It is somewhat known that Eddie Van Halen’s first guitar that he purchased was actually a Teisco Del Ray that he purchased for $110 from Sears courtesy of his job on the paper route1. He is quoted in an interview as stating that he purchased that particular guitar as he said “I used to think the more pickups, the better!”2 which he found appealing at the time. Eddie chose to play the guitar after his brother Alex played his drum set as he was out on his paper route and eventually topped him in terms of skill. Eddie eventually picked up his brother’s guitar and began playing it after this occurred, shortly buying his first guitar afterwards.
Eddie Van Halen with his first purchased guitar from Sears in 1967
Early on in his days as a guitarist he quickly became a fan of Cream, and more specifically, guitarist Eric Clapton. It is noted that Eric Clapton favoured the classic Gibson Les Paul guitar, strangely enough out of production at the time3, being replaced by what would eventually become the modern day Gibson SG. He sought out a Les Paul that some blues artists had been using, and played it on the well-known and critically acclaimed John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton album with a Marshall amplifier. He later joined Cream.
The cover of the highly influential John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton with Eric second from left.
Eddie is quoted as saying: “Clapton was it. I knew every note he played.”4 Indeed Eddie is a huge Eric Clapton fan!
So a knowledge of the sound Ed was pursuing began from day one came originally from his records that he loved. He loved the sound of Eric Clapton’s guitar playing and practiced constantly in order to achieve the sound that he wanted. But still, it wasn’t enough.
Now, before I rush into any complete history of Van Halen, I must cover the Les Paul and what it is. You can pick up a firsthand USA Gibson Les Paul for around $3 000 US for the 2014 model. Now given that, it is an excellent guitar (and no, I am not biased) and is a good way to start with following that classic Van Halen sound.
But what exactly can I do in terms of an amplifier? You may be asking that question yourself. Well in the early days of Van Halen Eddie used Marshall Amplifiers, so let’s take a look at those.
Marshall Amps are the way to go for the early Van Halen sound.
Marshall Amplifiers were famously designed the way that they were because of the involvement of Pete Townshend of The Who. He was looking in the early 1960s for a brand of amplifier that was louder and heavier than the typical Fender or Vox A30 amps of the time. Discussions were held between Townshend and Jim Marshall, and the rest is history as they say. But to be clearer about the history of the amps, other guitarists were searching for the Marshall sound at the time. So although Pete’s contribution is not to be underestimated to the Marshall sound, he was not the only one in assisting the amps to become one of the largest international brands of amplifiers today. Many Marshall Amps are sold at various sizes and prices, but spending around $500US or more on a basic amp should do the trick.
Remember, this is a lot of money to invest. It is NOT for people who do not take the guitar or the music of Van Halen seriously!
In any case, if you were to look at the basic very early Van Halen set up, then a reasonable Gibson Les Paul Standard and a basic (but not too basic) Marshall amplifier will do the trick. Once again however, I must stress that you will need to play like Ed as well as use the setup to complete the sound. It is noted that Eddie in the early days of Van Halen, before constructing the legendary Frankenstrat Eddie had three main guitars at his disposal: Gibson Les Paul; Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson ES-335. All three he experimented with before building the first Frankenstrat guitar.
A Gibson Les Paul and a decent sized Marshall amp should get you the ‘classic’ rock sound, much like what Eddie was looking for very early on.
Photo courtesy http://www.pinterest.com/pin/348677196121529437/
The following is a list of the materials that the modern day Gibson Les Paul is made of, according to the official Gibson website:
Adhesive: Franklin Titebond 50
Silkscreen: Gold “Gibson” & “Les Paul Model”
Truss Rod Cover: Black Bell Hot Stamp White “ETune”
Neck position: Rhythm Burstbucker Pro (Alnico #5)
Profile: ‘60s SlimTaper™
Truss Rod: Standard
Joint Angle: 5⁰ (+/- 15 seconds)
Adhesive: Franklin Titebond 50
Joint: Mortise and Tenon
Adhesive: Franklin Titebond 50
Joint Angle Tolerance: +/- .005”
Min-ETune with Vintage Keys
Potentiometers: 2 Push/Pull Volume Controls, 2 Push/Pull Tone Controls
Type: 500K Non-Linear
Toggle Switch: Three-way Switchcraft with Black Plastic Tip
Output jacks: 1/4” mono
Frets: Cryogenically Frozen, 22
Inlays: Figured Acrylic Trapezoid with 120th Banner
Type: Stop Bar
Material: Black TekToid™
Slots: Gibson PLEK System
Knobs: Black Supreme Grip Speed Knob
Control Plate: Black
Trim Rings: Black
Strap buttons: Aluminium
An alternative is the Gibson Les Paul Axcess, which has a Floyd Rose tremolo built into it. But it is a little pricier, around $4000US. But still worth your while if you feel up to purchasing one. Eddie has always been a fan of the Floyd Rose tremolo, and is worth seeking if you are on a budget.
The Gibson Les Paul Axcess is another modern day alternative to consider.
Another thing to add is that the Gibson Les Paul has gone through some significant changes over the years, and if you are really going after the classic rock sound, you may need to seek out an early 1970s model of Gibson Les Paul, which is much more difficult to find and may cost a lot more. Eddie stated in a more recent interview that he used a Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, just like what Eric Clapton used. Just remember that it is highly unlikely that Eddie used it ever on any recording. But it is essential to explore this wonderful guitar to gain a deeper understanding of what Eddie was exploring at the time.
In any case, I hope that I have provided enough information for you to get started.
Enjoy! 🙂 \m/\m/
Remember, you will still need to play like Ed as well as use the equipment that he used in order to sound like him.
- EVH Gear Official Website. 2014. http://www.evhgear.com/en-AU/media/timeline/
- McCulley, Jerry. 2008. The Early Years of Van Halen: A Paper Route, a High School Essay and a Couple of Lucky Breaks. http://www2.gibson.com/News-Lifestyle/Features/en-us/The-Early-Years-of-Van-Halen_.aspx
- Cross, Dan. Gibson Les Paul Standard Profile – History of the Les Paul Standard. http://guitar.about.com/od/gibson/ss/Gibson-Les-Paul-Standard-Profile_2.htm
- Van Halen News Desk. 2012. Van Halen on Clapton. http://www.vhnd.com/2010/02/12/van-halen-on-clapton/
- Gibson Official Website. http://www2.gibson.com/Products/Electric-Guitars/2014/Les-Paul-Standard.aspx