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"Eddie Talks Guitars: 1979" (from the "Van Halen Tapes 1978-82") - 12.29.79
"Eddie Talks Guitars: 1979" (from the "Van Halen Tapes 1978-82")
By: Jas Obrecht
The Best Of Guitar Player (December 29, 1979)
Van Halen, of course, electrified rock guitarists more than any release since Hendrix's Are You Experienced. Eddie's impact was immediate, his rise to fame meteoric. By the decade's end, fingertapped guitar solos were a garage band staple. But as much as his techniques or wildman energy, it was Eddie's personality - his sense of humor - that makes his playing unique. Eddie and I crossed trails a couple of times after the first story, and then on December 29, 1979, he called and offered to help with an article I was writing on do-it-yourself kit guitars, a rage inspired in large part by Eddie's innovations. With extensive touring and Van Halen II under his belt, Eddie was discovering that fame had its price. He was irritated with manufacturers who'd cloned his guitar innovations and with players who were imitated his "Eruption" solo. He also mentioned his band's third album, Women and Children First, which he'd finished the week before.
Guitar Player: Hey, how you doing?
EVH: Oh, you know, feeling a bit zombied.
GP:That's the way I was last night.
EVH: [Laughs heartily.]
GP: So why are you building your own guitars now?
EVH: See, actually I ruined a lot of old guitars. I just didn't like the fact of having the standard rock-star setup - you know, a brand-new Les Paul and a Marshall. I was really into vibrato. Like when we used to play the high schoool dances and shit, I bought myself a '58 Strat. But it's only guitar and bass and drums musically, and the rest of the guys just looked at me and said, "Hey, that thing sounds like hell!" [Laughs.] You know, single-coil pickups, they sound real buzzy, thin. It wasn't enough sound to fill it up. So the reason I started dickin' around that way is I wanted a Gibson-type of sound, but with a Strat vibrato. So I stuck a humbucking pickup in a Strat, and it worked okay, but it didn't get good enough tone because Fenders are kind of cheap wood - they're made out of alder or something. So then I found out about Charvel, but I'm suing them right now because it's actually my guitar design that's keeping them in business. See, Wayne Charvel sold it to another guy, and Wayne was a real cool dude. When he owned it, I was considering endorsing it. And then this other dude took over, and he's just sold so many of them for like a grand apiece.
GP: Are these Eddie Van Halen model guitars?
GP: No kidding.
EVH: No kidding! It looks like a Strat, but it only has one pickup in it, one volume knob, no tone, no fancy garbage. It's painted the way I like 'em, and it's rear-loaded - you know, it doesn't have a pickguard. I'm not saying my guitar is "Wow, the new guitar," but it is a guitar that you could not at the time buy on the market. This guy kind of exploited my idea, so I'm suing him. See, I feel kind of fucked doing that, but all I want him to do is stop. I don't give a damn about the money. But the main reason I did that was to have something that no one else had. You know, I wanted it to be my guitar, an extension of myself. Just the other night - Christmans Eve - I went to the Whiskey. A band called Weasels was playing, and the lead guitarist had a guitar exactly like mine. I just don't understand how someone could walk onstage with my guitar, because it's my trademark. You know, when people see a freaked-out striped guitar like that, with one pickup, one volume knob, they obviously know it's mine.
GP: There goes your identity.
EVH: Yeah. And also, him selling it and advertising, makes it seem to the fans like I'm selling myself. They don't know that I'm against it. They think that I'm out for the bucks. That's not it at all. So it's kind of a drag. There's another guy too...See, I've rewound my own pickups before, and a guy named Seymour Duncan, I got pissed at him too. He called me up and said, "Can we use your name for a special pickup?" And I said no. Next time I pick up Guitar Player magazine, there's a special Van Halen model customized Duncan pickup. I called him up and said, "What the hell's goin' on?" So he stopped finally. It's just kind of weird you know.
GP: You're getting exploited.
EVH: something like, "There's a lot of different companies where you could buy parts." Dimarzio makes parts, Mighty Mite, Charvel. The main person who I buy parts from now is a guy up in Seattle named Lynn Ellsworth. He makes Boogie Bodies. He's a nice guy.
GP: How many guitars have you made now?
EVH: Let's see. Two, three, four, five - about seven.
GP: And how many are part of your act?
EVH: See, what I do mainly is use one a year. Like the first year, supporting the first album, I used the black-and-white-striped one. That was actually the original. It was not rear-loaded. It had a pickguard which I cut out myself and it had an old Gibson P.A.F. the thing I always do to the pickups is I pot 'em. You dip them in paraffin wax, which cuts out the high, obnoxious feedback. It's kind of a tricky thing, because if you leave it in there too long, the pickup melts [laughs],
GP: You just heat up the paraffin at home and stick the pickup in it?
