The genius of Eddie Van Halen continues to influence and inspire today’s guitarists. Guitar World spoke with ten of those leading modern guitarists recently to find out what they learned from “King Edward”.
Here are some of comments from the article:
How important was EVH’s role in the evolution of guitar playing?
I always loved his attitude towards music. He was exploring the guitar and pushing the boundaries of both genre and instrument out of necessity and compulsion in order to realise what he heard in his head.
He definitely expanded upon the vocabulary of guitar and really didn’t pay attention to rules! He did whatever he wanted and wouldn’t think about it too much, and I think that’s what helped push him to not only rethink the way guitar was played, but also even the instrument itself!
He did what he did because he needed to be himself. He didn’t care too much about what other people thought and that’s why he stood out. Also, as a pianist myself, I can really deeply respect his piano roots and how he found a way to treat guitar like a piano with his two-handed tapping style…
It’s interesting how close the guitar can feel to piano when you explore wide intervals with two-handed techniques…
Oh, for sure! I have mad respect for his piano-based technique but also I love how he could be really spontaneous and at other times really well composed and thought-out. And I admire that kind of versatility on the instrument. Be it jazz, classical, or rock… He could play it all and still put it in his own voice. Finally, his ability to write riffs that you could dance to was very special. I’ve always aspired do that in my own playing and writing as well.
And if you had to pick one favourite EVH piece, what would it be?
Gosh, there are so many bangers! “5150” is a personal favourite of mine because it’s just so climactic and upbeat. That song is just sick riff after riff after riff. But I guess you could say that about a lot of Van Halen songs!
What made EVH’s take on the blues so powerful?
To me, Eddie was one of the most lyrical and melodic players of all-time. He knew when to ‘go’ and when to leave space. I imagine that if Eddie walked into a blues jam, he could undoubtedly get on stage and fit right in. He’d definitely have turned some heads, though!
In many ways, those blues licks were what made his faster guitar lines feel even more mind-blowing…
That’s the thing. Eddie always served the song. He would come up with the most interesting chord voicings, but he also knew when to keep it simple. For me, bluesier stuff is about space and feel. When he would leave space before burning again, it would make the ‘burn’ that much more exciting. Even if it was just for a short breath. He knew how to pick his spots to make for the perfect moment.
Which tracks of yours channelled him the most?
A long time ago, I learned one of his bend and tap tricks and you can hear that on the “Shape I’m In” solo. You can also hear his influence on the “Holdin’ My Breath” solo. I was trying to make a melodic solo that built to something. He was the king of that.
And finally, what song would you pick to epitomise Eddie at his most magical?
The slide work on “Could This Be Magic?” is exactly that, magic. I also love “Take Your Whiskey Home”. The riff is heavy and the short solo breaks are perfect. He had the vibrato, the slinky bends, and a deep well of licks to pull from. What a legend.
Where did you discover Van Halen?
I used to hang out at this music store where I grew up. There were a few guys locally that really had the Van Halen thing down. They’d come in and start tapping and my mind exploded.
What did you learn from Eddie?
I didn’t get into transcribing and learning like the licks until later, but the vibe of it grabbed me. I really liked the way he’ll bend in to a note and then slide up and bend into the next, and keep going with that. For me more than anything with Eddie, it’s his sheer attitude. It’s just so sassy.
There’s so many dudes that are burning shredders, and they’re great, but Eddie just had this ballsiness to his to his shredding. He was super melodic as well, and he had that gutsy flair where he’d hit a note and it kicks your ass. Then there’s a bunch of crazy shit in between, like a sparring match. Even the more melodic stuff still had that gusto.
What else did you like about his playing?
His rhythm playing. His groove is just sick! A friend of mine showed me the isolated guitar track from “Hot For Teacher”. Even if you listen to it on its own, it’s got a groove to it. He was the greatest.
He was the first person with a high-gain tone straight from an amp, too.
Yeah, and it changed the game really. He was such an innovator in so many respects, his tone for one, his playing, the creation of the Frankenstein guitar, and all his you know crazy acrobatic whammy bar stuff. The guy was just straight-up creative. He was such a great musician that on any instrument he would have done something like that. It was inside of him.
What’s your favourite Van Halen song, then?
It kinda changes, but right now it’s “Hot For Teacher”. It sounds like someone friggin’ started up a Harley, and then the tapping madness at the beginning. The riff is so badass and the rhythm playing is awesome. It’s the pinnacle of rock ’n’ roll guitar.
How did you get into Van Halen?
My dad would drop me to school some days and have it blasting in the car. I was playing acoustic, and that was when I really made the switch. I was like, ‘I gotta get an electric guitar!’ Then my guitar teacher at university, Jim Clark, was the biggest EVH fan in the world. Every lesson he was like, ‘Here’s a Van Halen lick’…
One of your first popular videos was your cover of “Panama”.
Yeah, that was really fun to play, but challenging as well. The harmonic stuff he does was new to me when I started learning that, so that was a really big turn in my playing. The timing – it’s a split-second thing but it takes a couple weeks to really nail it.
You also did a cover of Billie Eilish in the style of Van Halen…
It sprung from Billie Eilish saying she hadn’t heard of Van Halen. I was like, ‘What if she had?’ I like Billie Eilish and all the new stuff, so it was fun for me to be able to combine that song with all the crazy Van Halen techniques. I think it sounded pretty good!
Are the chords in that video inspired by “Unchained”?
Yeah, those triads! Eddie often used them alone but I love layering it over power chords. It adds such a cool effect, especially when you’re playing a pedal on the A string. It’s really driving and it makes you want to get up and dance.
What aspects of Eddie’s playing inspired you the most?
I attempted to learn “Eruption” when I was 11. Now the majority of my solos have a tapping lick in them. I think a big part of is the emotional side. You can’t listen to a Van Halen solo and not smile. Sometimes they’re crazy and they’re silly, and it’s awesome! I want people to listen to my solos and smile as much as I do when I listen to Van Halen solos.
What’s your favourite Van Halen song?
Probably “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love”. That just gets me hyped whenever I hear it.
Read the entire article from Guitar World‘s Amit Sharma, Jonny Scaramanga HERE.