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    Eddie Van Halen: The Complete 1979 Interview

    From Jas Obrecht Music Archive

    Eddie Van Halen: The Complete 1979 Interview

    To outsiders, Eddie Van Halen seemed to be sitting on top of the world in December 1979. The first two Van Halen albums had gone platinum, the band had just wrapped up a massive world tour, and heíd been widely proclaimed one of the best Ė if not the best Ė guitarist in rock and roll. But behind the scenes Eddie had rapidly discovered that fame had its price. He was irritated with manufacturers whoíd cloned his trademark guitar, with big-name players copping his techniques, and with journalists misrepresenting his words.

    A few days after recording the third Van Halen album, Women and Children First, Eddie called me at home to see how I was doing. When I mentioned I was working on a Guitar Player magazine article on do-it-yourself guitar kits, he volunteered to give me his insights into building guitars. Naturally, I accepted Ė after all, he was largely responsible for the trendís popularity. Two days later, on December 29, 1979, we had that conversation. Here, for the first time, is a complete transcript. Eddie offers a wealth of insight into his homemade guitars, as well as his feelings about some of the harder lessons heíd learned on and off the road.


    Hey, Eddie, how you doing?

    Oh, you know, feeling a bit zombied.

    Thatís the way I was last night.

    [Laughs heartily.]

    Iíd like to start by asking why did you start building your own guitar?

    See, actually I ruined a lot of old guitars. I just didnít like the fact of having the standard rock-star setup Ė you know, a brand-new Les Paul and a Marshall. I was really into vibrato. Like when we used to play the high school dances and shit, I bought myself a í58 Strat. But itís only guitar and bass and drums, musically, and the rest of the guys just looked at me and said, ďHey, that thing sounds like hell!Ē [Laughs.] You know, single-coil pickups, they sound real buzzy, thin. It wasnít enough sound to fill it up. So the reason I started dickiní 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 didnít get good enough tone because Fenders are kind of cheap wood Ė theyíre made out of alder or something. So then I found out about Charvel, but Iím suing them right now.

    Didnít they go out of business?

    No, no. Not at all. Itís actually my guitar design thatís keeping them in business. See, Wayne [Charvel] sold it to a guy named Grover Jackson, and Wayne was a real cool dude. When he owned it, I was considering endorsing it. And then this Grover Jackson dude took over, and heís just sold so many of them for like a grand apiece.

    Are these Eddie Van Halen model guitars?


    No kidding.

    No kidding! Itís not like I want the money. Itís like the reason I did that Ė I mean, it looks like a Strat, but it only has one pickup in it, one volume knob, no tone, no fancy garbage. Itís painted the way I like íem, and itís rear-loaded Ė you know, it doesnít have a pickguard. Iím not saying itís ďWow, the new guitar,Ē but it is a guitar that you could not at the time buy on the market. So he kind of exploited my idea, so Iím suing him. See, I feel kind of fucked doing that, but all I want him to do is to stop. I donít give a damn about the money. But the main reason I did that [built my own guitar] 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 Ė Christmas Eve Ė I went to the Whisky. A band called the Weasels was playing, and the lead guitarist had a guitar exactly like mine. I just donít understand how someone could walk onstage with my guitar, because it is my trademark. You know, when people see a freaked-out striped guitar like that, with one pickup and one volume knob, they obviously know itís mine.

    There goes your identity.

    Yeah. And also, him selling it and advertising, makes it seem to the fans that Iím selling myself. They donít know that Iím against it. They think that Iím out for the bucks. Thatís not it at all. So itís kind of a drag. Thereís another guy too . . . . See, Iíve rewound my own pickups before, and a guy named Seymour Duncan Ė you probably know him Ė I I got pissed at him too. He called me up and said, ďCan we use your name for a special pickup?Ē And I said no. Next time I pick up Guitar Player magazine, thereís a special Van Halen model customized Duncan pickup. So I called him up and said, ďWhat the hellís goiní on?Ē So he stopped, finally. Itís just kind of weird, you know.

    Youíre getting exploited.

    Yeah. Just say something like.

    Whereís a good place to go for guitar parts?

    Thereís 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. Heís a nice guy.

    How many guitars have you made now?

    Letís see. Two, three, four, five Ė about seven.

    And how many are part of your act?

    See, what I do mainly is I 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 them. You dip them in paraffin wax, which cuts out the high, obnoxious feedback. Itís kind of a tricky thing, because if you leave it in there too long, the pickup melts [laughs].

    You just heat up some paraffin at home and stick the pickup in it?

    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 it from vibrating. It still feeds back, but itís controllable. Itís like it feeds back when you want it. It doesnít cut out feedback totally; it just gets rid of that real high squeal, like a microphone feeding back.