EVH: Oh, yeah. You just take a coffee can and use the same kind of wax that you use to wax a surfboard. You just melt it down, put the pickup in it. See, the reason the pickup feeds back is the coil windings vibrate. And when the wax soaks in there, it keeps them from vibrating. It still feeds back, but it's controllable. It's like it feeds back when you want it. It doesn't cut out feedback totally; it just gets rid of that real high squeal, like a microphone feeding back.
GP: Did you do this with an original Gibson P.A.F. or a copy of one?
EVH: A Gibson.
GP: Do you still use the chain-sawed guitar?
EVH: Yeah. That was originally an Ibanez Destroyer, and it was one of the original ones, which are actually as good or better than the original Gibsons, because they're made out of korina wood, which is real rare, hard-to-work-with wood. It's real light wood, but real toney. Ibanez stopped making them out of that wood, probably because it's too hard to work with. I think now they're making them out of ash, and those are turkeys.
GP: Where did you get the hardware for your main Strat-style guitar?
EVH: Ah, it was actually the old '58 Strat. I took the vibrato tailpiece out. Like with new Fenders, the vibrato tailpiece isn't half as good as the original old ones. So I took that out of the '58 and went to Charvel and bought a heavier piece of wood. And I really like wide necks. I hate skinny necks. I like them real flat and wide, almost like a classical guitar. They're thin...I don't know how to explain it. They're real wide up and down, but thin the other way.
GP: So it's wide across the fingerboard, but a thin neck.
EVH: Right, right.
GP: That's a maple neck?
EVH: Yeah. And also I don't like 'em sprayed. I hate the lacquer shit.
GP: Do you put oil on it?
EVH: No, nothin'. Just bare wood. Because I like to feel the wood, you know? I hate to slip and slide. You start sweatin', and you can't stretch the strings.
GP: How long did it take you to build your first guitar?
EVH: Not really too long, but it took me a while to build up to doing that. Like I used to have an old Gibson ES-335, which if I didn't ruin would be worth a lot of money right now. I refret them myself and do just about everything. And by trial and error, I'm pretty good at it now. But I've ruined a lot of good stuff learning.
GP: Did you make another guitar for Van Halen II and your second world tour?
EVH: Yeah. Well, see, it was my idea to have it rear-loaded, so I wouldn't have a pickguard. So Charvel routed it for me, because at the time I couldn't afford a router. So they claim that they built it for me, which is actually bullshit. You know, all they did was what I told them to do. That's the guitar on the second album cover. The pickup that's in the picture is not really what I used. When we did the photo session for the album cover, I just finished painting it and slapping it together, and I just stuck some garbage pickup in there I wasn't actually playing, just so it looked like a complete guitar. But I've tried a bunch of different pickups in there. I took the pickkup out of the first one and put it in there, and it didn't sound too good. So I got a DiMarzio pickup, and I don't really go for those, because they're real distorted. See, I like a clean sound, but with sustain. I hate the fuzz box, real raspy sound. I don't particularly go for that.
GP: It's old now.
EVH: Yeah. The DiMarzio pickups have real big magnets that's how they get their power - so I took the DiMarzio pickup and put the P.A.F. magnet in it and I rewound it, which took a long time.
GP: You did that by hand?
EVH: Yeah. It took a long time to rewind that thing. Actually, I ruined about three pickups. By the fourth time, you know, it worked.
What other pickups did you try?
EVH: That's about it. I'd do anything to get an old P.A.F. They're the best. They go for 100, 200 bucks apiece, but that's what I use, that's what I like. A lot of people don't like them. See, with my setup, it's matched. Like if I play my guitar through someone else's setup, it won't sound right. And if I use someone else's guitar through my setup, it won't sound right.
GP: So what pickup did you finally end up putting in it?
EVH: A DiMarzio with a P.A.F. magnet, rewound with copper tape around the windings. Well, I dipped it in paraffin before I put the copper tape on. But DiMarzio plastic is real cheap. I mean, you have to be really careful. It looks like a wrinkled prune, actually, but it still works [Laughs.] It's real cheap stuff. But old P.A.F.'s, you can just throw them in there and let 'em soak it up. Doesn't matter how hot it gets - doesn't melt. But DiMarzio's, God! If you blink, all of a sudden your pickup's ruined.
