The Initial Eruption: Eddie's Gear - Circa 1978
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    Talking The Initial Eruption: Eddie's Gear - Circa 1978

    "The Initial Eruption: Eddie's Gear"
    By: Jas Obrecht (Circa 1978)

    It's kind of humbling to hear a guitar whiz like Eddie Van Halen talking about the guitars he used to put together piece by piece before he became one of the most endorsed artists in the biz. But what's especially refreshing is to hear the obvious love and ego-free enthusiasm he had for his instrument back then and retains even today. Then and now, Van Halen could make a guitar passage burst and crackle like a sky full of fireworks, but even when he's chosen to play hundreds of notes-per-minute, he's never resorted to the kind of sonic masturbation that many of his shredding peers have thrived on. Here's Eddie in 1978 talking about what he loves best. Tell us about your guitar.

    EVH: My guitar? Which one? I got like three of them that are kind of tripped out. The first one is a copy of a Strat. It's not a Fender. It's by a company called Charvel. You know, I bought a body from them for 50 bucks and a neck for 80 bucks, slapped it together, put an old Gibson pickup in it, and it's my main guitar. Painted it up, you know, with stripes and stuff. I guess that's my thing. Did it come with frets?

    EVH: Well, I usually do all that stuff myself. I put my own frets in, just large Gibson ones. What are the electronics?

    EVH: One volume knob and one pickup, that's all there is to it. No fancy tone knobs over here! I see so many people that have these space-age guitars, you know, with all the phase switches and equalizers in their guitar and treble boosters. When we were in Japan, some company wanted me to endorse their stuff. They gave me this guitar that's got like 20 knobs on it; I couldn't figure out how to work the thing! (Laughs). I said, "Shit, give me mine. One knob." That's all it is. It's simple and it sounds cool. What about your other guitars?

    EVH: Okay, the other one is just an Ibanez which I slightly rearranged with a saw. It's the one I use on "You Really Got Me." I just cut a piece out of it, painted it up. It's kind of like a cross between a [Flying] V and an Explorer. It's tripped out. My other one I just put together over the couple days we had off. Yesterday I went down to Charvel. They gave me a body, and I slapped a Danelectro neck on it, put an old Gibson pickup on it. How long have you had your main, striped Strat?

    EVH: A couple years. Before that I used to have an old gold-top Les Paul. I painted it up and ruined it. (Laughs). Nobody taught me how to do guitar work. I learned by trial and error, and I fucked up a lot of good guitars that way. But now I know what I'm doing, so I can do whatever I want with guitars to get them the way I want them, because I hate store-bought, off-the-rack guitars. They don't do what I want them to do. Which is?

    EVH: Which is fuckin' kick ass and scream! Like the vibrato setup -- you gotta know how to set the thing up so it won't go out of tune, which took me a long time to get down. I mean, no one ever told me. I used to talk to other guitarists who half-assed had it down, and they wouldn't let me know how to do it. But I figured it out, and I just play the fuck out of that thing now, and it won't go out of tune. What kind of guitar did you start on?

    EVH: Teisco Del Rey -- four pickups in a row. Cost 70, 80 bucks. What kinds of effects do you use?

    EVH: I use two Echoplexes. I use a flanger, just for little subtle touches. I don't use it for any intros or anything, just notes here and there, like maybe I'll hit a low note and hit the switch, just for little effects. And I use a phase shifter, an MXR Phase 90. It doesn't really phase; it just kind of gives you treble boost, which I like. Cuts through for solos. That's about it. I use a Univox echo box, and I had a different motor put in it so it will go real low and delay much slower. Like on the record, on "Eruption," on the end of my solo, all that noise, that's a Univox echo box, which I put in the bomb. And the rest of your gear?

    EVH: Ah, I'll tell ya, man, the stuff I used onstage today isn't really my setup. See, we toured Japan, and on the way back over, all my good shit got ripped off. Got lost in air freight by [shouts into microphone] Pan Am, ya fuckers! No, really. Some of it got lost, didn't get put on the same plane, whatever. I used to have four very old Marshalls, about '65, and I had a guy named Jose [Arredondo], who's in the San Fernando Valley somewhere, beef 'em up. He put bigger transformers in 'em. There's a thing called bias in an amp, and you crank it all the way up and it really makes the tubes hot. I use [the amps] with these other things, which are called voltage generators, like a Variac. It's a big box with a knob on it that controls voltage. Plug your amp into it, and it goes all the way from zero volts to like 140. The amp's only supposed to take 100 volts, but you crank the thing above that like to 130, 140 volts, and the tubes really glow. So ya gotta keep a fan on it. Those amps used to blow like every other gig, and you have to re-tube them every other day, but they crank! They sound like nothing else to me, because they're so overdriven. They usually don't work for more than ten hours of playing, maybe even less, because every other gig they blow out. It fries, you know. I had four good amps that I used to use all the time, but I don't have them any more. What do you have now?

    EVH: What I basically have is three different setups, three complete setups. I have three 100-watt tops of whatever make right now I'm using Music Man, a couple of Laney amps, which are English, and a couple of new Marshalls. I'm just using everything right now because I lost those old amps. But I use three 100-watt amps for the main set what I call it, and then I do my guitar solo, and after that I change guitars and amps to setup number two. Setup number three is also again three amps, for backup. So you have each guitar . . .

    EVH: Plugged into a different setup. So if something is wrong with the first one, all I do is grab another guitar, and it's completely different amps. So I don't have to worry about trying to fix the setup that I was using. I got so many different heads. I just gotta patch 'em all together and hope it sounds cool. It's working out pretty good. And I use the same style guitar. I use one pickup in the back and the vibrato. That's the sound I'm into right now. Who knows what will happen on the next record.

    Interview © 1978
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