Eddie Van Halen
The Greatest Guitarist of All Time
If you’re compiling a list of the world’s greatest guitarists, then Eddie Van Halen should be at the top. Across the course of Eddie’s 40-plus-year career, he took what could be done with the guitar to a level not see since Jimi Hendrix.
Eddie Van Halen was voted number one in a Guitar World Magazine poll for “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.
My Favorite Guitar Player
I can still remember the first time I heard Van Halen’s Eruption Guitar Solo.
The year was 1985 and I was walking home from Bulkeley High School in Hartford, CT when my best friend Howard Stein asked me to listen to Van Halen Eruption on his new walkman. I knew a little about Van Halen at that time but after hearing Eruption I was hooked. Eddie sounded amazing! My jaw hit the floor. I had never heard anyone play guitar like that before or since. Was it a normal guitar? Did he have 8 fingers on each hand? I listened to Eruption again. And again. Each time, I would pick up parts that were just inconceivable to me. How did he get his guitar to sound so damned big? I played a little guitar back then and still do, but I never attempted to learn how to play eruption. It was, untouchable to me.
– John Denner
Edward Van Halen was born on January 26, 1955, in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and moved with his family to California in the early 1960s. While growing up in Pasadena, Eddie and his brother, Alex, took classical piano lessons, playing mostly improvised classical, and Eddie in particular proved to be an early musical standout. As teenagers, Eddie switched to guitar and Alex to drums, leaving classical music behind and starting a rock band called Mammoth.
As a Rock Guitarists Eddie Van Halen redefined what the electric guitar could do, developing a blindingly fast technique with a variety of self-taught two-handed tapping, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and effects that mimicked the sounds of machines and animals. Edward’s use of natural and artificial harmonics, vibrato, and tremolo picking, combined with his rhythmic sensibility and melodic approach make EVH the most influential guitarist of all time
A 2013 Guitar World Magazine readers poll voted Van Halen Eruption the best guitar solo of all time.
Eruption is an instrumental rock guitar solo performed by Eddie Van Halen. It is widely considered one of the greatest guitar solos of all time. It segues into “You Really Got Me” on the album Van Halen, and the two songs are usually played together by radio stations. Van Halen Eruption was also released as the b-side to the Runnin’ with the Devil.
The Guitar Solo starts with a short accompanied intro with Alex Van Halen on drums and Michael Anthony on bass. The highlight of the solo is the use of two-handed tapping. “Eruption” was played on the Frankenstrat, with a MXR Phase 90, an Echoplex, a Univox echo unit and a 1968 Marshall 1959 Super Lead tube amp. The Sunset Sound studio reverb room was also used to add reverb. The Frankenstrat was tuned down a half-step. “Eruption” begins in the key of A flat and ends on an E flat note that is a twelfth fret, 6th string harmonic processed through a Univox EC-80 echo unit.
Initially, “Eruption” was not considered as a track for the Van Halen album as it was just a guitar solo Eddie performed live in the clubs. But Ted Templeman overheard it in the studio as Eddie was rehearsing it for a club date at the Whisky a Go Go and decided to include it on the album. Eddie recalled, “I didn’t even play it right. There’s a mistake at the top end of it. To this day, whenever I hear it, I always think, ‘Man, I could’ve played it better.'”
“Spanish Fly”, an acoustic guitar solo on Van Halen II, can be viewed as a nylon-string version of “Eruption”, expanding on similar techniques. Similarly, it was suggested by Templeman for inclusion on the album after he heard Eddie Van Halen playing a classical guitar. In March 2005, Q magazine placed “Eruption” at number 29 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. “Eruption” has been named the 2nd greatest guitar solo by Guitar World magazine.
Van Halen – The Band
Van Halen formed in 1974 but emerged in public view with the 1978 release of their self-titled debut album, which quickly established them as the hottest American hard-rock band since Aerosmith. Van Halen reinvigorated hard rock during a period of doldrums by bringing youthful, West Coast bravado and blistering virtuosity to the genre. Much of the latter was provided by Eddie Van Halen, who exhibited blinding speed, control and innovation on the guitar. His two-handed fretboard-tapping was just one of the many techniques that he introduced to legions of young guitarists.
