It’s impossible to sum up anyone’s life in a blog post especially a life as full as Mr. Edward Van Halen. While I was well aware of his seemingly limitless virtuosity, it wasn’t until he passed that I truly became aware of his creative and lasting innovations to the electric guitar and amplifier. Born out of necessity, Eddie’s relentless pursuit of finding and creating an instrument and amplifier capable of producing his sonic visions helped shaped guitar and amp designs that have become commonplace today.
Never afraid to take matters into his own hands, his constant experimentation led to many guitars being born anew or permanently disfigured depending on who you ask. His unique process of guitar reconfiguration ultimately helped him create his voice. For instance, what do you do to get rid of the 60 cycle hum inherent with single coil pickups found in a Fender Stratocaster? Eddie’s answer was to rip out a humbucker from a Gibson ES-335 and make it fit in his Strat the best way he could. What a sound he created! His famous Frankenstrat, with it’s red, white, and black stripes, has become one of the most iconic electric guitars. The combination of the thicker sound from the Gibson humbucker with the playability, feel, and the vibrato bridge of a Fender Strat created something new for the time. With a sound and presence only topped by its creator, this guitar shaped designs and desires for years to come.
A true Frankenstein-like creation, his use of different parts to create this guitar like the Fender Strat body, Gibson PAF humbucker, and Charvel neck has had a lasting impact on the guitar aftermarket modification scene. There are so many options out there today for different necks, pickups, and bodies. I think some credit must be given to Eddie and his penchant for modification and personalization. So many wanted to play like him and I imagine many were inspired to modify their own guitars after seeing what Eddie created. And if you don’t want to build your own, a Strat-style guitar with humbuckers can be easily found online and in stores around the world.
Eddie believed in his vision enough to pursue a patent for a unique way to support the guitar. Check out the link below to read through his patent on an interesting approach to support the guitar in a way to better facilitate two-handed tapping.
Eddie’s impact on the amplifier world can also still be heard and felt today. Starting with the same approach he took with his guitars, he created a sound all his own. Modified Marshalls and Variacs (variable voltage transformer) were all the result of using what he had and what he needed at the time, all while trying to capture the sound he heard in his head. The “Brown Sound” heard on the early Van Halen albums became legendary and has led to many imitations. It’s become a thing unto itself. Always working to improve and polish his sound, his work with Peavey led to the venerable 5150 and 6505 amps. These amps have become permanent fixtures in the world of heavy rock and metal. His creation of the EVH brand in 2007 in collaboration with Fender continued to build upon his legacy of rock guitar sounds.The EVH line of amps (and guitars) produced today are among the best in the world of heavy guitar sounds.
For a more in depth look at Eddie’s sound, check out this great video by Pete Thorn. He and Dave Friedman take an in-depth look at what Eddie probably used back in those early Van Halen days.
Long Live the King!
When Eddie Van Halen burst onto the scene in mid 70s, the world of rock music changed forever. He had it all: the playing, the songwriting, the charisma, the vision, etc, etc. He was just cool. While he may have not been the very first person to perform two-handed tapping or throw a humbucker in a Strat, his charisma, chart-topping band, and ferocious playing really opened the eyes and bent the ears of millions to something unique and fresh. Like Hendrix before him, he changed rock guitar forever and I know I am happy he did. Long live the King!