    And you used a Gibson P.A.F. or a copy of one?

    A Gibson.

    Is that the guitar you had when I did the first [1978] Guitar Player story on you?


    Thatís not the one that had the chain in it.

    You mean the Ė what do you call those things?

    You had one that you cut with a chainsaw . . .

    Yeah, 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 theyíre made out of korrina wood, which is real rare, hard-to-work-with wood. Itís real light wood, but real toney. Ibanez stopped making them out of that wood, probably because itís too hard to work with. They started making them out of ash, and those are turkeys.

    Where did you go for the hardware for your Strat-style guitar?

    Well, it was actually the old í58 Strat. I took the vibrato tailpiece out Ė I guess thatís about it. Yeah, I took that out. Like new Fenders, the vibrato tailpiece isnít half as good as the original old ones. So I took that out of the í58 and went to Charvel and bought a heavier piece of wood. And I really like wide necks Ė you know, I hate skinny necks. I like them real wide, almost like a classical guitar. You know, theyíre flat and wide. Theyíre thin . . . I donít know how to explain it. I mean, theyíre real wide up and down, but thin the other way.

    So itís wide across the fingerboard, but itís a thin neck.

    Right, right.

    You got the neck at Charvel too?


    Was that a maple neck?

    Yeah. And also I donít like íem sprayed. I hate the lacquer shit.

    Do you put oil on it?

    No, nothiní. Just bare wood. Because I like to feel the wood, you know? I hate to slip and slide. You start sweatiní, and you canít stretch the strings.

    How long did it take to make your first guitar?

    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 didnít ruin would be worth a lot of money right now. I refret them myself. I do just about everything. By trial and error, Iím pretty good at it now. But Iíve ruined a lot of good stuff learning.

    Did you make a different guitar for your second album and tour?

    Yeah. Well, see, it was my idea to have it rear-loaded, so it wouldnít have a pickguard. Charvel routed it for me, because at the time I couldnít afford a router. So they claim that they built it for me, which is actually bullshit. You know, all they did was that did what I told them to do. Thatís the guitar on the second album cover.

    What kind of electronics went into that one?

    The pickup thatís on the picture is not really what I used. Itís like when we did the photo session for the album cover, Iíd just finished painting it and slapping it together, and I just stuck some garbage pickup in there I wasnít actually playing, just so it would look like a complete guitar. But Iíve tried a bunch of different pickups in there. I took the pickup out of the first one and put it in there, and it didnít sound too good. So what I did is I took a DiMarzio pickup Ė I donít really go for those, because theyíre real distorted. See, I like a clean sound, but with sustain. I hate the fuzz-box, real raspy sound. I donít particularly go for that.

    Itís old now.

    Yeah. DiMarzio pickups have real big magnets Ė thatís how they get their power Ė so what I did is I took a DiMarzio pickup and put the P.A.F. magnet in it and I rewound it, which took a long time.

    You did that by hand?

    Yeah. It took a long time to rewind that thing. Actually, I ruined about three pickups. By the fourth time, you know, it worked.

    Did you have an idea of how many windings you wanted?

    Uh, just by sight.

    Did you use fresh wire?

    Yeah. See, Iíve done something else too before Ė I put two Strat pickups together and added more windings to make a humbucking out of it.

    Did that work?

    Uh, it got kind of an interesting tone. It sounded like a heavy-duty Telecaster.

    Sharp edged?

    Actually, it was kind of bassy, but it didnít have the bite. It had kind of a unique sound, but it was not something that I could use.

    What other pickups did you try?

    Thatís about it. Iíd do anything to get an old P.A.F. Theyíre the best. They go for 100, 200 bucks apiece, but thatís what I use, thatís what I like. A lot of people donít like íem. See, with my setup, itís matched. Like if I play my guitar through someone elseís setup, it wonít sound right. And if I use someone elseís guitar through my setup, it wonít sound right.

    So what pickup did you finally end up putting in it?

    A DiMarzio with a P.A.F. magnet, rewound with copper tape around the windings.

    And then dipped in paraffin?

    Yeah. Well, I dipped it in paraffin before I put the copper tape on. But DiMarzio plastic is real cheap. I mean, you have to really be careful. It looks like a wrinkled prune, actually, but it still works [laughs]. Itís real cheap stuff. But old P.A.F.s, you can just throw them in there and let them soak it up. Doesnít matter how hot it gets Ė doesnít melt. But DiMarzios, God! If you blink, all of a sudden your pickupís ruined.

    So you dip the entire pickup and casing into wax?

    Yeah, the whole thing submerged in paraffin wax.

    How many pickups are on the second guitar?

