Isolated Solo Track Below!
I really didn’t want to do a Michael Jackson-related post because I hate being around a herd, but here I am doing it. Why? Because it encapsulates all the reasons why a) it’s nearly impossible to know for sure what Eddie Van Halen used on any song on any album and b) most of your tone is in your hands.
I’m also writing this MJ-related post because in the course of ducking MJ-related info-bombardments, I learned something: that Steve “Luke” Lukather played the riff on “Beat It.” To me, that riff guitar tone is really similar to the solo guitar tone so I figured Ed did the whole thing, even though it’s a little stiff-sounding for him. I was wrong – and I guess I’m late to that party. If you are too, here’s some proof:
From a Modern Guitars magazine interview with Luke:
Question: Obviously, you don’t get enough credit for Michael Jackson’s Thriller album.
Steve: You know, it’s funny, I played everything on “Beat It” except the guitar solo, but no one ever mentions my name. Eddie just did a take and on the fly. But he was Eddie, you know?
Also, someone on the Ernie Ball forum claims that Luke told him he played bass on that track as well.
But back to the main question: What gear did Ed use on Beat It? And, a possibly related question, where was his solo recorded?
Everyone assumes Eddie went to wherever Thriller was being recorded, hauled a Marshall head and cab there, cranked up and did his thing. Maybe, maybe not.
At one point Luke said a little about the recording of Beat It, which has now made its way all over the Web: “Quincy Jones and Michael took a skeleton version of ‘Beat It’ up to Eddie Van Halen’s place as they wanted him to solo over the verse section. However, he played over a section that had more chord changes. So to fit his solo to where it went in the song, they had to cut the tape which took a lot of time to synchronize together. After they had managed this, Jeff Porcaro and me were called in to bind Eddie’s solo and some haphazard percussion which was a major headache….”
So did Ed solo over the changes at his 5150 studio or somewhere else of his choosing, or did he go to the Thriller studio? The answer is probably the Thriller studio because that would make most sense – and 5150 wasn’t completed until 1983.
And if that is true, Ed would’ve had to bring an amp with him or borrow one. That’s where it gets fuzzy, like just about everything gear-wise related to EVH.
The only place I could find on the web where there had been a serious discussion of what amp was used for Beat It – one of the best-known guitar solos ever – was, no surprise, at the MetroAmp.com forum, ground zero for serious Ed-heads. Here’s a short version of the most-relevant thread:
> It was Marshall (not his) and an Echoplex EP-3……thats it. EP-3 = subtle but effective overdrive/boost pedal [not used for echo].
> The recent book “Everybody Wants Some, the Van Halen Saga” says Ed used a “hot-rodded Hartley Thompson amp borrowed from Allan Holdsworth” [for Beat It]. This is backed up by Pete Hartley’s son here (see the comments at the bottom of the page).
> The Hartley Thompson is an obscure, British-made solid-state amplifier, and one person noted: “Allan Holdsworth was the only one with that amp in LA at the time of the Thriller recording in 1982 and he was playing with Ed at the same time.”
> But then this is mentioned in a different thread: “Well, to add more mystery to what has already been mentioned, I have an article in one of my old guitar rags where Eddie said that the amp used on MJ’s Beat It was rented. We all know how factual Eddie can be [sarcastic!], but it is in an interview where he specifically said that the amp was rented for the session. There was also speculation that he used a distortion box as well.”
And there you have it. One solo, a few people there watching and listening to just Ed and his guitar – and no definitive confirmation on the amp used. This again proves that: a) if it’s that hard to pin down Ed’s equipment for just one solo, think about how difficult it is to do it for multiple songs and multiple albums!
And b), that old guitar-players’ saw is true: It’s all in the hands. Whatever Ed happened to be playing through on that track, you only have to hear about a second of audio to know it’s him.
Here’s the isolated audio of the solo, posted by someone on the MetroAmp forum but not named in case that would get this person in trouble! Very cool to hear. Only bummer is that awesome pick slide at the end gets cropped off a bit.
Here’s what Quincy Jones said about the impetus for Beat It, quoted on several websites: According to Jones, “I said at the time, ‘I need a song like ‘My Sharona’…. A black version of a strong rock and roll thing, with the power of everything else [Jackson wrote]. And [Jackson] hit it right on the head.”
So I guess Michael wrote the tune?