How Eddie Van Halen revolutionized rock guitar forever

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Rock guitar legend Eddie Van Halen passed away on October 6 at the age of 65. Icon and Image / Getty Images

  • Guitar god and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer member Eddie Van Halen died on Tuesday at the age of 65 after a long battle with cancer.

  • Throughout his five decades as lead guitarist for rock band Van Halen, Eddie’s virtuoso and at times histrionic playing has defined a generation of rock guitar.

  • Perhaps his most famous solo is at the start of the 1978 song “Eruption”, which features its hammer-ons and chromatic tapping.

  • Visit the Insider home page for more stories.


One day, about six or seven years ago, I walked into my family’s music room and saw it hanging on our wall: a replica of the iconic red, white and black “Frankenstrat” ​​guitar from Eddie Van Halen my dad bought.

I’ve always been a fan of Van Halen, but as a drummer I was more interested in the double bass part of “Hot for Teacher” than learning the solo of “Eruption”, like some of my contemporaries playing. guitar.

Even though I had no idea how to create the slyly haunting sounds that Eddie had produced on the instrument, I couldn’t help but admire it and think it was this guitar, and a pair of divine hands, which was responsible for turning the world of playing rock guitar on their heads.

Put simply, the rocker, who died on Tuesday at the age of 65 after a long battle with cancer, was unlike any other guitarist before him.

His explosive solos and dizzying taps not only elevated him to the god of the guitar and earned him a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, but also inspired generations of guitarists to follow in his footsteps. What stands out just as much as his playing is that Eddie always wore that blissful smile, as if he also couldn’t believe the noises coming out of his amp while tapping another of his prolific solos.

Eddie said he was inspired to start typing in his solos after seeing Jimmy Page use hammers in the song “Heartbreaker” – he developed it to use both hands. But this probably also stemmed from his training in classical piano.

As children, Eddie and his brother Alex Van Halen followed in their father’s footsteps and were both trained on classical piano before Alex moved on to guitar and Eddie to drums.

After realizing that Alex was a better drummer, Eddie took his brother’s guitar and learned to play on his own – the fact that he could not read music despite his classical training made his deep erudition of even more miraculous instrument. Moving your right hand up the fretboard naturally mimics the way both hands play the piano.

While he didn’t create the fret-tapping technique that has become synonymous with the band’s sound, Eddie perfected it.

Contrary to popular belief, Genesis’ Steve Hackett was doing technique before Eddie in the early 1970s on tracks like “Musical Box” and “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight”. But while Eddie admitted he wasn’t the first, it’s impossible to deny that his virtuosity took the technique to a new level by using it to make melodies.

Instead of long, winding solos based on the blues scale that seemed separate from the melody of a song, Eddie’s solos were the song. They were so innovative that a new way of writing music, tablature, was created to convey what Eddie was playing on paper.

Perhaps the best-known application of this style of play is the introduction of “Eruption”, the second track from Van Halen’s self-titled debut album in 1978.

It’s full of chromatic taps, hammers and dip bombs, but there’s nothing that seems superfluous, every note helps hook the listener. started out as a riff that Eddie jammed with Alex while warming up for a gig or before the “Van Halen” recording session until producer Ted Templeman encouraged him to record it.

Immediately after the release of “Van Halen” the landscape and vocabulary of rock guitar was changed forever.

Thousands of guitarists loved Eddie’s playing and it became a measure of success whether or not you could play the “Eruption” solo. Record companies wanted their own Eddie Van Halens who could replicate the prodigy’s raucous licks. Emerging and established guitarists in the rock world have been amazed by his talent.

“I love it – Eddie is one of my biggest influences. He changed the way the guitar was played and he became a huge influence on me, “former Guns N Roses guitarist DJ Ashba told Classic Rock in 2018.” He’s one of the [No. 1] reasons I bought a guitar. It just blew me away, the way he approached the guitar. It was just amazing.

Former Kiss and Grand Funk Railroad guitarist Bruce Kulick added: “The first time I heard Eddie Van Halen I was absolutely stunned… I was also petrified.”

Not only did Eddie change the playing style of future generations of guitarists, he also pioneered new technical innovations for the instrument.

Eddie was like a mad sound scientist – he tinkered with amplifiers and guitars in the hopes of creating new experimental sounds. Like Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, Eddie too would eventually design his ultimate creation: the “Frankenstrat”, which took him to an entirely new and unexplored frontier in guitar playing.

Eddie liked the sound of Fender guitars and their tremolo bar, but they only came with single coil pickups. The Gibson Les Paul, on the other hand, had a humbucker pickup with two coils that canceled out any interference and had a fatter sound. He bought a counterfeit Stratocaster body and neck and wedged a humbucker pickup in the middle, creating his monstrous guitar.

His inventiveness has had a lasting impact on the industry. Eddie continued to design instruments throughout his career, working with companies like Fender, Music Man and Charvel.

Eddie Van Halen and Michael Jackson.

Eddie Van Halen playing with Randy Jackson, Michael Jackson and Jermaine Jackson during the Victory Tour. Lynn Goldsmith / Getty Images

After making his mark on heavy rock and metal, Eddie also influenced the world of pop.

In the 1980s, Eddie began tinkering with keyboards and synths to keep up with the popularity of New Wave giants like Blondie and the Talking Heads. “Jump” from the album “1984” perfectly blended its wild solo with a pop synth to make Van Halen its biggest commercial hit to date.

He also performed the iconic guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and actually changed the song into what would become its final version.

There will probably never be another guitarist like Eddie.

Of course, over the years it has had its battles – alcoholism and drug addiction; spinoffs with bandmates including David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar; and finally, complications with his health. But through it all, his passion for the guitar has remained. Looking back, it’s easy to see why Guitar World voted him the best guitarist of all time.

Over the last day and a half, I have listened to a lot of Van Halen tunes and I can’t help but smile, just like he did on stage every night, when I listen to one of the Eddie’s wild solos. That’s probably all he ever wanted.


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