Complementing Eddie’s musical genius was vocalist David Lee Roth, a flamboyant extrovert whose gruff voice, salacious wit and gymnastic moves sparked Van Halen’s live shows. Rounding out the quartet were Alex Van Halen (Eddie’s brother), a thunderous and inventive drummer, and bassist and harmony singer Michael Anthony.
Van Halen came together in Pasadena, California, where all four lived and went to school. Born in the Netherlands, the Van Halen brothers were the sons of a classical musician who relocated the family to Southern California in 1962. Roth’s ophthalmologist father moved the family to Pasadena from Indiana. The quartet ultimately attended Pasadena City College, where they combined forces as the band Mammoth and then dropped out to pursue their rock and roll dreams. Eventually, Warner Bros. offered the group a contract. Because there was already another Mammoth, the group renamed itself Van Halen, at Roth’s suggestion.
Released in 1978, Van Halen’s self-titled album opened with a virtuosic blast of energy from Eddie entitled “Eruption.” It included a hard-rock remake of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and such powerhouse originals as “Running with the Devil” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love.” Van Halen peaked at Number 19 but stayed on the charts for more than three years. After 30 years and 11 studio releases—four of which reached Number One—Van Halen remains the band’s top seller, with U.S. sales of more than 10 million. The band’s other big hit, 1984, has also surpassed the 10 million mark. To date, Van Halen has sold more than 56 million records in the U.S., which places them among the top 20 best-selling artists of all time.
It’s impossible to think about iconic guitar heroes without thinking about the tools they used to ply their trade. Whether it’s Hendrix and his white Strat, or Jimmy Page and his ’59 ’burst, there is an inextricable link between the player and his or her gear.
But most guitar heroes played instruments they bought right off the rack—notable exceptions being an inventor named Les and a professor named May. Sure, they may have modded them, and made them do things they weren’t designed to do, but, when push comes to shove, Hendrix played a Strat and Page played a Les Paul.
When the first Van Halen record came out in 1978, however, the world was exposed to not just another philosophy on guitar playing— one rooted in dazzling, high-energy future blues from Mars—but a whole new take on equipment. The guy whose name was on the album, Edward Van Halen, was playing a guitar that looked at once familiar and never before seen.
“To say that Van Halen’s playing was influential is an almost laughable understatement. It’s easy to forget, however, how much he changed the guitar-making industry. Almost overnight, music stores were filled with single-humbucker, Strat-shaped guitars—many of which sported outrageous graphics. Most of these super-Strats featured larger frets, as well as double-locking trem systems for VH-approved divebombs. Van Halen explained how he arrived at the design of his game-changing ax: ‘I was just a punk kid, trying to get a sound out of a guitar that I couldn’t get off the rack, so I built one myself.’”
What happened to the guitar universe after VH hit the scene was nothing short of a revolution. Every player, producer, pop artist, and manufacturer wanted to grab a piece of that magic. The guitar was half the battle, but it obviously had to be plugged into something, and people chased after the audio component as much as the visual. His tone was characterized by ringing harmonics, a brilliant top end, and a huge crunch that somehow never lost its dimension or openness. There was a tremendous amount of voodoo, folklore, and flat-out disinformation surrounding Van Halen’s amps—which only served to further the mystique, making “what Eddie uses” the rock dude’s be-all-and-end-all tonal Holy Grail.
Just as guitarists were starting to figure out some of the nuts and bolts of the VH machine, Mr. VH would throw them a curve (case in point: painting his black-and-white guitar red all over). He would go on to change guitar companies completely, endorsing Kramer guitars, teaming up with Ernie Ball/Music Man to design a guitar, and partnering with Peavey on guitars and a wildly popular amp.
All this is evidence of the fact that Edward Van Halen doesn’t stay in the same place long. He’s constantly searching in his music, and in the tools he uses to create that music. A few years ago, that journey led him to collaborate with Fender to launch his very own brand: EVH Gear
Van Halen and his team set about delivering an unbelievably realistic, anatomically correct replica of his famous Frankenstein guitar, as well as an all-new amp design: the fire-breathing 3-channel 5150 III (both reviewed in the April 2008 GP). All EVH products go through what you might call “rigorous” testing—such as turning a 100- watt prototype all the way up, setting a guitar in front of it to feed back, and letting it do so for a month. (True story, and the amp survived. Don’t try this at home. Even if it doesn’t void your warranty, it will probably get you thrown in jail.) Guitars were taken on the road, and put through their paces before being signed off on— literally. The EVH office wall is lined with instruments with lines scrawled on them, such as, “This is the one—make all necks like this,” with the man’s autograph below. Nothing says “EVH” until EVH says so.
