Here’s a truly interesting tale about Eddie Van Halen that some folks were discussing on Reddit.com:
Here’s a story about the rare genius of Eddie Van Halen, as told by Hartley Peavey to a longtime Peavey dealer I worked for. They had been doing some manufacturer’s clinics with Eddie, and Hartley shared this nugget with him. I thought of this story today and decided to share.
Many people may not know of Eddie’s proclivities as an engineer and inventor. While some artists with signature gear are probably satisfied to just slap their names on any old design, Eddie is exacting in every detail. Hartley tried to call him out on the outrageous specifications he was demanding during the design of the 5150 cabinet [in the mid ’90s]. This is how it went down:
Eddie demanded that the 5150 be made of Baltic birch and Hartley was glad to oblige. Remember, we’re not talking about some dimwitted executive here. Hartley designed all the early Peavey amps himself so he knows about tone. When the development team delivered the test model to Eddie, he took it apart. Because that’s apparently what he did with everything. If it was a guitar they were building him, and he didn’t like the placement of something, he would rip it apart and rout out the body cavity himself, or whatever it took to get it the way he wanted it. In the same story we heard about how he has all kinds of inventions in his house ranging from musical stuff to vacuum cleaner innovations.
So he takes the test cabinet apart and says, “Hartley, I thought we agreed this cab was going to be made of Baltic birch? What’s with these little blocks of plywood down here?” Now, he’s talking about some block inside the joints of the sides that was just there to give more space to join them or glue them or whatever. Hartley says, “Well, we decided that would raise the price by [X] dollars and it wasn’t worth it because those little pieces aren’t going to change the tone at all.”
Eddie’s not having it. He says it will change the tone and they get into an argument about it.
“Alright Eddie, tell you what. I’m so convinced that not even you can tell the difference of the woods on those little blocks, let’s do a listening test. I’m going to build sixteen of these things, and in one of them I’ll use your Baltic birch on those little blocks. If you can play through them and tell me which one it is, then we’ll go with it.”
The cabinets are built and Eddie comes back down to the factory, plugs in and let’s just one blistering high sustain note rip and vibrate everything until it dies out. Then he unplugs and goes to the next one, all down the line like that until he gets to one and let’s the note rip… “That one.”
Of course he’s right, or there wouldn’t be a story.
Could this story really be true? Is Ed’s ear really this incredible? Some might find this story hard to believe, but it’s definitely not the first time we’ve heard that Ed’s ear can detect things that most people’s can’t. It wouldn’t be the first time that someone doubted Eddie Van Halen could do something that other people can’t do!
In fact, we at the VHND can vouch for the fact that this story about Ed’s incredible ear is actually very similar to a couple behind-the-scenes stories we’ve heard from Eddie’s later collaboration with the people at Fender.
This story also reminds us of a story Edward told at NAMM one year. Something about how he was thinking about this invention on the way over to the NAMM appearance, and he mentioned coming up with the idea about inventing a watch that didn’t keep the time you were at, but you would set it for the time you would arrive at your desired location, and then the watch would speed up or slow down depending on how fast you were going and if you hit traffic or whatever. He said, “That’s just the way my mind works.” He often looks at things totally different than everybody else – that’s why he’s accomplished what he has, both musically and also equipment wise.
It has always seemed that Edward Van Halen does indeed have some savant-like qualities, like a modern day Mozart.
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