    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, ďWhat the fuck, man. I better change it.Ē So what I did is I really went to town painting it all freaked out, and I put three pickups back in. But they didnít work Ė only the rear one worked. But I did it just 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, ďOh, man! Heís got something different again.Ē [Laughs.] Well, you know, I always like to turn the corner on people when they start latching on to what Iím doing. I never really imagined that people would do something like that. I just kind of fell into this whole business. Iím just a punk kid, trying to get a sound out of a guitar that I couldnít off the rack, so I built one myself, and now everyone else wants one.

    So youíve got to keep going for the individualistic stuff.


    So the first guitar now has three pickups, and the second one has one or two?


    Have you built any since then?

    Okay. I bought a couple of necks from Boogie Bodies, which I refretted with larger frets.

    Like Gibson Jumbos?

    I guess. Iím pretty sure theyíre Gibsons. I donít know. The way people do fret jobs, I hate. I do it real simple. I just sand it down with some 400 wet or dry Ė that dark stuff Ė and then I just use some steel wool. I like real rounded frets. I hate them flat, you know, like the old Les Paul Custom ďfretless wondersĒ or whatever you used to call them Ė I couldnít stand those, because the intonationís off. The more a fret comes to a peak, the more precise the intonation is. The more fret space you have that the string rests on, the harder it is for it to be right on. So what I do is I sand them and build them 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, because if they do them one by one, then how do you know theyíre all even? I donít know if itís a weird way of doing it, but I just do it a real simple, cheap way. But it works for me.

    Have you put any of these necks onto bodies yet?

    Oh, yeah. Okay, another thing. Thereís this guy named Floyd Rose. I have a vibrato setup that he makes, and I like it and I donít. It has its advantages and disadvantages. Like in the studio, I use a standard vibrato, a Fender. Iím used to it.

    The one off the í58?

    Yeah. Iím real used to it. People go, ďOh, wow, how do you keep it in tune?Ē Well, itís actually a totally different technique. I mean, 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 what you have to do before you hit a barre chord, you gotta stretch those strings back Ė a real quick little jerk, and itíll pop back right to where it was. But itís totally different than playing a Les Paul. A lot of kids, they go, ďHey, how do you keep it in tune?Ē and they pick up a guitar and just go crazy on that bar.

    It takes a lot of finesse.

    Itís just a totally different technique. That vibrato thing is actually like another instrument. Youíve got to know how to use it. You canít 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 had the exact same idea. He said, ďEd, why donít you do this Ė clamp it down here and there, and thereís no way it will go out of tune.Ē But I just kind of passed it off. I go, ďYeah, right.Ē Because I donít have a machine shop, I couldnít build it. So Floyd pursued it, and heís got a hot item. But it has disadvantages too, because I tune a lot while Iím playing. Iíll hit a chord and tune it while Iím playing. With this thing, you canít. You have to unclamp it and then tune it.

    Does the Floyd Rose keep the strings in tune as much as players claim?

    Okay. Itís hard to get in tune perfectly. Well, I mean, any guitar. A guitar is just theoretically built wrong. Each string is an interval of fourths, and then the B string is off. Theoretically, itís not right. Like if you tune an open-E chord in the first position and itís perfectly in tune, and then you hit a barre chord an octave higher, itís 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 Iím playing.

    How do you set up the intonation on your homemade guitar?Do you have to take it to somebody?

    No, I actually pretty much do it by ear. Itís not that hard. You just hit the Ė what do you call it?


    The [12th fret] harmonic and then hit the [open] note, and itís obvious if itís off. So you just have to have an ear for it. I got pretty good ears, I guess.

    Do you do for brass hardware?



    Because itís too brittle sounding. See, thatís the thing I was getting to also. I like the sound I get out of the normal old Fender tremolo. The only thing I donít like about the Floyd Rose thing Ė itís a great idea, you can go crazy with the bar Ė but I donít know what kind of metal he uses, but it sounds real brittle-bright. I have to do some heavy equalization to get a tone out of it. Thatís why I donít use it in the studio. Because in the studio, Ted [Templeman] really doesnít 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, ďOh, well. Fix it in the mix.Ē Thatís 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. I mean, how long does that take?

    You mentioned that you had 21 songs the last time you went into the studio for the second album. Did you use any of them for the third?


    All new ones?

    Yeah. You know, itís weird: I like to be excited too. I think youíll kind of trip off the next album. Itís hard rock.

    Any instrumentals?

    Let me see. [Pause.] Yeah, thereís a thing on there, a real weird vibrato noise. It actually sounds like an airplane starting. Dave wanted to call it ďTora ToraĒ [laughs]. I wanted to call it ďAct Like It Hurts.Ē We havenít decided. Itís kind of a trippy album. I like it. I think youíll have to listen to it a couple of times. Itís a little bit different than the past.

