finish and the grain of the wood is seen throughout the guitar and adds to the ‘home made’ feel of the guitar. Ruta Gerulaitis believes that Eddie may have assembled this guitar himself, but it’s more likely it was handmade for Ed by the factory for the ’82/’83 tour. ”
“There are glue marks on the front and back of the headstock where he most likely had gaffers tape and a few picks stuck to it. The tuning pegs are Gotoh style crown head tuners gold plated and much of the gold is pitted from age, sweat and use. The Kramer logo is literally a sticker that was affixed to the front of the headstock.”
“The 22 fret maple neck is adorned with medium jumbo style fret wire and has dirt and wear throughout.”
“The neck is a very comfortable round C shaped neck that is extremely shred friendly, not necessarily the slight thin neck you’d suspect from an eighties shred machine. It’s more rounded and Les Paul-ish in feel.”
“The back plate has 6 mounting screws not 4 evenly set apart to add to the stability of the neck. Edward felt that 4 bolt necks would move when he jumped off the drum riser during performances and the extra 2 screws kept things in place and stable and the guitar in tune.”
“It has early 80’s style Dimarzio/Dunlop style direct mount strap pins that insert male into female end. These strap pins became less popular over time because if you lost your strap you couldn’t just use another one without the male strap pin end.”
“Included with the guitar were some photos taken backstage at Madison Square Garden in ’83 including one showing Rudy Leiren (Eddie’s guitar tech, on the left), Eddie, and Vitas posing for the camera with Eddie’s guitars. Vitas is proudly holding the guitar that Eddie gave him.”
“Ed’s Marshall Amplifier’s artist relations rep was named Richie Fliegler and can also been seen in the photos holding this Kramer.”
The Music Zoo’s owner Tommy Colletti with Ruta Gerulaitis in 2005, posing with the EVH Kramer.