Guitar Greats and Their Gear - Eddie Van Halen

by Chris Basener

Super-fast two-handed tapping, monstrous dive-bombs, legato licks with machine-like precision – no other guitarist since Hendrix influenced the guitar community more than Dutch-born Edward Lodewijk Van Halen.

Almost single-handedly he brought technical innovation and harmonic diversity to the blues-based Hard Rock of the 60s and 70s. The breathtaking instrumental ‘Eruption’ on Van Halen’s 1978 debut album alone made many established guitarists of the day want to throw their guitar on the dumpster. But not only Eddies’ playing was breathtaking, his tone was equally astonishing. Achieved through a combination of highly customized guitars and amps he coined the phrase ‘Brown Sound’ which set a new reference tone for thousands of guitarists following his path.

Eddie first guitar was a cheap Teisco Del Rey solid body guitar, which he swapped for his drum set with his brother Alex Van Halen. Later he acquired a Les Paul copy to learn all the songs and licks from his guitar idol, Eric Clapton. But he doesn’t like the heavy weight and the fact that he can’t get a usable tone from the neck pick-up. The first album was recorded with a self-made Strat-style guitar that consisted of several Charvel guitar parts as well as a ’58 Fender Stratocaster. Both guitars have maple necks, which Eddie prefers. The Charvel ‘Frankenstein’ guitar has a mahogany body which Eddie likes, as it doesn’t produce the Fender Twang. He rips the humbucker out of an old Gibson ES-335 and screws it in the bridge position of the guitar and uses sticky tape to give it the famous ‘stripe’ look.

As soon as the first ‘modern’ Vibrato-system becomes available Eddie installs it on his Franken-Strat and from then on the Floyd Rose vibrato is a staple on all of his guitars. In the early ‘80s Eddie had an endorsement-deal with Kramer guitars, who build his signature guitars - equipped with a single humbucker, a single volume control, Floyd Rose vibrato and the trademark white-and-red stripes.

After his deal with Kramer ended he developed his signature guitar with Music Man in the early ‘90s. This guitar has an attractive curly maple cap and specially designed custom neck and bridge pick-ups by DiMarzio, a great playing neck with compound radius and is extremely successful. It has a very unique tone and is one of the most interesting rock-guitars of the 90s.

1996 sees the end of the collaboration with Ernie Ball / Music Man. Eddie moves to Peavey to release a very similar guitar, called ‘Wolfgang’ after his son. Music Man renames the EVH-model into Axis and changes a few details and keeps the guitar successfully in their program. But the Peavey Intermezzo is only short-lived. Just recently Eddie has launched his own brand, EVH. In collaboration with Fender he now has a range of EVH signature Wolfgang guitars, the EVH 5150 III amps and EVH shoes(!)

The other part to his ‘brown sound’ is of course his amplifier. In the beginning he uses several cheap amps until he acquires a late ‘60s Marshall. This Plexi-Marshall is usually played with the ‘english setting’ – all controls on 10! He later uses a Variac Transformer to alter the voltage in the amp and to make the sound ‘spongier’. Effects wise Ed keeps it simple – a Univox EC-80 Tape-Echo or an old Tube Echoplex, an MXR Phase 90 and MXR Flanger are all he needs. Occasionally you can find a MXR Distortion Plus on his pedal board. Later on he will turn to Roland SDE-3000 Delay, Lexicon PCM 70 Reverb and Eventide H-3000 harmonizer to create a full and wide live-tone. Also in his live-rig are a Boss OC-2 Octaver and SD-1 Super Overdrive.

Once Eddie gets accustomed to all the trickery that’s available in the studio he makes full use of them, double tracking his guitars, using a Firefox Mini-Strat or a Danelectro 6-string bass.

In the early ‘90s Eddie starts playing around with the Hi-End amps made by Mike Soldano. He loves the lead sound but the rhythm tone doesn’t do it for him. After a meeting with Hartley Peavey they develop a signature amplifier, the Peavey 5150. This amp is extremely popular and fellow guitarist like Ted Nugent, Brad Whitford of Aerosmith or Joe Satriani integrate it in their set-up.

As the partnership with Peavey comes to an end, Ed returns to his trusted Marshall for a while only to team up with Fender to release the EVH 5150 III.

Used with Permission from Author
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