    You should be getting ready for a live album after this one.

    Well, I look at it this way: Our studio albums are like live albums. They are live! I donít 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. Itís called ďAnd the Cradle Will Rock.Ē 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!

    Iíve never heard of someone doing that.

    Wait ítil you hear it! I play it for people, and I have to tell them thatís a piano. And they go, ďWhat?!Ē It sounds real good. Itís real simple. You know, Iíve been trained on classical piano since I was six years old, but it doesnít show. [Laughs.] You know, itís nothing tasteful. I just picked the thing up and started banging on it. Wait ítil you hear this noise on it; itís tripped out!

    Did the piano go through any effects?

    Just my pedalboard, my cheap piece of plywood with my MXR garbage. You know, thatís funny too. Iíve met just about everybody that I grew up on, and they all laugh Ė you know, like Montrose and Nugent and all these people. Last year when weíd open for them, theyíd walk up to me and go, ďWhat is this shit?Ē You know, I got my little plywood with an MXR phase shifter duct-taped onto it. And then after the show they start trippiní. They go [in a quiet, respectful voice], ďWhoa! How do you get that sound?Ē I really think itís funny. I see Ronnie Montrose with his $4,000 studio rack with his digital delay and his harmonizer and everything else, and I swear to God, I canít tell heís usiní it. And then he laughed himself silly looking at my stuff. And then later on heís going, ďWhoa, how do you get that sound?Ē And Nugent, we opened three shows for him in Maryland, and the first day heís just kind of saying, ďYou little fucker, youĒ Ė but he meant it jokingly. And he laughed: ďWhat is this garbage pedalboard youíre using?Ē By the third day, he came to our soundcheck and asked me if he could play through my equipment. I just said, ďHey, Ted, you can play through it if you want, but itís not gonna sound the way it sounds when I play through it.Ē Because it really isnít the equipment. Itís in the fingers. Not to sound egoed-out, but it is.

    You use techniques they donít use.

    And Iíve 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 didnít like they way they sounded, but I had to. I just had to have something that would make it through the show. Then I lost them somewhere on an airplane, never got them back. And I started using Music Mans. I used Laneys. I used just about everything, and they all pretty much sounded the same, just because I play the same.

    What did you finally settle with?

    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.

    Like overdriving them with a Variac?

    Yeah. I donít even use fuses in my amps. See, okay, I use a combination of two different amps. Theyíre both Marshalls, but one of them is actually lower-powered and the other one is boosted. I use them together. Like one of them has this giant capacitor Ė I donít know what theyíre used for, but it takes off ten volts. It doesnít 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 wonít last that long doing that. So I put this capacitor in there, which lowers it down to about 100. I mean, a Marshall is under-rated. Theyíre actually like 150 watts, even though they say that theyíre a 100-watt amp. So I lower it about ten volts, and it lasts a little longer. I still have to retube them once a week.

    Do you lose many of them during shows?

    Uh, yeah. But I have so many of them. I use between twelve and fifteen.

    How many are switched on?

    Usually six at a time. Depends on the size of the place Iím playing. I mean, I can actually play so loud onstage that you wonít hear anything else. But I donít really like to do that. I like to get balanced sound. Actually, theyíre all on, and I have this footswitch where if one blows out, I just kick the switch and it changes to another one. Itís like a bypass switch. When you click it on, the other amp comes in. Itís simple, you know. Itís all basement stuff. I mean, everything we do, we do ourselves in the basement.

    Itís funny how far people will go trying to duplicate your sound.


    Going back to your guitars, have you built any new ones?

    Yeah, I was just getting to that. I had a mahogany body made by Boogie Bodies.


    Yeah. It fits me, because Iím small. It just feels good on me. I had it made like two-and-a-half inches thick, which is thicker than a Les Paul.

    For the sound?

    Yeah, because itís 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, ehh. Well, it works a little bit.

    What kind of hardware did you put in it?

    It has an old Gibson P.A.F. in it and just one volume knob.

    These are old Gibson P.A.F.ís?

    Oh, yeah.

    Did you use Schaller tuning heads?

    Yeah. Theyíre about the best kind, I guess.

    What other electronics are in it?

    Well, the wire from the pickup to the pot. Thatís it. Itís real simple. Thatís whatís so funny. I mean, everything I do is simple. Thatís why people trip, because everyone tries to do the cosmic trip Ė you know, like the more complicated, the better. ďLook at this guitar, man, itís got fifteen phase switches on it!Ē Who gives a fuck? I just use raw power.

    How much time do you spend putting them together?

    Iím pretty quick at it now. I donít know. I spend an hour or two.

    How do you finish them?