Actually this year, supporting the second album, I used two guitars. One of them was the original guitar from the first year, and because Charvel started copying them, I said, "What the fuck, man. I better change it." So I really went to town painting it all freaked out, and I put three pickups back in. But they didn't work - only the rear one worked. But I just did it because they copped my original idea. I did it just to be different again, so every kid who bought one like the model I had last year would go, "Oh, man! He's got something different again!" [Laughs.] Well, you know, I always like to turn the corner on people when they start latching on to what I'm doing. I never really imagined that people would do something like that. I just kind of fell into this whole business. I'm just a punk kid, trying to get a sound out of a guitar that I couldn't get off the rack, so I built one myself, and now everyone else wants one.
GP: So you've got to keep going for individualistic stuff.
EVH: Yeah! So the first guitar now has three pickups, and the new one has one. And now I've bought a couple of necks from Boogie Bodies, which I refretted with larger frets - I'm pretty sure they're Gibsons. I don't know. I hate the way people do fret jobs. I do it real simple. I just sand down with some 100 wet or dry - that dark stuff - and then I use some steel wool. I like real rounded frets. I hate 'em flat, you know, like the old Les Paul Customs - "fretless wonders" or whatever they call them. I couldn't stand those, because the intonation's off. The more a fret comes to a peak, the more precise the intonation is. The more fret space that the string rests on, the harder it is for it to be right on. So I sand them and build 'em up to a point, instead of being flat. Most fret jobs, they file them flat, and they do them individually, which I think is kind of a stupid way to do it. If they do them one by one, then how do you know they're all even? I don't know if it's a weird way of doing it, but I just do it a real simple, cheap way. But it works for me.
GP: Have either of these necks gone onto bodies yet?
EVH: Oh, yeah. Okay, another thing is this guy named Floyd Rose. I have a vibrato setup that he makes, and I like it and I don't. It has advantages and disadvantages. Like in the studio, I use a standard vibrato, a Fender. I'm used to it. It's the one off the '58. People go, "Oh, wow, how do you keep it in tune?" Well, it's actually a totally different technique. There are special tricks that I know to keep it in tune, but it still goes out of tune. You have to play with it. If you bring the bar down, the G and the B string always go sharp when you let it back. So before you hit a barre chord, you gotta stretch those strings back - a real quick little jerk, and it'll pop back right to where it was. But it's totally different than playing a Les Paul. A lot of kids go, "Hey, how do you keep it in tune?" and they pick up a guitar and just go crazy on that bar. It's just a totally different technique.
That vibrato thing is actually like another instrument. you've got to know how to use it. You can't just grab it, jerk the thing, and expect it to stay in tune. The Floyd Rose thing is a real good idea. My brother actually had the exact same idea years ago. He said, "Ed, why don't you clamp it down here and there, and there's no way it will go out of tune." But I just kind of passed it off. I go, "Yeah, right." Because I don't have a machine shop, I couldn't build it. So Floyd pursued it, and he's got a hot item. But it has disadvantages too, because I tune a lot while I'm playing. I'll hit a chord and tune it while I'm playing. With this thing, you can't. You have to unclamp it and then tune it.
GP: Does the Floyd Rose keep the strings in tune as much as players claim?
EVH: It's hard to get in tune perfectly. Any guitar. A guitar is just theoretically built wrong. Each string is an interval of fourths, and then the B string is off. Theoretically, that's not right. If you tune an open E chord in the first position and it's perfectly in tune, and then you hit a barre chord an octave higher, it's out of tune. The B string is always a motherfucker to keep in tune all the time! So I have to retune for certain songs. And when I use the Floyd onstage, I have to unclamp it and do it real quick. But with a standard-vibrato guitar, I can tune it while I'm playing.
GP: Any tips on setting intonation?
EVH: I actually pretty much do it by ear. It's not that hard. You just hit the 12th fret harmonic and then hit the open note, it's obvious if it's far off. So you just have to have an ear for it. I got pretty good ears I guess.
GP: What's your opinion of brass hardware?
EVH: It's too brittle sounding. I like the sound I get out of a normal old Fender tremolo. The only thing I don't like about the Floyd thing - it's a great idea, you can go crazy with the bar - but it sounds real brittle-bright. I don't know what kind of metal he uses, but I have to do some heavy equalization to get a tone out of it. That's why I don't use it in the studio. Ted really doesn't do much equalization. We just go in there and play live, and I depend on making it sound good out of the amp, instead of, "Oh, well. Fix it in the mix." That's why it also goes so quick. We just finished recording our third album in six days. We finished about a week ago. Well, we finished the music in six days. We just go in there and play live.
GP: Did you use any songs from the original '78 tape?
GP: All new ones?
EVH: Yeah. You know, It's weird: I like to be excited too. I think you'll kind of trip off the next album. It's hard rock.
GP: Any instrumentals?
