April 4, 2005
By: Geoff Knapp, WolfgangGuitars.com
Today I interviewed Tony Pasko of Peavey about the new HP Special guitar, the Wolfgang, Peavey and other fun stuff. Tony is the product manager for all guitars and amps at Peavey. Following is the interview:
GK: Welcome Tony, and thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.
TP: It is my pleasure.
GK: When did the idea for the HP Special guitar come about and what role did the Wolfgang play in this guitar coming to life?
TP: We were actually looking at a bolt on neck, trem version of the HP guitar before it became clear that Eddie would be leaving Peavey. We had a lot of requests for this from customers and at the same time we had a lot of requests for the Custom Shop Wolfgangs for things we couldnít do under our agreement with Eddie, such as a floating trem and pick-ups designed to be coil tapped. So we already had the idea and were getting to the planning stage when it became clear that the Wolfgang would wind down. The HP Special we were planning became the logical replacement project for the Wolfgang, although we were very clear we didnít want it to be a Wolfgang.
GK: Why didnít you want it to be a Wolfgang?
TP: We enjoyed a 14 year run, starting with the 5150 with Eddie Van Halen. We are very proud of our relationship with Eddie and the products that we built for him and with him. Hartley Peavey said he wanted to honor that relationship with Eddie and that we didnít want to do anything that would tarnish the Wolfgang brand or lessen it. We are very proud of that guitar, there are lots of them out there and they still have the Peavey name on them. The Wolfgang guitar has obtained a kind of icon status of its own and it is what it is. It is great guitar that we really donít feel can be improved upon for what it was built for. It is perfect for what it was designed for. At the same time we want the HP Special guitar to have its own identity, to stand on its own. We hope that in five years we will still be making them and winning awards for the HP as we did for the Wolfgang. What will people remember 10 years later? The Wolfgang has its status. By not copying it we are also helping to protect its value for our customers. We want to create our own legacy for the HP Special.
GK: To back up on something you said, you said that you were proud of the 14 year relationship and it sounds as if there are no hard feelings with Ed? This is somewhat contrary to some of the rumors that have been flying around the Internet. Can you elaborate on this?
TP: When you think about it, how many manufacturers can say they have survived 14 years with the same artist of the stature of an Eddie Van Halen? It is the nature of the industry that things change and a 14 year run is pretty darn good. The 5150 amp is a mainstay of the industry and something we are very proud of. Eddie did a lot of great things for Peavey. He is arguably the best guitar player of his kind and you canít take that away from him or his accomplishments. He is a legend. Our association with him has been very good for Peavey and I would like to think Eddie would say the same in reverse as we built some awesome guitars and amps for him. At the end it was just time for a change for everyone. I think it was the natural evolution of things. There may be a few individuals who have issues but I know that from the top down at Peavey the attitude is that we are happy and grateful for the 14 years we got to work with Eddie and we want to honor that relationship and not do anything to tarnish it. We want to take the high road. That is one big reason that there was no question about whether we would build anything that might be considered a copy of the Wolfgang. We werenít going to do that. At the same time we want to meet the needs of our customers.
GK: At the risk of digressing too far into the amp side of things, I am curious about the 5150. People keep asking if the new 6505 amp is really the same as the 5150 and if the 5150ís EVH used were really the same as what was being sold in the stores?
TP: That is actually a fairly hot topic at times. People often suggest that we did something different for Ed on his 5150ís or that he modified them in some way. I can tell you from personal experience and talking to everyone around here that this just isnít the case. We shipped him lots of amps and sometimes they would come back. They were not being modified. When Eddie came to us over 14 years ago about building an amp for him he sent us his Marshall and his Soldano and other things and told us what he wanted. A lot of his amps had something wrong with them and they were always broken as he was always tweaking them, changing transistors adding juice gooseís or what have you. And to us they sounded crappy. Then Eddie would visit and he would play through them and it was like, wow that sounds pretty good. And the point was it was just Eddie. The man has magic fingers and he gets His sound out of the same equipment. What he wanted was something that wouldnít break so he didnít have to take a bunch of amps with him everywhere as he was rotating them out as they would blow up. Our industrial design team designed the look of the amp and our engineers designed the electronics. We built an amp that was tough as nails. Ed use to say early on that we built ugly amps but they just worked. With the 5150 we built something he also liked the look of. He got the sound and the reliability he was looking for.
GK: So what about the new 6505? Is it really the same as the 5150?
TP: It is the same. People keep saying they have to go out and find one of the old stock 5150ís because they donít believe they are the same. We didnít change anything as far as the sound goes. They are the same. But that doesnít mean that if Eddie and I both play through the same amp I will sound like Ed. I got a chance to play through Eddieís rig once and I was super excited about it. I am a decent guitar player. I use to put on clinics all over the country. But you now what? I still sounded like me. I tell you, the man has magic fingers. He gets a sound that is unique to him whatever he is playing through.
GK: I guess I should probably know this but I donít, is Hartley a guitar player?
TP: Yes, Hartley is a guitar player. He is a picker. He likes rock and bluegrass and can hold his own. As Hartley tells it though he would get into a band when he was younger and then get to tweaking the bands sound, messing with the equipment and getting everything sounding good and then they would kick him out after he got everything fixed up. He finally decided maybe his talent was elsewhere and the rest as the say is history. 40 years of it!
GK: How involved is Hartley in the design of the HP Special and who is really the driving force behind this guitar?