    Well, this one I havenít painted yet. I use Schwinn bicycle paint. Itís acrylic lacquer, like car paint. Itís good paint.

    Do you still tape it to get the stripes?

    Yeah. I love stripes.

    Are you building any other ones?

    No, not really. Iíve got so many guitars now I donít know which one to play. Thereís a guitar I want made, but I donít know who I want to have build it, see, because I love 335s. I mean, I can haul ass on those things. When I pick up a 335, you probably wouldnít even recognize my playing. Thereís no vibrato, and I just play totally different. Itís more jazzy, more fluid-fast. Kind of like Holdsworth. Thatís another reason I actually started using a vibrato, because I started playing so fast that it lacked . . . . It was just too much Ė daadaadiddily, daadaadiddily, like that. So what I do now is go, daadaadiddily, daadaadiddily, waaahh-waaah-waaah, daadaadiddily, daadaadiddily, waaahh-waaah. [Laughs.] You know, to break it up a little bit. Itís like a race car racing down the road, and then crashing every now and then. And with the bar, I really donít 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, thatís what I feel.

    Whatís the hardest part of building a guitar from scratch?

    Making the neck fit the body. Another problem with a Gibson pickup, or any humbucking-style pickup, is that the bridge on a Stratocaster is wider than a Gibson, so the strings donít line up with the pickup poles. Iíve tried slanting the pickup, the double-poled humbucking, so one of them would pick it up if the other one didnít. 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, whereas if it were straight, the high E and the low E would lose power.

    Which way do you tilt it?

    The bottom part to it is towards the bridge. To me, for the sound I like, itís 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 itís 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-like sound. So I move it up a little bit from the Strat sound to get a little beefier tone.

    Describe your ideal guitar.

    Pretty much what I have. Thatís the main thing that pissed me off about Charvel, because I spent 150 bucks building my own guitar. Well, maybe a little more because of the bicycle paint. 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 wet-sand it, spray it again. You have to do that about six times. The more coats you put on and wet-sand it, the more shiny, the more glossy it looks. Sometimes I just get fed up and go, ďWhat the hell. Who cares what it looks like?Ē The original guitar, which I repainted and put three pickups back in, I painted in about two hours.

    When you say it costs $150 to make one, are you just speaking about the wood?

    Yeah, and to buy the parts. It doesnít include the pickups. I have so many parts that I just kind of take something out of something else and put it in.

    Do you want me to find you a source for vintage P.A.F. pickups?

    Thatíd be great. See, another thing, if you do find them, Iíll give you the money and you buy it. If they know theyíre for me, theyíll jack up the price. Thereís a place called House of Guitars or something Ė this is when we were touring with Black Sabbath Ė and Tony Iommi goes in there. And they just racked up the price unbelievable. They figured, hey, rock star, heís got a lot of money. I was smart, and I had my roadie go in and get a price list. They didnít know that I knew the price list, so I walked in with it, and I go, ďHow much do you want for this?Ē And they quoted me a price a grand above what it said on the paper. I said, ďWait a minute, man, it says right here that itís . . . .Ē And they said, ďOh, oh, oh,Ē and tried to make excuses. I hate dealing with people like that. Thatís another reason why I build my own. I also did buy two old Les Pauls, just actually for an investment, because I donít play them.


    No. I bought a í59 Les Paul Standard, which is a beautiful guitar Ė I donít even want to tell you how much I paid for it. For the person who wants it, the price doesnít matter. Like other people will say, ďOh, what a fool. You got ripped off.Ē I spent ten grand on both of them, but theyíre beautiful guitars. I got them from a guy named Norman Harris. This stuff wasnít even in his shop; itís so nice, he was afraid to let any punk kid touch it. One has a beautiful flame maple top. Right now Iím trying to figure out where to keep them, because when we played the Forum Ė we ended our tour at the Forum Ė 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. Iíve seen everyone play there. It was a hell of an event for me, and then I come home and the back door is smashed in and all the records are gone.

    You should rent someplace where you can store things.

    Yeah. Itís such a drag. To tell you the truth, Iím not into the star bullshit at all.

    Gets old fast, doesnít it, Eddie?

    Yeah. I mean, a lot of people get off on it. They let their hair grow, buy a Les Paul and a Marshall, and be a rock and roll star. I donít even consider myself a rock star. I enjoy playing guitar, period.

    Theyíre working your band a lot.