EVH: Yeah, there's a thing on there with a real weird vibrato noise. It actually sounds like an airplane starting. Dave wanted to call it "Tora Tora" [laughs]. I wanted to call it "Act Like It Hurts." We haven't decided yet. It's kind of a trippy album. I like it. I think you'll have to listen to it a couple of times. It's a little bit different than the past.
GP: Have you thought of doing a concert album?
EVH: Well, I look at it this way: Our studio albums are like live albums. They are live! I don't do any overdubs. I solo on the basic track. One song I want to tell you about, because if you hear it, you might not even notice. I play an electric piano. It's called "And the Cradle Will Rock." The name of the new album is Women and Children First. [Laughs.] I played a Wurlitzer electric piano through my Marshall stacks, and it sounds like my guitar! Wait 'til you hear it! I play it for people, and I have to tell 'em that's a piano. And they go, "What?!" It sounds real good. It's real simple. I've been trained on classical piano since I was six years old, but it doesn't show. [Laughs.] You know, it's nothing tasteful. I just picked the thing up and started banging on it. Wait 'til you hear this noise on it; it's tripped out!
GP: Did the piano go through any effects?
EVH: Just my pedalboard, my cheap piece of plywood with my MXR garbage. You know, that's funny too. I've met just about everybody that I grew up on, and they all laugh - you know, like Montrose and Nugent and all these people. Last year when we'd open for them, they'd walk up to me and go "What is this shit?" You know, I got my little plywood with an MXR phase shifter duct-taped onto it. And then after the show they start trippin'. They go [in a quiet, respectful voice], "Whoa! How do you get that sound?" I really think it's funny. I see Montrose with his $4000 studio rack with his digital delay and his harmonizer and everything else, and I swear to God, I can't tell he's usin' it. And then he laughs himself silly looking at my stuff. And then later on he's going "Whoa, how do you get that sound?" And Nugent, we opened three shows for him in Maryland, and the first day he's just kind of saying, "You little fucker, you" - but he meant it jokingly. And he laughed: "What is this garbage pedalboard you're using?" By the third day, he came to our soundcheck and asked me if he could play through my equipment. I just said, "Hey, Ted, you can play through it if you want, but it's not gonna sound the way it sounds when I play through it." Because it really isn't the equipment. It's in the fingers. Not to sound egoed-out, but it is.
GP: You use techniques they don't use.
EVH: And I've gone through every amp on the market. I mean, first tour I started out using my old 100-watt amp, which breaks down every other song, so I started using new Marshalls. I didn't like the way they sounded, but I had to have something that would make it through the show. Then I lost them somewhere on an airplane, never got 'em back. And I started using Music Mans, Laneys. I used just about everything, and they all pretty much sounded the same, just because I play the same.
GP: What did you finally settle with?
EVH: Well, in the studio I use my old Marshall, which gets a slightly different sound. Live I use new Marshalls, but I do little tricks to them too.
GP: Like overdriving them with a Variac?
EVH: Yeah. I don't even use fuses in my amps. See, I use a combination of two different amps. They're both Marshalls, but one of them is actually lower powered, and the other one is boosted. I use 'em together. One of them has this giant capacitor - I don't know what they're used for, but it sucks off ten volts. It doesn't really change the sound, but whatever I use, I use to the max. I just turn it all the way up. And a standard on-the-market amp won't last that long doing that. So I put this capacitor in there, which lowers it down to about 100. You know, a Marshall is under-rated. They're actually like 150 watts, even though they say they're a 100-watt amp. So I lower it about 10 volts, and it lasts a little longer. I still have to retube them once a week.
GP: Do you lose many of them during shows?
EVH: Uh, yeah. But I have so many of them. I use between twelve and fifteen.
GP: How many are switched on?
EVH: Usually six at a time. Depends on the size of the place I'm playing. I mean, I can actually play so loud onstage that you won't hear anything else. But I don't really like to do that. I like to get a balanced sound. Actually, they're all on, and I have this footswitch where if one blows out, I just kick the switch and it changes to another one. It's like a bypass switch. When you click it, the other amp comes in. It's simple, you know. It's all basement stuff. I mean, everything we do, we do ourselves in the basement.
GP: Going back to your guitars, have you built any new ones?
EVH: Yeah, I was just getting to that. I had a mahogany body made by Boogie Bodies.
EVH: Yeah. It fits me, because I'm small. It just feels good on me. I had it made like 2" thick, which is thicker than a Les Paul.
GP: For the sound?
EVH: Yeah, because it's got a Floyd Rose tailpiece on it, which gets such a thin sound. I thought that maybe if I got a chunky piece of wood, it would make up for the tinkiness of the sound. But...well, it works a little bit. It has an old Gibson P.A.F. in it and just one volume knob.
