Review: EVH Guitars SA-126 Special

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Review: EVH Guitars SA-126 Special

EVH SA-126
Words by Paul Blomfield

EVH Guitars SA-126 Special | Fender Music Australia | RRP $2999

The new EVH Guitars SA-126 Special combines all the best elements from decades of guitar innovation, augmenting whatever style you choose to pursue. Do me a favour. Ponder for a moment your holy trinity of electric guitar performances; three milestone showcases throughout history that spurred your desire to become a disciple of the axe. 

Got ‘em? Great. Here are mine:

  1. Brett Garsed’s performance for John Farnham’s band in the 1989 Classic Jack concert in Melbourne (specifically the 90 second solo under the blue spotlight, surrounded by smoke).
  2. Every Brian May solo on Queen’s Greatest Hits album (standouts being Killer Queen, We Will Rock You and of course, Bohemian Rhapsody).
  3. Eruption by Eddie Van Halen. Highlights: a smouldering ciggy jammed under the strings at the headstock and the anthemic tapping pattern introduced at 57 seconds. Hands up if this was on your bingo card too. Iconic, right?

Read more gear reviews here.

It’s irrefutable that Eddie was (hell, still is) one of the most ubiquitous and influential names in the guitar ethos. Pity on those who omit his head from their Mount Rushmore of axe wielders! Neither solos nor high-gain amplification would sound as they do today without the enormity of his influence, having popularised the right hand tapping technique in the late ‘70s and sculpting the hot-rodded plexi tone that singularly inspired the invention of the Peavey 5150 in the early ‘90s. The latter sported an acronym that would eventually become its own brand (and half of the reason you are reading this review): “EVH”.

As with so many legendary musical bloodlines, we the listeners reap the fruit that doesn’t fall far from the tree. The other half of the reason you’re reading this review is Wolfgang Van Halen. It’s a thin line to tread: following in your parents’ footsteps versus living in their shadow. Wolfgang’s new signature EVH guitars, the SA-126, is the embodiment of walking that line with grace and dignity. If you’re going to springboard from a platform built by your elders, this is the way to do it.

EVH Guitars

Speaking in the SA-126 promotional video for EVH Guitars, Product Manager Matt Brown explains that the instrument was created “with versatility in mind” and I couldn’t agree more. I threw an absolute horde of riffs and licks at this thing during my week-long test-drive, and not once did I feel myself veering away from the eclectic vibe this guitar represents. Everything you do with this guitar feels right, from blistering runs and arpeggiated sweeps, to sludgy single-string riffs, all the way to the mournful blues licks, to “Blackbird”. It really is a canvas for all palettes.

Honestly, even the packaging impressed me: the hardshell case was held in place within the box by shock-absorbing cardboard bracing to avoid impact damage. Wrapped in ivory vinyl and lined with blue crush velvet, the classic Les Paul shaped hard shell case gives a sense of eccentric rockstar glamour. I see myself carrying this case through the back door of a smoky, neon-lit venue in 1986, sporting massive bleach-blonde hair and a fluorescent spandex jumpsuit. The guitar itself was also snuggly cocooned in a styrofoam bag inside the case, further underlining the care that went into the packaging.

SA-126 Special

Wolfgang describes the SA-126 as being “born out of a necessity for finding my own sound for Mammoth” (referring to his solo project Mammoth WVH). Listening to Mammoth WVH for as little as 10 minutes brings home the sentimentality of everything Wolfgang does. Both the guitar and the music he makes with it are simultaneously nostalgic and genre-defying. Wolfgang is his own beast and everything he does has an air of trailblazing freshness about it.

EVH Guitars SA-126

The mahogany body of the SA-126 is chambered with a basswood centre block, hybridising semi-hollow and solid body styles. The mammoth in the room here is the “E-hole” – EVH’s spin on the classic hollow-body “F-hole”, adapted in Eddie’s honour. Whether intentional or not, this small detail is also ironically versatile: the letter E laid on its side becomes W (for “Wolfgang”?) and flipped back the other way becomes M (for “Mammoth”?) 

The model I test-drove was an SA-126 Special with luxurious matte black finish over the maple top. To me, it felt like a Les Paul at the hip – with its wide caboose and two tone, two volume pots  – a Jaguar or Jazzmaster up top – with its asymmetrical horns and slim, contoured waist – and a modern shred-machine under the left hand. The fingerboard is 12-16” compound ebony, rocking 22 jumbo frets and triple block inlays, sitting on a graphite-reinforced bolt-on mahogany 24 ¾” neck. The spoke-wheel adjuster at the butt end of the neck is a godsend for set ups, made for those who need the ability to get at the truss rod quickly and painlessly.

Tim Shaw pickups

The bridge and neck EVH SA-126 humbuckers – designed by resident Fender pickup guru Tim Shaw – spit out enough gain to rip the hair off the back of your neck. I found that individual notes on higher strings came through a little quacky in the neck pickup position through a clean amp tone, but a quick adjustment to the pickup height would undoubtedly tame that if it’s not your bag. Otherwise, I found that the body resonance was the real MVP tone-wise. There’s a rich, warm fullness that you don’t get with straight up solid-body guitars, and layering that richness over high gain produces something special, with a notable thickness in the bottom end. The toggle switch has three positions: neck, neck & bridge, and bridge – because do you really need more? 

Overall, the EVH Guitars SA-126 is more than the sum of its parts (even if those parts are the best parts of other instruments before it). It is familiar and refreshing, old and new, intricate in its simplicity. It is the ideal namesake product from a passionate musician in a line of passionate musicians with a talent for breaking new ground and paving their own way. Long live the Van Halens and their mammoth influence on our instrument!

For more info, visit EVH here.