    No, weíre working our band a lot. Thatís what we want. The only thing that sells us is our live show. Actually, everything we do is the complete reverse of other people. We applied all we ever knew, which was our live show. We never knew much about recording, overdubbing. Thatís why when we did our first album, I said, ďHey, Ted, Iíve never done overdubs.Ē Just the thought of playing to a machine, to me, would lose feel. So I said, ďCan I just play live?Ē You know, go for what you know. So I did, and Ted freaked out. Heís going, ďWhoa! It doesnít even need another guitar.Ē Because what we did was applied our live show, our live performance, to plastic, whereas people like Boston and Foreigner, they do it 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 itís obvious. With us, actually, thereís more mania and more feel and more excitement live, because thatís where itís based. Thatís where it comes from. I mean, thatís bottom line. The only thing that sells us is the live show. Itís not hype. I mean, weíre not new wave. They print more garbage about Elvis Costello and . . . you name it. You rarely see us.

    But musically, youíve got these people beat.

    Yeah, I guess. I donít 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!

    How many copies has it sold?

    Itís up to about four million now Ė between three and four.

    That album was in the charts for more than a year.

    It just popped backed in.

    When is your next one coming out?


    Thatís a good way to start the 1980s.

    Yeah. And the touring is what does it. Okay, like say with Boston, you know. Theyíre known for a song. Theyíre known through the radio. You know, kids drive down the street and they hear that song, and it registers. And then they go, ďOh, Boston. Yeah! I know that song. Letís go see them.Ē With us itís different. They come and see us, half the time not even knowing who we are, and then go, ďWhoa! I gotta buy the record.Ē 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.

    Do you make money on tours?

    Uh, we break even, because we put all our money into the sound system and lighting. We tour to sell the record.

    Will you be touring as much as you have been?

    Sure. This year will probably be the last ten-month world vacation. Itís the type of thing where I donít want to turn out like a Foghat Ė you can always see Foghat, that type of thing. Thereís got to be a little bit of mystique there. You gotta leave them wanting more. That was our whole philosophy last yearís tour. Like they were begging us to do another show at the Forum Ė we sold it 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. Theyíre just thinking bucks right now. Weíll lose money just to build, as opposed to taking the money and running, you know.

    Is your music changing?

    Yes and no. Itís hard for me to say. Listen to the new album and call me up and let me know what you think.

    How about with your playing? Are you learning new things on guitar all the time?

    Yeah. Like if I sit down and play by myself, I play completely different than I would when Iím playing with the band sometimes. Itís hard to explain, really. Itís like I love Allan Holdsworth, and I can play like that, but it doesnít fit to the music that weíre playing. I donít know Ė I donít know what Iím talking about. I just really go for feeling. All our albums have mistakes. Big deal! Weíre human. It reeks of feeling, you know, and to me thatís 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 wonít phase you. It goes in one ear and out the other, because itís 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.

    Itís ďIce Cream ManĒ when the electricity comes in.

    Yeah. Itís almost like youíre just waiting for us to blow it. Youíre sitting on the edge of your seat, just waiting for something to go wrong. But it doesnít, and thatís what creates that feel, that tension. Itís like winding something up and just waiting to see when itís gonna break. Itís just inner feelings coming out. Itís not conscious. Itís just the way I am.

    You sure have a legion of followers.

    Yeah, thatís a trip. You know, itís funny too. The things I do, like ďEruptionĒ and ďSpanish FlyĒ Ė I hate to say it, and itís 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, weíre sitting in the bar, and I said, ďHey, Rick. I grew up on your ass. How can you do this? I donít care if you use the technique Ė donít play my melody.Ē And heís drunk and stupid and going, ďYeah, yeah, yeah.Ē The next night he does my solo again, and he ends the set with ďYou Really Got Me,Ē which is exactly what we do. So I hate to say it, but I just told him, ďHey, if youíre going to continue doing that, you ainít opening for us.Ē So I kicked him off.

    Did he ever open for you again?

    No. But itís fucked, you know, because Iíve seen him plenty of times. Iíve even copied his chops way back when. You know, [Johnny Winterís] Still Alive and Well, stuff like that. And hereís a guy copping my stuff. Itís pretty weird. Tom Scholtz from Boston too. We played right before them Ė I forget where Ė 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, ďWhatís this guy doing?Ē I was drunk, and I got pissed. Tom Scholtz is a real dick. Heís unsociable. He just thinks heíd God or something. He never comes around; he doesnít say, ďHi.Ē He doesnít 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, ďHey. Tell him I think heís fucked!Ē I was real pissed, you know. Now Iím just ragginí [laughs].

    Who are the players you really admire now?

    Itís funny. Thereís 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, ďWho are you? Fuck off.Ē And it pissed me off. And to this day I remember that. And then just recently Rainbow played the Long Beach Arena. I went down there. This is right after I won Best Guitaristist [in the Guitar Player Readers Poll], which Iím real honored Ė makes me feel good. I went down there, in a way, with a vengeance, you know. I just felt like saying, ďHey, motherfucker, remember me? About three years ago, when you treated me like shit?Ē But I didnít. I just said hello, and he knew me, I guess just through records and radio, and he complimented me.

