How Eddie Van Halen changed the rock guitar


The master of the electric six strings talks about the no secret of his style + sound

This feature first appeared here in May 2016.

Edward Van halen made the cover of Guitar world magazine 29 times since the band that bears his last name debuted in 1978. There’s a reason for that.

As editor of the magazine, I chaired a number of these covers. Our publisher couldn’t take it anymore, because Eddie was selling a lot. And in the days of big hair, he defined the culture of the guitar as much as his heroes Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page defined this culture of his youth.

He’s always been a little modest about his influence on other players. But it is the mark of a true legend. His unique playing style and dazzling technique prove effortless as he makes it seem like it’s so easy. And he’s obviously got a ball on stage – just look at his shit-eating smile. It’s always there, whether he’s shredding a hundred notes per second or pulling on his vibrator bar in a masturbatory epiphany of growling, wavering and slobbering comments.

Edward – who Van Halen prefers to call himself, although he is known from afar as Eddie – invented and continues to reinvent the sound that everyone is trying to copy. The best example of his amazing tone, agility and adventurous spirit begins with Van Halen lighting his cigarette, blowing smoke rings and playing solo for almost six minutes. And his cigarette remains lit until the end.

Related: Our obituary for Eddie Van Halen

Eddie is all about the moment – chance and serendipity affect the inspiration in EVH. “Nothing that I have ever done is really thought of,” he said recently. “I was just stealing stuff, and if it looked cool I would do it again.” “

Van Halen’s list of sidekicks and influenced players is very long and transcends genres. Once Van Halen’s signature triplet playing style tapped the guitar fingerboard with both hands erupted – literally, with his signature song, “Eruption” – and hijacked the mullet band scene, it was “after me the flood”. Check it out: Night Ranger’s Jeff Watson danced his way to notoriety with his eight-finger races, but Bruce Kulick, Randy Rhoads, Uli Jon Roth, George Lynch, Yngwie Malmsteen, Jake E. Lee, Dimebag Darrell and Zakk Wylde jumped on the fast lick train. But it wasn’t just imitators. Innovators like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Dave Navarro, Tom Morello, Tony MacAlpine, John McLaughlin (!), Bassist Billy Sheehan and, yes, even Slash have joined the party.

Sheehan put it this way in an interview: “I think directly or indirectly, Ed’s playing has influenced almost every other guitarist. Even guitarists who don’t like his playing go out of their way to avoid playing like him – they are always influenced by his presence.

GW Nov. 82EddieVH-JumpIn 1985 he had this to say about what he called “typewriter players”. They all play as fast as they can, as loud as they can, shout as loud as they can. But they don’t even scream or play fast with a unique quality. It leaves me cold. And a few years later, he explained “the quick lick boys.” Hey, it’s not my fault. Maybe they adapt to speed because they can’t adapt to my feelings. Maybe they shouldn’t think too much. I don’t think when I play. It’s spontaneous, it’s felt.

He developed this philosophy in a very serious and intuitive search for musical knowledge. Children, Eddie (born January 26, 1955) and his older brother Alex (born May 8, 1953) – immigrated from Holland with their musician father – and commuted from Pasadena, Calif., To San Pedro to study piano classic with an elderly man. , Stasys (Stanley) Kalvaitis.

Related: Eddie’s son Wolf shared stunning family photos in 2019

But it wasn’t there that he learned his spontaneous, sentiment-based approach to music, which he developed without ever learning to read a single note. When he was a student at Pasadena City College, he took a scoring and arranging course with a Dr. Fisher, who also taught Frank Zappa. Dr. Fisher was very forward thinking. The only thing he taught me was ‘fuck the rules’. If that sounds good, it’s good.

“I didn’t trust the book, I wrote my own book,” Eddie says.

Van Halen has always taken his music to the extreme. The band’s self-titled debut album embodied this revolutionary dynamic and featured an incredible amount of exuberant screams, squeals and screams on the guitar.

Related: Our debut album Rewind

Nowhere is this game more evident than on this live version of “Eruption”:

While he was first inspired by Eric Clapton’s melodic and resounding syncope, Edward’s signature sound involves a technique known as two-handed tapping.

Did Van Halen invent this sound? He will be the first to admit that it was probably invented by an Italian at the beginning of the twentieth century. “I never claimed to have invented or not invented this technique,” ​​he says. “I just do what I do, use that finger or that. It’s my sound – whatever works for me. The reason why I do the same… call them stuff, effects, whatever because at first I couldn’t afford a wah-wah pedal, such-and-such a device, a fuzz box, all the things. toys that people had. So I just experimented with sounds and kept playing. If you are a musician, you play until you die. It is not an ordinary job.

Also he is both masterful and tasteful, applying his Stradivarius technique always at the service of the song, not the solo. And when he takes that solo it doesn’t draw attention to himself but enhances the song. A perfect example of this is his spotlight riff on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, which he modestly says was performed on the fly.

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The tapping technique, which takes up a page of Hendrix by holding the pick between the thumb and middle finger, allows the guitarist to play the strings with his index finger at the same time and provides a bewitching harmonic tone. When EVH came on the scene and forced this on us, the profile and position of a guitarist was going to change forever. Many guitar legends had used the tapping before – Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Steve Hackett of Genesis and Brian May of Queen’s among them – but none had the command and melodic authority of Eddie. Eddie credits Jimmy Page with inspiration from his interest in developing the technique, citing the hammer-ons at the start of Page’s “Heartbreaker” solo as inspiration.

And then there’s the hammer-on itself, which wasn’t invented by EVH – you can hear it on bluegrass recordings, f’chrissakes – but its application to rock guitar, yes, it was. Eddie Van Halen. More importantly, his Hammer of the Gods is executed so easily, so casually, that if you didn’t know he was on the chariot, you would think he was hammered.

To quote fellow licking guitarist Brooklyn Allman, “Eddie Van Halen always smiles that bright, shiny ‘I’ve fucking won at life’ smile. They should put it on the Wheaties box.

Damn, if I could play guitar like that, I would always smile too.

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