GP: What type of tuners?
EVH: Schallers. They're about the best kind, I guess.
GP: Anything else in it?
EVH: Well, the wire from the pickup to the pot. That's it. It's real simple. That's what's so funny. I mean, everything I do is simple. That's why people trip, because everyone tries to do the cosmic trip - you know, like the more complicated, the better. "Look at this guitar, man, it's got fifteen phase switches on it!" Who gives a fuck? I just use raw power. And I only spend an hour or two building them. The painting is the most involved thing. If you want it to come out good, you have to spray it and then let it dry overnight. And then you wet-sand it, spray it again. You have to do that about 6 times. The more coats you put on and wet-sand it, the more shiny and glossy it looks. Sometimes I just set up and go "What the hell. Who cares what it looks like?" The original guitar which I repainted and put three pickups back in, I painted in about two hours. I use Schwinn bicycle paint. It's acrylic lacquer, like car paint. It's good paint.
GP: And you tape it to get the stripes?
EVH: Yeah, yeah. I love stripes. I got so many guitars now, I don't know which one to play. There's a guitar I want made, but I don't know who I want to have build it. See, I love 335's. I can haul ass on those things. When I pick up a 335, you probably wouldn't even recognize my playing. There's no vibrato, and I just play totally different. It's more jazzy, more fluid-fast. Kind of like Holdsworth. There's another reason I actually started using a vibrato, because I started playing so fast that it lacked...it was just too much - daadaadiddily, daadaadiddily, you know, like that. So what I do now is go, daadaadiddily, daadaadiddily, waaaaah-waaaah, daadaadiddily, daadaadiddily, waaaaah-waaaah. [Laughs.] You know, to break it up a little bit. It's like a race car racing down the road, and then crashing every now and then. And with the bar, I really don't have special chops down with it. I just grab it when I feel like it. I like it because I can get more feeling out of it. When I grab it, that's what I feel.
GP: What's the most difficult aspect of building a guitar from scratch?
EVH: Making the neck fit the body. Another problem with a Gibson pickup, or any humbucking-style pickup, is that the bridge on a Strat is wider than a Gibson, so the strings don't line up with the pickup poles. I've tried slanting the pickup, the double-poled humbucking, so one of them would pick it up if the other one didn't. If you slant it, the high E would be picked up by the front pole, and the low E would be picked up by the rear pole, wherease if it was straight, the high E and the low E would lose power. I tilt it with the bottom part towards the bridge. To me, for the sound I like, it's also important to do the space between the bridge and pickup almost like a Les Paul. The pickup placement has a lot to do with how it's gonna sound. If you put it up too far, you get the Grand Funk-Johnny Winter tone. And if you put it too close to the bridge you get a real trebly Strat-style sound. So I move it up a little from the Strat sound to get a little beefier tone.
GP: Describe your ideal guitar.
EVH: Pretty much what I have. That's the main thing that sets me off about Charvel, because I spent $150 building my own guitar.
GP: The first one?
EVH: No, all of 'em! Well, maybe a little more because of the bicycle paint. But it's $150 to buy the parts, except for the pickups. I have so many parts that I just kind of take something out of something else and put it in.
GP: Are you searching for a source for vintage P.A.F. pickups?
EVH: Yeah, that'd be great. See, another thing, if you do find it, I'll give you money and you buy it. If they know they're for me, they'll jack up the price. There's a place called House of Guitars or something - this is when we were touring with Black Sabbath - and Tony Iommi goes in there. And they just racked up the price unbelievable. They figured, hey, rock star, he's got a lot of money. I was smart, and I had my roadie go in and get a price list. They didn't know that I knew the price list, so I walked in with him. I go, "How much do you want for this?" And they quoted me a price a grand above what it said on the paper. I said, "Wait a minute, man, it says right here that it's..." And they said, "Oh, oh," and tried to make excuses. I hate dealing with people like that. That's another reason why I build my own. I also did buy two old Les Pauls, just for an investment, because I don't play them.
EVH: No. I bought a '59 Les Paul Standard, which is a beautiful guitar - I don't even want to tell you how much I paid for it. For the person who wants it, the price doesn't matter. Like other people will say, "Oh, what a fool. You got ripped off." Well, I spent ten grand on both of 'em, but they're beautiful guitars. I got them from a guy named Norman Harris. This stuff wasn't even in his shop; it's so nice, he was afraid to let any punk kid touch it. One has beautiful flame maple top. Right now, I'm trying to figure out where to keep them, because when we played the Forum, my mom and dad came. And when my mom came home, the house got ripped off for about twenty gold and platinum albums. Which is real fucked, because playing the Forum is like a dream come true. I've seen everyone play there. It was a hell of an event for me, and I come home and the back door is smashed in and all the records are gone. It's such a drag. To tell you the truth, I'm not into the star bullshit at all.