    Do you know of Randy Hansen, the Hendrix imitator?


    Randy opened for Ritchie Blackmore at the Oakland Auditorium, and Randy just kicked ass.

    Thatís what happened when I saw him!

    I ran across Blackmore, standing there watching him too, and he just looked pale. That night after the show Blackmore reportedly said that he refused to let Randy open for him. They had two more gigs, so their managers switched the bill, and Blackmore opened for Hansen.

    Yeah, thatís what happened when I saw them! Ritchie, I guess, was so afraid that heíd blow him away that Ritchie played before Randy. And then Randy came on, and they just fucked him over Ė you know, equipment problems, power failures. When I talked to Randy afterwards, man, I just didnít know how to make him feel better, because I know Randy pretty well. I just said, ďShit, man. The more people that hate you, the better you are.Ē

    Do you think so?

    Fuck yeah! The more musicians hate you Ė theyíre jealous! The more they hate you, the better off you are, because the better you are. I mean, no other musician is gonna hate another guitarist if youíre no good. Youíre no threat. But I donít 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 Reno, Iím sitting here tuning up, and all of a sudden [in a reverent voice], ďIs that Bill Bruford? Whoa!Ē All of a sudden I got the chills. I was freakiní out. All of sudden Allan Holdsworth walks in. Iím going, ďMy God! These guys are opening for us? These guys are veterans!Ē I mean, theyíve been through it. They played before us, and they bombed. People hated them. But Iím standing there with tears in my eyes, just getting off, trippiní. It was so good. But itís like theyíre artists Ė ďIím playing my art, and I donít care if you like it or notĒ Ė that type of thing, which I think is a real bad attitude. Music is for people. Itís not for yourself. If it is, sit in your room and play it. But if youíre gonna play it for people, you better play something that theyíre gonna want to hear, instead of walking up there and pretending like youíre so good and beyond your audience. Thatís what they were doing, playing all this off-beat stuff, which to an average person sounds like mistakes. Even though because Iím a musician, I get off on it and like it and understand what theyíre doing. But they bombed, and I couldnít believe it.

    Any other revelations come to you on the road?

    Yeah. I hate doing interviews, because they always fuck me over. They always write things, they twist and bend what I say. Like Circus or Creem magazine, I do a phoner with them, and they go, ďOh, just off the record, what do you think of new wave?Ē And Iím such a stupid jerk, Iíll tell them what I really think. Iíll tell them, ďThey canít play for shit. They sound like garage bands, but they have that feeling.Ē And the next thing I know, I pick up the magazine, and they print it. I hate doing interviews. I just canít stand it. I just donít feel I have anything to say, because if I really say what I feel, theyíll completely bend it and make me seem like I think Iím egoed out and that Iím God, you know. I did an interview once with Circus magazine, and they asked me, ďWho are your main influences?Ē I said, ďWell, Clapton, you know, the usuals.Ē And they said, ďOh, not Jimi Hendrix?Ē I go, ďNo, actually I didnít like Jimi Hendrix at all. He was too flash for me. I get off on the bluesy feeling that Clapton projected,Ē but then I said, ďeven though I donít play like Clapton or sound like him at all.Ē Which doesnít sound egoed out, because I donít sound like him. But when I read it back, they made it seem like, ďI donít play like Clapton. Iím better than all of them.Ē Thatís the way it read in print. So I called the guy up. I just go, ďHey, fuck you, man! Thatís the last time Iím doing an interview with you.Ē 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, ďHey, this is bullshit. Donít believe it.Ē But the kids do. I ainít no extrovert. Iím a quiet person. Thatís probably why I do all these weird things on guitar.

    Iíve heard that Jimi Hendrix was like that too.

    Yeah. Thereís a lot of people who donít know me who hate me, because they think Iím some egoed-out motherfucker, but Iím not at all. Thatís just one thing that I never expected. Doing interviews Ė God! I remember once I did a radio interview in the beginning Ė and Iím not much of a talker, really. It was live on a Top-40 AM station. Theyíre all motor mouths Ė like Daveís real good at it. Youíre excited when youíre listening to him, but when you play the tape back, he actually didnít say anything, but it doesnít matter. Itís just excitement. I canít do that. So hereís Dave motor mouth getting the guy all jazzed up, and then he turns to me and goes, ďI understand you and your brother are from Amsterdam, Holland.Ē And I go, ďYeah.Ē That was it! Big long pause. I just wasnít ready for a big long story: ďOh, yeah, we used to live there. Grew up there. We came over . . .Ē You know.

    The best interviews are when two people talk about something that matters to both of them.