Signature 5150 Amp Series
“This is what I use.” – Eddie
EVH’s signature 5150 amp series includes an all-tube amp head, cabinets and combo system developed to meet the exacting specifications of Edward Van Halen himself, one of the true living legends of rock guitar. The 5150III™ amp head’s flexible feature set allows creation of tones from clean to crunch to full-out distortion, inspiring limitless artistic expression. The 5150 straight cabinet is loaded with Celestion G12H speakers and is sure to rock your world. Truly roadworthy, EVH® amps feature no-compromise construction promising peak performance for years to come.
Best VH Solo Ever?
You could go back and forth for years trying to choose the best Eddie Van Halen guitar solo on any individual Van Halen album. But to try to pick the best VH Solo Ever? Damn near impossible. But that’s exactly what Guitar World Magazine asked readers to do in an online poll at GuitarWorld.com. The poll resulted in a Top Ten List of the best EVH Solos of all time. I find it hard to believe that Top Jimmy, Drop Dead Legs, and Jump didnt make the list?!
10. GIRL GONE BAD from 1984
9. SPANISH FLY, from Van Halen II
8. I’M THE ONE, from Van Halen
7. PANAMA, from 1984
6. MEAN STREET, from Fair Warning
5. PUSH COMES TO SHOVE, from Fair Warning
4. ICE CREAM MAN, from Van Halen
3. BEAT IT, from Thriller by Michael Jackson
2. HOT FOR TEACHER, from 1984
1. ERUPTION, from Van Halen
From: ‘Van Halen’ (1978)
Modern rock guitar playing can be divided into two main periods: B.E. (Before Eruption) and A.E. (After Eruption). It would be virtually impossible to overstate the influence of the piece
The guitar solo starts with a short accompanied intro featuring Eddie’s brother Alex Van Halen on drums and Michael Anthony on bass guitar. The highlight Eruption is the use of two-handed tapping. The solo was played on the now famous Fender Frankenstrat Guitar, with a MXR Phase 90, an Echoplex, a Univox echo unit and a 1968 Marshall 1959 Super Lead tube amp. The Sunset Sound studio reverb room was also used to add reverb. The Frankenstrat was also tuned down a half-step. Van Halen Eruption begins in the key of A flat and ends on an E flat note that is a twelfth fret, 6th string harmonic processed through a Univox EC-80 echo unit.
From: Michael Jackson, ‘Thriller’ (1982)
A collaboration between Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen seemed incredibly unlikely on the face of it, but as it turned out, the guitarist’s solo on “Beat It” garnered him arguably the widest mainstream exposure of his entire career. He performed it free of charge, helping the track become a No. 1 hit. The beat it solo is unmitigated Van Halen, with incredibly intricate fingertapping phrases, whammy bar dives and screaming pick harmonics.
Hot for Teacher
From: Van Halen 1984
Van Halen didn’t have to rely on two-handed tapping to articulate notes rapidly and cleanly, as evidenced by “Hot for Teacher.” The solo is a crazy barrage of notes mixed with short bursts of melodic phrasing, all displaying the guitarist’s unusual sense of timing. “I winged that one,” Van Halen told Guitar World. “If you listen to it, the timing changes in the middle of nowhere.” The song’s unforgettable video featured Eddie performing the solo while walking along a long library table.
Ice Cream Man
From: Van Halen (1978)
“Ice Cream Man” is undoubtedly one of the coolest tracks Van Halen ever recorded. Starting off as a simple acoustic blues, halfway through Eddie suddenly barges in with huge power chords, then proceeds to use the second half of the song as a showcase for almost every conceivable kind of guitar playing he’s capable of. There’s some straight blues licks, but they’re interspersed with extremely rapid pick articulation, one and Two Handed tapping, tapped slides and tapped bends, and whammy bar pyrotechnics for an amazing solo that could have only come from the maestro himself.
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