GP: Gets old fast doesn't it?
EVH: Yeah. I mean, a lot of people get off on it. They let their hair grow, buy a Les Paul and a Marshall, and wanna be a rock and roll star. I don't even consider myself a rock star. I enjoy playing guitar, period.
GP: They're working your band a lot.
EVH: No. We're working our band a lot. That's what we want. The only thing that sells us is our live show. Actually, everything we do is the reverse of other people. We applied all we ever knew to our live show. We never thought much about recording, overdubbing. That's why when we did our first album, I said, "Hey, Ted, I've never done overdubs." The thought of playing to a machine, to me, would lose feel. So I said, "Can I just play live?" You know, go for what you know. So I did, and Ted freaked out. He's going, "Whoa! It doesn't even need another guitar." Because what we did was applied our live performance to plastic, whereas people like Boston and Foreigner do the opposite way. They work it out in the studio, and then when they have to go out on tour, they have to rehearse to make it happen live, and it's obvious. With us there's more mania and more feel and more excitement live, because that's where it's based. That's where we're coming from. I mean, that's bottom line. That's the only thing that sells us - the live show. It's not hype. I mean, we're not new wave. They print more garbage about Elvis Costello and...you name it. You rarely see us. But I don't really look at it competitively at all; I just enjoy what I do, period. And I really get off that people like it. Because when we did our first album, we just put on it what we liked. And for it to sell that many copies freaked me out! It's up to about four million now.
GP: It was in the charts for more than a year.
EVH: It just popped back in.
GP: When is the next one coming out?
GP: That's a good way to start the '80's.
EVH: Yeah. And the touring is what does it. Okay, like say with Boston, you know. They're known for a song. They're known through the radio. you know, kids drive down the street and they hear that song and it registers. And then they go, "Oh, Boston. Yeah! I know that song. Let's go see 'em." With us it's different. They come and see us, half the time not even knowing who we are, and then go, "Whoa! I gotta buy the record." When we first started touring, we were third bill. We opened for Ronnie Montrose and Journey. And within two months, they were begging us to stay.
GP: Do you make money on tours?
EVH: Uh, we break even, because we put all our money into the sound system and lighting. But we tour to sell the record. This year will probably be the last ten-month world vacation. I don't want to turn out like Foghat - you know, you can always see Foghat, that type of thing. There's got to be a little bit of mystique there. You gotta leave 'em wanting more. That was our whole philosophy for last year's tour. They were begging us to do another show at the Forum - we sold out in an hour and a half, and we just said no way. You know, build up to it. Take it step by step. All these promoters are trying to take advantage of you. They're just thinking bucks, right now. We'll lose money just to build as opposed to taking the money and running, you know.
GP: Is your music changing?
EVH: Yes and no. It's hard for me to say. Listen to the new album and call me up and let me know what you think.
GP: Are you learning new things on guitar all the time?
EVH: Yeah. Like if I sit down and play by myself, I play completely different than I would when I'm playing with the band sometimes. It's hard to explain, really. I love Allan Holdsworth, and I can play like that, but it doesn't fit the music that we're playing. I just really go for feeling. All our albums have mistakes. Big deal! We're human. It reeks of feeling, you know, and to me that's what music is all about. Like Fleetwood Mac spent so much money and so much time in the studio, and my thing is, if something is too perfect, it won't faze you. It goes in one ear and out the other, because it's so perfect. Our stuff to me, keeps you on the edge of your seat. It builds tension. Whether you like it or not, it slaps you in the face. It's almost like you're just waiting for us to blow it. You're sitting on the edge of your seat, just waiting for something to go wrong. But it doesn't, and that's what creates that tension. It's like winding something up and just waiting to see when it's gonna break. It's just inner feelings coming out. It's not conscious. It's just the way I am.
GP: You sure have a legion of followers.
