Night Ranger guitar Brad Gillis says his mastery of the whammy bar all began with the guitar master himself – Eddie Van Halen.
During a recent interview with 80’s Metal Recycle Bin, Gillis talked about the origins of his guitar technique, one that helped take Night Ranger to the top of the charts with multi-platinum records and sales reaching over 17 million around the world. It all began when he first heard Van Halen in the late 70s.
“When Eddie Van Halen came out he was doing the harmonic dive bombs,” said Gillis. “[For] people that aren’t guitar players – you hit a note, it’s a harmonic of a note, you can let your finger go, the note sings. Eddie was doing the dive bombs. He was real famous for that.”
Listen To Van Halen “Eruption”
This is where the Floyd Rose enters the story. The Floyd Rose is a type of locking vibrato arm designed for electric guitars. Invented by Floyd D. Rose in the late ’70s, it allowed the guitar to stay in tune through large pitch changes. It revolutionized the guitar industry throughout the ’80s and beyond.
Gillis continued, “When the Floyd Rose came out…Eddie got the first one. Floyd sent it to Eddie. Neal Schon from Journey got the second one. Well, I wasn’t really anybody. I was with Rubicon then with [future Night Ranger singer/bassist] Jack Blades, we had a couple of records but we weren’t a big, famous band…[but] I had to have one of those. I had to have one.”
Inspired by Eddie’s divebombs and a desire to take his career to the next level, Gillis finally got his hands on his very own Floyd Rose.
“I had ideas [laughs]. I knew I could make this thing happen,” said Gillis. “I thought, ‘If I get one of these I could start pulling up on the bar, start wiggling things.’ Anyway, I traded a Les Paul custom at Don Weir’s music in San Francisco for an original Floyd Rose and [I] put a new fret job on my guitar.
“Everybody thought I was crazy,” he continued. “[They said], ‘You traded that Les Paul custom for this piece of metal?!’ And I said, ‘Yes I did.’ And [they said], ‘Well, what’s up with that?’ [I said] ‘I’ll get back to you on that.’ So I’d sit in my room and I’d practice ya know and [doing] all these things. I was goofin’ around one day and I banged my guitar and I heard this BUDDDDP! [I thought] ‘What the f— is that?’ And I hit a note….BUDDDDP! BUDDDDP! Well I found out the Floyd was shaking, so I hit a note and I hit the end of the bar and it went BUDDDDP! BUDDDDP! And I went, ‘OK that’s cool’ right? Then I just starting fiddling around with different ways to goof off with the bar and I incorporated that in my style and used it on the ending of my solo on ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me’. I still have the same Floyd Rose on my main ’62 red Strat that I’ve used all my career. It’s lasted…I bought in in ’78, ’79 s it’s lasted a very, very long time.”
Watch Night Ranger Perform “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” Live 1983
Watch Brad Gillis’s 80’s Metal Recycle Bin Interview