Who influenced Eddie Van Halen’s? How did his individual playing approach evolve? Was it by happenstance or all carefully crafted? Guitar World has taken on the task of revisiting Eddie’s roots and influences to come up with an answer to those questions.
Before offering up six immersive studies of Eddie’s groundbreaking sound, Guitar World‘s Phil Short wrote:
It’s a fascinating question to consider who influenced Eddie Van Halen. How did he develop his unique playing approach? Did he stumble across everything by accident?
In this lesson we attempt to look at who some of those influences were, how they informed Eddie’s journey and how he then pushed those ideas forward to a whole new school of players.
It is well documented that Eddie was a huge fan of the blues-rock icons of the ’60s and ’70s, and much of Van Halen’s songwriting approach is clearly grounded in this style.
Eddie’s most commonly cited early guitar hero is Eric Clapton; in interviews he always cited EC as his great early inspiration, but he was also a great fan of Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore and indeed Allan Holdsworth.
As any fan of Eddie will know, the backbone of his vocabulary lies in a fiery blues-rock vocabulary. Before Van Halen were Van Halen, Eddie was known for being able to play almost every Cream solo note for note, and there are multiple recordings of interviews where he plays the entire Crossroads solo. In fact, he is quoted as dedicating his bluesy solo on the song When It’s Love to Clapton himself, as a tribute to his legacy and influence.
Eddie was also a huge fan of Led Zeppelin, and there’s no doubt that they had a big influence on his riff writing and songs. It’s also possible to speculate that Jimmy is where Eddie’s inspiration for expressive techniques came from.
The Heartbreaker solo in particular features many sounds that are staples in Eddie’s own arsenal; tapped notes with large bends, pick slides and wide vibrato. If you’ve not heard it for a while, it’s worth digging it out and reminding yourself.
However, it wasn’t just the blues-rock players of his youth that inspired Eddie. He was also captivated by jazz-fusion heavyweight, Allan Holdsworth. Allan was an incredibly accomplished legato player and experimented with all sorts of unconventional tonalities.
It was his use of wide stretches and symmetrical shapes that created very angular and interesting sounds that caught Eddie’s ear, and was something that he tried to emulate in his own way.
Many of the scale fingerings he liked to draw on are unconventional and won’t be be found in any typical text book, but they make it easier to execute faster lines while also creating unexpected angular sounds that keep things sounding fresh and less exercise based.
Of course we cannot discuss the great Eddie without mentioning his pioneering approach to two-handed tapping. Of course it had been dabbled with by other players as previously mentioned, plus Les Paul and others before him.
But Eddie brought into the spotlight an otherwise unheard-of technique that allowed him to play large arpeggio sequences reminiscent of the classical music he first learned in his formative years in Holland.
It was also possibly his way of replicating some of the arpeggio approaches he would have heard listening to tracks like Deep Purple’s Highway Star – an approach previously only heard on keyboards and not on electric guitar.
Our six studies focus specifically on these particular stylistic and technical influences, with the final piece combing elements from all five approaches.
To read the rest of Short’s deep dive into Eddie’s iconic sound, head over to his article on Guitar World‘s website HERE.