It’s a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, summer of 2007. Godsmack guitar tech Chet Haun is enjoying a day off, sitting in an empty Sunset Bar & Grill with a couple of guys from the road crew. He’s about to bite into a slice of pizza when his phone rings. “Hi Chet? This is Edward Van Halen’s assistant Matt. Edward would like to know if he can speak with you.” Haun’s life was about to be forever changed.
Haun is a long-time touring and studio guitar technician who’s worked with a long list of heavy hitter bands and artists including Five Finger Death Punch, Slash, Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Zombie, Anthrax, Godsmack and Velvet Revolver. One band he never expected to add to that list is Van Halen.
Haun shared his story with the Van Halen News Desk’s Eric Senich and here’s what he had to say!
Before we get to your experience working for Van Halen, tell us a little about yourself and your background in the music industry.
I grew up in Indiana, in the middle of cornfields just outside Selma, Indiana. Because of seeing bands like Van Halen and Dokken on TV and in concert in 1986 and ‘87, I found myself wanting to learn guitar. When ‘Live Without a Net’ was released, that alone changed things so much. But it was on November 26th, 1987 when I went to see Dokken and Aerosmith in Indianapolis that I knew I wanted to play guitar. When I got home that night, I told my dad I wanted to play. The next day he said, “We’re goin to town.” We went to the music store in Muncie, Indiana and he bought me my first guitar and amp. I was floored. It was 1987 – the year I graduated from high school. I was 18.
I started playing in cover bands through the late 80s into the 90s. I was playing guitar constantly because of the music at the time – EVH, Lynch, Vai, Gilbert, Satriani, Bettencourt, Wylde. All influential. I dissected their playing and practiced over and over.
I eventually got into website design and had quite a few popular websites from 1996 to 2004. I designed sites for Neil Zlozower, Zakk Wylde, John 5 etc. It was from doing John 5’s website in 2003-04 that we became good friends over the phone. John knew I wasn’t happy in Indiana and he would call me at work (I worked for an online music retail company during the day) to discuss his site if I was free. In March 2005 John called and said he was to play a Tsumami benefit show in L.A. that night. He was scheduled to play a song with Rob Zombie and a few others. After the benefit show ended, Sharon Osbourne (who happened to be there) asked Rob if he wanted to play Ozzfest that year. Rob didn’t have a band at the time and asked John on the spot if he wanted to be his guitar player. John said “Yes”, Rob said “Yes” to Sharon. John then called me the next morn and asked if I would like to change careers and move to California and be his guitar tech. I said “Yes”.
I knew how to do simple guitar setups and other minor things but nothing about touring. But John 5 believed in me and my dedication to wanting to try my best. In between John giving me the opportunity and my mom and dad backing me, I couldn’t and wouldn’t let them down. Three months later, June 6th, 2005, I was on a plane to California and the journey began. My first tour was Ozzfest 2005 with Rob Zombie. I’ve been a professional touring guitar tech for the last 16 years. Pink, Slash, Ozzy, Counting Crows, on and on. Over the last seven years I’ve strictly been with the band Five Finger Death Punch taking care of Zoltan Bathory. I’ve had quite the career thus far.
When was the moment you became a Van Halen fan? Was it a song you heard? A video?
It was around 1983/1984 – Friday Night Videos changed everything. I didn’t have cable out in the country so MTV wasn’t an option. I mainly grew up on AM/FM radio in the 70s & 80s so when videos were new, so was music. Back in 1983 Friday Night Videos played Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, and others. Once Van Halen released ‘1984’ and “Jump”, soon after it was a visual on Friday Night Videos. With that video and the surge of the releases of “Panama”, “Hot For Teacher”, along with Edward playing the guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” with Michael Jackson, I became a fan. The lean towards rock music started. I was around 14 or 15.
When and where was your first Van Halen concert and what stands out the most about that show?
May 3rd,1986. I saw the ‘5150’ tour at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana. I was 17. I had become a fan of Van Halen in 1984 but missed the ‘1984’ tour that summer. The beginning of the show stood out the most. The house lights went down and all you could hear was Edward’s guitar screaming through the PA. Then dark blue lights came up and you could see their silhouettes as Edward continued to solo. Definitely remember that. Also, I remember my mom had stood in line for tickets for me the morning they went on sale months earlier as I was still in high school. I couldn’t cut school to stand in line so she did. THAT is support 🙂 Thank you MOM!
As for your time working with Van Halen in 2007, you described it to me in a previous email as a “whirlwind of a time and story”. Tell us how you came to being brought in for that rehearsal and what that whole experience was like?
In 2007 I was on tour with the band Godsmack as Tony Rombola’s guitar tech. We had just started our second leg of the ‘IV’ tour. We had the day off in L.A. and were to play at the Wiltern Theater the next day.
