Eddie Van Halen - Guitarist Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Eddie Van Halen - Guitarist

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Rock star Eddie Van Halen striking a pose with his guitar

Rock and roll and heavy metal guitar was changed forever in the late seventies. In 1978, the band Van Halen made their miraculous debut to the world with their self titled album Van Halen. The track 'Eruption' puzzled everyone, including seasoned guitarists. Since then the guitar world has never been the same.

Who was Eddie?

Edward Van Halen was born in 1955 in the Dutch city of Nijmegen. He had an older brother, Alex. The family moved to Pasadena, California in 1967, where their father, a band leader, supported the family playing in wedding bands while the brothers were taught classical piano.

The brothers became infatuated by Rock & Roll, starting a band with Eddie on drums and Alex playing guitar. Bands that they were involved in included The Broken Combs, The Trojan Rubber Company, Genesis, and The Space Brothers. By the time they formed Mammouth, they had switched to Alex on drums and Eddie on guitar with Mark Stone taking bass duties. It was while gigging around Pasadena, they met young rich kid David Lee Roth, who was singing with Redball Jet and bass player Michael Anthony who was singing with Snake. Together they formed Van Halen.

Van Halen - the Band

Van Halen were spotted by Kiss bassist Gene Simmons while playing at Starwoods in Los Angeles, leading to them being signed by Warner Brothers records. Their first album, with the highly original title, Van Halen, was released in February 1978, and turned platinum by the end of the year.

Van Halen released four albums over the next four years: Van Halen II in 1979, Women and Children First in 1980, Fair Warning in 1981 and 1982 saw the release of Diver Down. The band worked very hard touring during this time, and came up with many of the unwritten rules of Rock & Roll behaviour. David Lee Roth's fondness for the ladies was well documented, as was the band's stipulation on a bowl of M&Ms with the brown ones taken out. On New Year's Day 1984, the album 1984 was unleashed on the world, the hits 'Jump', 'Panama' and 'Hot For The Teacher' together with the MTV-dominating videos led to 1984 going five times platinum by January 1985. 1984 featured Eddie prominently on keyboards, the riff from 'Jump' being the most obvious example.

1984 marked a change in the history of the band, the internal conflicts were evident with each member on separate stages. David Lee Roth left the band soon afterwards. The band brought in Sammy Hagar, whose introduction allowed the band to expand its audience, cemented their place in the charts in the wake of the rise of Grunge which put paid to many other Glam Metal bands.

Many fans resented David Lee Roth leaving and were more than pleased when Hagar left and Roth came back for the Greatest Hits Vol. 1. However old tensions remained and he was not kept on. Gary Cherone, formerly of Extreme, joined for the alternative to music that was the album Van Halen III.

Warner Brothers soon dropped the band; Eddie Van Halen underwent treatment for cancer and a hip replacement. In March 2004 Van Halen and Sammy Hagar announced a reunion to coincide with the release of a second Greatest Hits album.

Eddie's Technique

Eddie Van Halen's guitar abilities have led him to be one of the few guitarists to be readily identified by first names along with guys like Eric (Clapton), Angus (Young), Jimi (Hendrix) and Yngwie (Malmsteen).

Van Halen is credited with popularising two-handed tapping1, tap harmonics2 and tap bending3. His technique was copied by such guitarists as Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne 1979-1982) and Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne 1988-current and Black Label Society.)

Among his influences are the sixties British guitarists such as Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page as well as the likes of Hendrix. He has gone onto influence generations of rock guitarists, opening the way for a generation of widdlers such as Steve Vai. Bands like Guns and Roses and Bon Jovi found an outlet because of Van Halen.

Eddie's Guitars

Frankenstrat - 1978 to 1984

Eddie purchased the Stratocaster lookalike body for this guitar in 1975 along with a cast-off neck. Resculpting the pickup slots with a chisel to be able to fit a Gibson Patent Applied For pickup. Orginally painted black, then white, then red, the Frankenstrat, without its later multicoloured stripes, featured on the cover of the first album. The neck, which originally had Gibson frets crazy glued on, was replaced a number of times as Eddie's stage antics took their toll.

Kramer - 1983 to 1991

Eddie started using customised Kramer (now owned by Gibson) guitars and necks from 1983. Kramer based their Baretta on Eddie's Frankstrat.

Steinberger - 1986 to 1998

Another company now owned by Gibson, famous for their headless graphite bass, also made customised guitars for Eddie. A major feature of this cricket bat shaped guitars was its unique tremolo4 system.

Music Man - 1991 to 1994

Music Man, owned by Ernie Ball the guitar string maker, collaborated with Van Halen to make his first signature guitar. Unlike his previous instuments this was not red, black and white, but had a yellow rippled effect on its maple top. The guitar was on a single cutaway design, breaking away the tradition of the twin cutaway style being the only design for high note histrionics. The partnership ended due to distribution problems with Music Man.

Peavey Wolfgang - 1995 onwards

Regarded as the evolution of the Music Man guitar, the Peavey was reshaped slightly, but featured more Eddie Van Halen innovations. The pickups were of his own specification, and it featured his patented D-Tuner that allowed the low E string to be detuned at the flick of a clamp.

Eddie the inventor

In The Return of Spinal Tap, guitarist Nigel Tufnel talked the camera crew around his inventing shack. Tufnel's inventions included a collapsible wine glass and a capo5 for a guitar amp. While his hair may have been a tribute to Jeff Beck, his love of invention was certainly based on Eddie Van Halen. As well as designing his own guitars and pick ups, Van Halen has also patented a guitar support.

1Both hands hitting notes on the fretboard.2Tapping on specific parts of the fretboard, creating an harmonic vibration, giving a bell like tone.3Tapping the string and then bending it.4Okay, so it should be called a vibrato system, but Leo Fender got the name wrong when he made the stratocaster and it has stuck.5A movable bar clammed across the fretboard of a guitar so as to raise the pitch of all the strings.

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