EVH: Yeah. That's a trip. You know, it's funny too. The things I do, like "Eruption" and "Spanish Fly" - I hate to say it, and it's not hard to do, but I came up with it. Like Rick Derringer opened for us last year, and he did my exact solo. After the show, we're sitting in the bar, and I said, "Hey, Rick. I grew up on your ass. How can you do this? I don't care if you use the technique - don't play my melody." And he's goin', "Yeah, yeah, yeah." The next night he does my solo again, and he ends the set with "You Really Got Me," which is exactly what we do. So I hate to say it, but I just told him, "Hey, if you're going to continue doing that, you ain't opening for us." So I kicked him off. But it's fucked, you know, because I've seen him plenty of times. I've even copied his chops way back when. You know, [Johnny Winter's] Still Alive and Well, stuff like that. And here's a guy copping my stuff. It's pretty weird. Tom Scholz from Boston too. We played right before them - I forget where - and I do my solo. And then all of a sudden he does my solo. And it was real weird, because it was a daytime thing, and I was standing onstage and the whole crowd was looking at me like, "What's this guy doing?" I was drunk, and I got pissed. He never comes around; he doesn't say "Hi." He doesn't do anything. He just kind of hides out, runs onstage and plays, and disappears afterwards. So I started talking to the other guitarist, and I told him, "Hey. Tell him I think he's fucked!"
GP: Who are the players you really admire now?
EVH: It's funny. There's two types of guitarists. Like Blackmore, I used to hate, because I met him once at the Rainbow with John Bonham when we were just playing clubs. You know, I grew up on him too, and I ran over and said hello, and they both just looked at me and said, "Who are you? Fuck off." And it pissed me off.
GP: That was my experience with Blackmore too.
EVH: And to this day I remember that. And then just recently Rainbow played at Long Beach Arena. This is right after I won Best Guitarist [in the Guitar Player Reader's Poll], which I'm real honored - makes me feel good. I went down there, in a way, with a vengeance, you know. I just felt like saying, "Hey, motherfucker, remember me? About three years ago, when you treated me like shit?" But I didn't. I just said hello, and he knew me just through records and radio, and he complimented me.
GP: Do you know Randy Hansen, the Hendrix Imitator?
GP: Randy opened for Ritchie Blackmore at the Oakland Auditorium and just kicked ass.
EVH: That's what happened when I saw him.
GP: That night Blackmore reportedly refused to let Randy open for him. They had two more gigs, so their managers switched the bill, and Blackmore opened for Hansen.
EVH: Yeah, that's what happened when I saw 'em! Ritchie, I guess, was so afraid that he'd blow him away that Ritchie played before Randy. And then Randy came on, and they just fucked him over - you know, equipment problems, power failures. When I talked to Randy afterwards, man, I didn't know how to make him feel better, because I know Randy pretty well. I just said, "Shit, man. The more people that hate you, the better you are."
GP: Do you think so?
EVH: Fuck yeah! Other musicians, they're jealous. The more they hate you, the better you are. I mean, no other guitarist is gonna hate another guitarist if they're no good. You're no threat. But I don't really think about that, because everybody can do their own thing, period. U.K. opened for us last year for a few shows. And I never heard of the band U.K. Here we are in an arena, I'm sitting here tuning up, and all of a sudden [in a reverent voice], "Is that Bill Bruford? Whoa!" All of a sudden I got the chills. I was freakin' out. All of a sudden Allan Holdsworth walks in. I'm going, "My God! These guys are opening for us?" These guys are better...they've been through it. And they played before us, and they bombed. People hated 'em, but I'm standing there with tears in my eyes, just getting off, trippin'. It was so good. But they're artists - "I'm playing my art, and I don't care if you like it or not" - that type of thing, which I think is a real bad attitude. Music is for people. It's not for yourself. Or if it is, sit in your room and play it. But if you're gonna play it for people, you better play something that they're gonna want to hear instead of walking up there and pretending you're so good and beyond your audience. That's what they were doing, playing all this off-beat stuff, which to an average person sounds like mistakes. Even though because I'm a musician, I get off on it and like it and understand what they're doing. But they bombed, and I couldn't believe it.
GP:Any other revelations come to you on the road?
EVH: Yeah. I hate doing interviews, because they always fuck me over. They always write things that twist and bend what I say. Like Circus or Creem magazine, I do a phoner with them, and they go, "Oh, just off the record, what do you think of new wave?" And I'm such a stupid jerk, I'll tell 'em what I really think. I'll tell them, "They can't play for shit. They sound like like garage bands, but they have that feeling." And the next thing I know, I pick up the magazine, and they print it. I hate doing interviews. I just can't stand it. I just don't feel I have anything to say, because if I really say what I feel, they'll completely bend it and make me seem like I'm egoed out and that I'm God, you know.
I did an interview once with Circus magazine, and they asked me, "Who are your main influences?" I said, "Well, Clapton, you know, the usuals." And they said, "Oh, not Jimi Hendrix?" I go, "No, actually I didn't like Jimi Hendrix at all. He was too flash for me. I get off on the bluesy feeling that Clapton projected, even though I don't play like Clapton or sound like him at all." Which doesn't sound egoed out, because I don't sound like him. But when I read it back, they made it seem like, "I don't play like Clapton. I'm better than all of 'em." That's the way it read in print. So I called the guy up. I just go, "Hey, fuck you, man! That's the last time I'm doing an interview with you." Which I guess is bad to do too, but the fucked thing is the kids only know me through what they read. I feel like going door to door and going, "Hey, this is bullshit. Don't believe it." But the kids do. I ain't no extrovert. I'm a quiet person. That's probably why I do all these weird things on guitar.
