Tag Archives: Effects

The Early Van Halen Amp Setup

To understand more about the early Van Halen sound, one must examine the amp and effects setup that Eddie Van Halen used, not just his guitar and playing style.

Eddie is a technical genius when it comes to production of sound.

Picture courtesy http://www.flickriver.com/groups/584497@N21/pool/interesting/

It is well known that Edward had a stock Marshall amplifier in the early days, although there is much confusion over the exact type and modifications of the said amp. The primary amp that Eddie used was a stock of many that he owned mid to late 1960s Marshall Superlead amplifier in the transition stage where Marshall amplifiers changed their build1. It is noted as well since Ed liked to put his amps on full blast, he used an Ohmite Variac to lower the voltage and change the sound.

There are Marshall Superlead reissues out there, check them out online, eBay is a good place to start as Marshall do not sell them on their website.

Picture courtesy http://www.pinterest.com/pin/187180928237410760/

Another trick that Eddie used was to use a dummy load box system through the amp. Essentially this would place the effects and other additional sound modifications more directly through the amp, and adjusting the reproduction of sound effects as a result. This made the effects less noisy, and sounding more realistic as a result in terms of sound production. Eddie also used a couple of sixties style basket weave cabinets along with his main Superlead amplifier. This was probably to modify and contain the sound emitted from his amp. When it came to effects pedals, Ed used a fairly basic setup. He was known to use the MXR effects pedals for basic effects2 (including a MXR Flanger and Phase 90 pedal). He also used on Eruption a standard Echoplex tape delay system to achieve that sound at the end of “Eruption” on Van Halen I. His pedalboard would grow and change over the years.

The EVH Gear website does sell some interesting pedals, amongst other things, if you cannot follow the original setup.

Picture courtesy http://www.highprofilemedia.com/oldnews.html

By the way, Eddie never uses a distortion pedal, preferring instead to use the in-built distortion in the amplifier itself3. This is just a basic early setup of Eddie Van Halen’s gear. Here is a link to assist you in achieving that classic Van Halen early setup and sound: http://www.rig-talk.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=43828 This is a link to an online forum where a more in-depth analysis of Ed’s early setup for the first Van Halen album is.

The true appreciation of Eddie’s genius is not just found in his music, but also in his equipment.

Picture courtesy http://www.harmonycentral.com/forum/forum/LivePerformanceCategory/acapella-54/409280-

Additionally, below is a diagram of Eddie Van Halen’s early amp setup. The basis of his setup was fairly stock, although was slightly modified over the years. Please see the diagram below for a basic reconstruction of the setup EVH used for the main part of his career.

This is a perfectly good reconstruction of how Eddie Van Halen set up his amp rig to play with on-stage, or in the studio.

Picture courtesy http://www.legendarytones.com/edward-van-halen-brown-sound/

According to Legendary Tones where this diagram originated from, there is a several step process for linking Ed’s guitar to the end chain of the output of sound:

  1. MXR Midboost (used only occasionally, depending on which guitar Ed used)
  2. Marshall Superlead (late 1960s), as mentioned before, with some modifications possibly in place, although mostly stock otherwise.
  3. Ohmite Variac as mentioned before, yet set at different levels, depending upon studio/stage requirements, mostly around 89 Volts. DO NOT under any circumstances, set the voltage higher than normal, as this will damage the amplifier and possibly be dangerous to the user.
  4. Dummy load box used to deal with effects and output more easily.
  5. MXR Flanger.
  6. MXR Phase 90, sometimes Ed used this on stage, rather than linking it into the signal chain. This was totally dependent upon what song or sort of performance Ed was doing at the time.
  7. Echoplex EP3.
  8. Occasionally Eddie would add an EQ box, dependent once again, on the sound and need for the output.
  9. H & H Power Amp. Please note that Eddie did initially not use this until the early 1980s. It was designed to shape the signal before reaching the speaker output.
  10. Marshall, JBL and later on, Celestion speakers used for the end output of the signal.

This is a rough guide to the amp setup Eddie Van Halen used in the early days. Of course, Ed loved the sound of his Marshall amplifier, which is present on all the early David Lee Roth albums. It is a fantastic sound and is very audibly recognizable and simple to setup.


  1. http://www.legendarytones.com/brownsound.html
  2. http://www.angelfire.com/ri2/bob2/evh.html
  3. http://equipboard.com/pros/eddie-van-halen

Eddie Van Halen Guitar Techniques and Early Sound

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:

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.


  1. http://www.guitarworld.com/van_halen_vh1