    Yeah! Yeah. Itís like Iím not an entertainer with my mouth, but everyone expects you to be. Itís just like Mark Spitz, you know. He wins the Olympic gold medal for swimming, and then everybody thinks heís an actor, but heís not.

    Where is he now?

    Exactly! They just exploited the hell out of him, and now heís nowhere.

    How do you keep them from exploiting you?

    Donít talk to them. But then again, then they really think Iím egoed out. But they donít understand; itís just that I ainít got nothing to say. Then if I donít talk to them, they get pissed and they hate me. But itís not that; I just donít have anything to say. Like the guitar, man, itís part of me. I just feel like saying, ďHey, everything Iíve got to say is in notes.Ē 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 Iím trying to say, and then they just kind of use their own imagination to figure out what Iím trying to say, which is usually wrong.

    Are you happy with your career?

    Oh, yeah. Itís the same as itís 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. Weíd say, ďHey, donít do that. We want it done our way. For better or worse, we want it our way,Ē and he couldnít handle it. So we got rid of him and went through a big lawsuit. Itís just fucked. This is all stuff that I never imagined Iíd get into. I just figured, ďHey, I can make my music Ė period.Ē But Iím handling it.

    Youíve probably learned more in the last two years than you ever imagined you would.

    Oh, my God. You wouldnít believe it. Things you canít learn in any book or any school.

    But you guys have all weathered it well.

    Yeah, doiní our best, you know.

    This has been a nice conversation, Ed.

    Thank you. Yeah. I enjoy talkiní to people who understand what Iím saying. I rarely talk like this to anybody that I donít really know. The only other journalist I can think of whoís 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. Iíd get real uptight. I worry about the things I say. But Iíve gone to concerts with him, and now itís more like heís a friend too, and I can just say what I feel.

    So how long are you on vacation for?

    Well, actually itís 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 Ė the whole corporation or whatever revolves around us. Nothing can be done without our approval. We even have photo approval Ė thatís another thing that was a hassle and a half. People shooting our live shows, and us telling them, ďHey, we want to pick the shots and then give them back to you. And those are the ones you can send out.Ē People like Lynn Goldsmith and Fin Costello, a bunch of people, they go ďSure, yeah.Ē They figure we never read the magazines, we never see them. All of a sudden we see pictures that are pictures we wouldnít have wanted printed. So we call them up and go, ďHey, what the fuckís going on? I thought we agreed to let us approve them and just send out the ones we want.Ē So we donít deal with them anymore. It was just egos. People have ego problems. Sometimes I look at myself and I go, ďFuck, I donít have an ego at all,Ē

    The dangerous position youíre in is that you might be having a bad day or say something to somebody, and because of who you are, they may attribute all sorts of other things to it.


    Everybody needs to get away. Do you get enough time to yourself?

    As much as I can, because I am pretty much a loner. I just canít get along with people. They donít understand me. If I go to a party and I donít talk, itís not because Iím unsociable and I think Iím bitchiní. Itís just that Iím quiet. I have nothing to say. I spend a lot of time alone, playing my guitar. Itís just more satisfying. I get something out of it. Itís just a feeling. I donít like to waste my time acting, because Iím no good at acting.

    Well, Eddie, thanks for the interview.

    You need anything else on guitars? See, I have a lot of advice, but I canít tell you over the phone. Iíd have to have a guitar and show you. The important thing is it has to be matched Ė like that certain pickup will only sound good in that guitar. Take it out and put in another one, and it wonít sound right.

    Hey, I hear you met my editor Don Menn the other day.

    Yeah. Heís a nice guy. So when are you gonna do a cover story on me?

    In 1980, I hope.

    Yeah, thatíd be great. Tell him you want to do a cover story.

    I did one with Pat Travers that comes out next week.

    How come I donít get one?

    Our original plan was to have Pat on the inside and Kenny Burrell on the cover, but things with Kenny got complicated.

    So do one on me.

    I want to.

    Shit, Best Rock Guitarist, you know. And I see clowns on the cover who . . . .

    You donít even have to say it.

    Thatís what I donít 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, and Iíd love to do an interview with you. Weíll be here in L.A. until the end of February.


    Eddie did get his cover. Sixteen days after the above interview took place, we met at Neil Zlozowerís photo studio in Hollywood and did a five-hour interview. A small portion of this conversation ran as Guitar Playerís April 1980 cover story, but most of it has never been transcribed.
    For high-quality prints of his early Eddie Van Halen photos, contact Jon Sievert at or visit his photo gallery at Humble Press .

    Donations to help maintain this Archive are appreciated.

    © 2012 Jas Obrecht. All rights reserved. This interview may not be reposted or reprinted without the authorís permission.
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