GP: Jimi Hendrix was like that too.
EVH: Yeah. There's a lot of people who don't know me who hate me, because they think I'm some egoed-out motherfucker, but I'm not at all. That's just one thing that I never expected. Doing interviews - God! I remember once I did a radio interview in the beginning - and I'm not much of a talker, really - live on a Top-40 AM station. They're all motor mouths - like Dave's real good at it. You're excited when you're listening to him, but when you play the tape back, he actually didn't say anything, but it doesn't matter. It's just excitement. I can't do that. So here's Dave motor mouth getting the guy all jazzed up, and then he turns to me and goes, "I understand you and your brother are from Amsterdam, Holland." And I go, "Yeah." That was it! Big long pause. I just wasn't ready for a big long story. It's like I'm not an entertainer with my mouth, but everyone expects you to be. It's just like Mark Spitz, you know. He wins the Olympic gold medal for swimming, and then everybody thinks he's an actor, but he's not.
GP: Where is he now?
EVH: Exactly! They just exploited the hell out of him, and now he's nowhere.
GP: How do you keep them from exploiting you?
EVH: Don't talk to 'em. But then again, then they really think I'm egoed out. But they don't understand; it's just that I got nothing to say. Then if I don't talk to them, they get pissed and they hate me. Like playing the guitar, man, it's part of me. I just feel like saying, "Everything I got to say is in the notes." It really is. I project more feeling out of playing than I can with my mouth. I feel like I can never explain myself right. No one really understands what I'm trying to say, and then they just kind of use their own imagination to figure out what I'm trying to say, which is usually wrong.
GP: Are you happy with your career?
EVH: Oh, yeah. It's the same as it's always been. We do everything ourselves. We got rid of our first manager because he had a heavy ego problem. He wanted to be the big manager, in control of everything. We'd say, "Hey, don't do that. For better or worse, we want it our way," and he couldn't handle it. Went through a big lawsuit. It's just fucked. This is all stuff that I never imaged I'd get into. I just figured, "Hey, I can make my music - period." But I'm handling it. I've learned things you can't learn in any book or any school.
GP: But you've seemed to weather it well.
EVH: Yeah, doin' our best.
GP: This has been a nice conversation, Ed.
EVH: Thank you. Yeah. You know, I enjoy talkin' to people who understand what I'm saying. I rarely talk like this to anybody that I don't really know. The only other journalist I can think of who's a real nice guy is Steve Rosen. I can sit around and shoot the shit with him, but in the beginning when I first did an interview with him I was afraid. I'd get real uptight. I worry about the things I say. But now it's more like he's a friend too, and I can just say what I feel.
GP: How long are you on vacation for?
EVH: Well, actually it's not much of a vacation, because we run everything ourselves. We design our own album cover, we have to be in the office every day to sign checks - the whole corporation revolves around us. Nothing can be done without our approval. We even have photo approval.
GP: Do you get enough time to yourself?
EVH: As much as I can, because I am pretty much a loner. I just can't get along with people. They don't understand me. If I go to a party and I don't talk, it's not because I'm unsociable and I think I'm bitchin'. It's just that I'm quiet. I have nothing to say. I spend a lot of time alone, playing my guitar. It's just more satisfying. I get something out of it. I don't like to waste my time acting, because I'm no good at acting.
GP: Well, thanks for the interview.
EVH: You need anything else on guitars? See, I have a lot of advice, but I can't tell you over the phone. I'd have to have a guitar and show you. The important thing is it has to be matched - like that certain pickup will only sound good in that guitar. Take it out and put in another one, and it won't sound right.
GP: Hey, I hear you met my boss Don Menn the other day.
EVH: Yeah. He's a nice guy. So when are you gonna do a cover story on me?
GP: In 1980, I hope.
EVH: Yeah, that'd be great. Tell him you want to do a cover story on me. Shit, Best Rock guitarist, you know. And I see clowns on the cover.....
GP: You don't even have to say it.
EVH: That's what I don't understand. It seems like everyone hates my ass. Being on your cover would be like a dream come true for me. See, at our last interview [in 1978] I was nervous talking to you. But now I feel real comfortable talking to you. We'll be here in L.A. until the end of February.
Interview © 1979 Guitar Player Magazine
Article courtesy of Dennis O'Connor
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