While on tour, I decided to bring out a project guitar to work on during days off. It was a 5150 relic. The morning of the day off, I had worked a bit on the 5150 relic at the hotel and had planned to go to lunch with two of the guys in the Godsmack crew. We decided to go to the infamous Rainbow Bar & Grill for lunch. I had never been. When we arrived, the place was empty and we sat down and ordered food. Pizzas arrive and then my flip phone rings. It was Edward’s assistant, Matt. He said they had gotten my info from someone and asked if Edward could speak with me. My jaw drops. I was not expecting ANY phone call about anything. I had no idea my name was in the hat for anything.
Edward gets on the line and then asks if I would be interested in taking care of his son Wolf.
I said “Yes”. Even though I was on tour and this was something beyond expected, I said “Yes”. I got his address and told the guys that I was having lunch with who I was speaking with and what had happened. Edward wanted me to come to 5150 studios and meet with him and Wolf in the next hour. Surreal. I then called a taxi and went to 5150.
Fast forward, I’m sitting at 5150 with Edward, Wolf, Edward’s assistant, and Valerie (who had just dropped Wolf off). I can see, hanging on the wall of 5150, the 5150 guitar. The guitar I was doing a relic version of back in my hotel room that morning. Now I’m HERE!
They wanted me to stay in L.A. and possibly find another tech to fill in for Godsmack so, on the ride from 5150 back to my hotel, I called everyone to get things in order. I was able to and I stayed in L.A. for rehearsals for the next 2 months.
You had the chance to sit in on the band rehearsals. Talk about those rehearsals and were there any songs they rehearsed that didn’t make the set list?
Rehearsals were loud and very to the point. It was relaxed but it was still also very new since David Lee Roth was back in the band. The only song I remember they tried and didn’t add was a version of “…And the Cradle Will Rock” with Wolf on keyboards. Actually hooking up that old keyboard Michael Anthony used in the 80s for this song through a Marshall Head and flange pedal was, again, surreal.
Any experiences with the band members that stand out from that time?
The second time that Dave came to rehearsals, he gave the backline techs a gift. A Wilson Cop Tactical tool. Still have that :). I also grew up in Indiana, just outside Selma, Indiana, 30 minutes from where Dave grew up in New Castle, Indiana so we had that to talk about. I also took care of Dave for ‘Ice Cream Man’. His acoustic, harmonica, wireless, etc.
We’ve heard that Wolfgang had a huge part in the set list for that tour. Any stories from those rehearsals regarding Wolf’s input? Were the songs already picked out ahead or did they add and remove as they worked through the songs?
The songs were already picked and done with the exception of “…And The Cradle Will Rock”. They just played as a band normally would and worked through the set list. Dave would usually show up every other rehearsal.
Did you get the opportunity to pick Eddie’s brain regarding guitar tips or advice?
I learned things about how he tunes his guitars (which was very, very unique) and how he found a tone on an amp. With tuning – the D, G, B strings barred at the 9th had to be in tune with themselves. You had to use a tuner to tune the D string, then barre the strings D,G, B at the 9th and remove the oscillation of the three together. Once the oscillation is gone, “Unchained”, “Runnin’ With The Devil”, “Dance The Night Away”, all of those songs that mainly dance on those strings come to life. If you go to play a D chord at the 2nd/3rd fret, it’s out because of the way it’s now tuned. But Edward would pull the D chord in tune from YEARS of tuning and playing like that.
With tone, Wolf was using old Sound City guitar heads as his bass heads. One day, Edward worked a bit with me and Wolf on Wolf’s sound and the heads. To see Edward simply twisting a knob from 0 to 10 quickly to pull in a particular tone was something I won’t forget. He would set everything to 0, then turn the volume to 5, then go from left to right with each knob turning it quickly from 0 to 10. Within a minute or so, he was done. Everything set. The tone was there. Amazing stuff to see first-hand.
Did you stay in touch with any of the guys afterwards?
I did not.
What would you like to say to fans about Eddie’s passing and what his music meant to you?
Edward’s passing was something that affected me more than I thought it would. He was a constant in my personal life for the 35-plus years. Besides my father (Vietnam Vet ’66 to ‘72, cancer survivor) and my mom (complete badass), there were few I respected in this world. He was one of the few.
Edward changed my path in life when I saw him & Van Halen in 1984. Without Van Halen doing what they did, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. Life would be very, very different. It would be very different for all of us.
What’s your favorite Van Halen album and why?
‘Women and Children First’. In 1984, when I first really started learning about the band, the next record I bought was ‘WACF’. Listening to that in headphones (with the curly cord) on vinyl is forever imprinted on my brain. Such a raw, live album. The rain in the background on “Could This Be Magic” is a classic example.
What’s your favorite Van Halen song and why?
“I’m The One” from ‘Van Halen’. No one can play swing like Edward and Alex. Swing is rarely heard in music except in certain genres but especially not in rock music. It’s a just a natural groove for them that isn’t natural for most others. There are many other swing type songs in their catalog but that one is amazing from go. Dave’s vocals are amazing, Alex’s non-stop beat, Michael’s insane harmonies. Top that off with all of Edward’s rhythm left hand and ALL of the fills on guitar, it’s a hard song to beat.