TP: When I came to Peavey there is always the idea that in a big successful company like Peavey, a guy like Hartley Peavey might be more like a figurehead and not real consumed with the details. Nothing could be further from the truth with Peavey. Hartley has a tremendous amount of energy and is very passionate about this stuff. He is in and out of the Custom shop looking at wood, measuring stuff, metering pick-ups, winding things and testing stuff out. It is a very cool environment here.
As for the design of the guitar itself it has really been a team effort with Hartley, Tim Litchfield and myself taking the lead roles. We take good ideas from wherever we can get them and that of course includes our customers. Hartley is very open to new ideas. He will listen and if you make a good case and it makes sense he will use your idea. Of course, he says if ďit doesnít work itís all your faultĒ. He says it in fun of course but he does want to make sure we make the best choices possible.
GK: You mention getting ideas from your customers. I know you introduced 3 HP Special prototypes at the January NAMM show and the necks on those guitars were not the same as what you will ultimately be producing. Can you talk about that?
TP: We are always trying things and getting feedback. Not everyone will want or like the same thing. 900 people will tell you one thing and 100 people will want something else. So you can never please everyone but we try and make sure we are doing the best we can to please the customers we are targeting the product for. In the case of the HP Special we really are targeting the same customer that the Wolfgang appealed to. It has been my experience when you see a guy playing a Wolfgang on stage that this wonít be his only guitar. He will have the Wolfgang and something else like a strat or a Tom Anderson or whatever. We want the HP Special to be that other guitar he has on stage with him with the Wolfgang. Similar but different. So when we built the prototypes for NAMM we tried a slightly different neck profile. The feedback we got was that more customers preferred the Wolfgang neck profile so we went back to it for the final product. Hey, we tried it, we got the feedback and we adapted. That is what it is all about.
GK: So the HP Special will essentially have the same ďAĒ semetrical neck as the Wolfgang?
TP: Yes, that is correct.
GK: What about the pick-ups? I heard the HP Special pick-ups were a little different. How much is someone like me who doesnít have the ultimate ear likely to notice the difference and how about someone who does have a great ear?
TP: They will be a little brighter. The Wolfgang pick-ups were a little darker and when you split them they sounded crappy like humbuckers often do when you split them. You get that out of phase sound rather than a nice bell like, single coil sound like you want. That is because they were never designed for that and so it just didnít sound right. When you split the pick-ups on the HP Special with the coil tap you will get a great single coil sound. So you wonít need to have a strat for that other guitar to go with your Wolfgang. The HP Special can fill that role. It is a very versatile guitar.
GK: One obvious difference from the Wolfgang is the body shape and contour on the back for playing comfort and there appears to be better access to upper frets on the HP Special. We talked about the pick-ups and the neck. What else is different?
TP: The headstock is different. It isnít the same as the Wolfgang or the HP Signature. I really like the headstock on the HP Special, which Hartley came up with. The key is that the string pull is as straight as possible, where on the Wolfgang it was not quite straight. This was a decision on the Wolfgang where we deferred to Eddie since it was his guitar, but on the HP Special we wanted the string pull to be as straight as possible.
GK: Why is a straight string pull important?
TP: By having the string pull as straight as possible you reduce tension on the strings, which improves tonality, intonation and string life. It is better for harmonics. They ring in tune better. The straight string pull design of the headstock on the HP Special does provide for a nice improvement though.
GK: Peavey is one of the last of the American made manufacturers. Do you see being able to continue producing the guitars here?
TP: We are totally committed to that. We are very proud of being American made and we know our quality is so much better than the imports. Some people might be surprised that we are friends with Paul Reed Smith. We have a common bond in our mission to keep building American made guitars. We may have to charge a little more but the quality difference far exceeds the small price difference for building them here.
GK: Although this isnít a big item, I do get asked about it quite a bit. What will the cases be like for the HP Special.
TP: It will be the same Peavey case we used for the Wolfgang. The HP Special fits perfectly into this case and we have a lot of them so that was an easy call, especially since customers liked them.
GK: When we spoke at the NAMM show you said the HP Special guitar wasnít going to be built for inventory, but only to order so that essentially every order was a custom order. Can you explain that?
TP: We are only going to build guitars based on having an order. We are not going to build them for inventory. When you build guitars and put them in a warehouse you are hoping to build the guitars that dealers will want, but that isnít always the case. The longer they sit the more prone they are to the natural contraction and expansion of the wood causing the guitar to go out of set-up meaning it has to be set-up again. This all adds to the expense. We will have a standard offering and then customers can order additional custom options that add to the custom nature of the guitar.
GK: How long of a lead time are you quoting on an order? If I order it today, when would I expect to see it.
TP: 90 days. That is our goal.
GK: Will Musicianís Friend or other similar dealers be carrying these guitars?
TP: Any dealer can place an order for these guitars, specifying what they want. They could decide to place an order like anyone else but they wouldnít have preferred pricing that would allow them to sell below any other dealer and they would have the same expected lead time as any other dealer.
GK: Do you think we will see EVH produce the Wolfgang as we know it with another manufacturer?
TP: I have not heard that this will happen and personally I doubt it but it isnít impossible.
GK: I think that is about all I have. Thank you for spending the time with me this afternoon. I think you have helped answer a lot of questions that I have been hearing. Now, if I could just get my hands on that first HP Special!
TP: Thank you for supporting us. We really appreciate it. And we are hoping to get you that first guitar to you in the next couple of weeks!