I am now writing this section to emphasise that Eddie did not just customise his guitar and amp setup, he also used a variety of different methods to create his sound. So let’s take a look at some of the different methods he used to create his sound:
Eddie was not just about playing the guitar, he also revolutionised the way it was played.
Photo courtesy https://davedevine.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/eddie_vanhalen.jpg
Tapping was not, contrary to popular opinion, invented by Eddie though he certainly made it a popular technique on the guitar. Tapping involves the pressing down, and prompt releasing of, a string on the fret by the right hand, rather than just simply plucking a string to generate a sound on the guitar. This means that an extra note can be played for generation of sound. It is particularly useful for solos.
What this means is that as part of tapping, one can use a wider variety of notes than normal to create sounds on the guitar. Eddie described the use of his tapping technique below:
“I think I got the idea of tapping watching Jimmy Page do his ‘Heartbreaker’ solo back in 1971. He was doing a pull-off to an open string, and I thought, Wait a minute, open string…pull off. I can do that, but what if I use my finger as the nut and move it around? I just kind of took it and ran with it.”1
Eddie Van Halen’s use of tapping was not original, but very revolutionary in rock.
Picture courtesy http://www.dolphinmusic.co.uk/shop_image/uploads/Image/eddievanhalen_tapping.jpg
Tremolo picking is used by Eddie quite frequently in his playing, particularly in his live solo piece. Although this is by no means an original technique, Eddie does tremolo picking by holding the plectrum between his thumb and middle finger, instead of his thumb and index finger.
There are three types of primary harmonics that are used: Natural Harmonics; Artificial Harmonics and Pinched Harmonics. These three different types of harmonics require specialised position of either hand while playing in order to create specialised sounds from the electric guitar. Natural Harmonics and Pinched Harmonics are fairly straightforward, whereas Artificial Harmonics are not so much. These three must be mastered in order to recreate the sounds that Eddie makes.
There are also hammer-ons, an easy technique to do on guitar. These and pull-offs are beginners style skills. It involves banging the fingers repeatedly on the strings to achieve the desired sound.
Two Handed Tapping:
Two handed tapping is a more advanced skill that requires the player in question to have already achieved basic tapping skills. Yet, once this has been achieved, two handed tapping can deliver a wider range of sounds that one handed tapping cannot.
Ed used a number of effects throughout his career, namely MXR effects in the early days. Although as the writer I often do not recommend websites alone, this website is a good place to get started on Eddie’s effects:
http://www.legendarytones.com/brownsound.html or alternatively you can look at this website as well http://valleywebs.com/van-halen/Effects.html
Tremolo Bar Techniques:
The tremolo bar is an incredibly useful and versatile addition to the guitar. From scoops to dive bombs, you will definitely need a tremolo bar to experience the most out of Ed’s style of playing. There are a huge variety of techniques that you can use on the tremolo bar.
It is absolutely essential that you have a guitar with a tremolo arm on it in order to complete the sound of Van Halen.
Picture courtesy http://www.musicgearreview.com/dbpix/whammy.jpg
These are but a few common examples of what Eddie used in his guitar playing to make it more interesting. I strongly suggest you check out the Lick Library DVDs, they have the best tips and tricks that Eddie used. This is available on YouTube, as well as many other videos on there which can help you along the way. But if you are really serious about this, you ought to take a trip down to your local music store, or shop online, for DVDs or reading material which can improve your knowledge and skill of Ed’s material. This is key to playing and sounding like Eddie Van Halen himself.
This DVD series is quintessential for those following the Van Halen sound.
Picture courtesy http://www.guitarsite.com/news/images/other/VanHalenDVD4.jpg
A lot of people forget that EVH practiced like mad. This is a key fundamental point of playing like Eddie Van Halen. And by practice, it means all your possible spare time that you can obtain. Eddie practiced in-between school and his job on the paper route roughly 8-12 hours a day before even starting a band properly! This means that you have to be a dedicated student and be able to learn the guitar as much as possible. If needs be, seek out a guitar teacher to help you further. Famous guitarists (although not Ed) such as Kirk Hammett benefited greatly from having formal guitar lessons.