EVH’s New Sound: Have We Heard It Before?

February 12, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More

MTV awards, 1996...when it started to go bad (again).

Edward Van Halen has a new guitar and a new amp – new in the sense that they haven’t been recorded yet. Not sure if it’s a rumor, but conventional wisdom is that Van Halen will at least record a new album this year. Hopefully civil behavior and sobriety will win the day, and they can deal with the crappy economics of albums these days.

Assuming there will be new music, with DLR, what sound will Ed have? In the Dave era of VH it was of course the infamous “brown sound.” For the Sammy era Ed made a huge change, to lots of gain and lots of Eventide Harmonizer (that wide/fat chorus-like sound) – a totally different tone that, while less organic, was still great and which Ed managed to still be very articulate with (not easy).

Now he has a guitar with a pickup that goes from clean to seriously dirty with a turn of the volume knob, and a three-channel amp that basically looks like this: channel 1 is clean to AC/DC, channel 2 is Dave-era VH-sounding, and channel 3 is very gainy like Sammy-era VH.

On the 2007-08 tour, it was tough to tell exactly what Ed’s live tone was because it was so loud, but it sounded mid-heavy – honky, nasally. Some have speculated that’s because the new gear is no good or Ed’s ears are shot…I don’t buy either. The gear is good, and Ed’s ears just can’t be questioned at this point. So many stories around of how his ears can detect things like foam in pickup cavities, different types of speaker cabinet construction, etc.

It’s Ed, for cryin’ out loud! The guy can hear things dogs can only dream about.

Bearing in mind that 1996 was the last time VH came out with new music (not including VH III, which was 1998) – yes, that long ago! – what tone will we get on Van Halen IV? Channel 2? Channel 3? Both? Or maybe it will be somewhere in the middle….

If so, we might have heard that before. Remember “Me Wise Magic,” one of two new tunes with Roth on 1996’s Best of Volume I (the other being “Can’t Get This Stuff No More”)? Just a great tune, one of my favorites. To me, the guitar in that tune sounds sort of midway between the Dave and Sammy tones – leaning more to Sammy, but not as gainy, not as wide (Harmonizer). Certainly not as woody as classic Dave, though.

What was Ed using? Here’s what he told Guitar World in 1996 that he used for both of the new Dave tracks:

“The meat and the beef of the sound is the 5150. On ‘Me Wise Magic’ I’m using the prototype Peavey with the Steinberger tremolo.” [This is the TransTrem, which keeps the guitar in tune when the bar is used, thus enabling key transposition.]

The Peavey Wolfgang made its debut in 1996. Some people have commented that Ed used a Fernandes Sustainer (provides unlimited sustain, in place of the neck pickup) in this tune, but if so I’m only hearing it on overdubs. Years ago I figured out “Me Wise Magic” and never felt like I needed a Sustainer to play it (you can also fake it without the TransTrem).

One of EVH's guitars with TransTrem (left) and Sustainer (right) – VintageKramer.com photos.

Two of EVH's Peavey Wolfgangs, one with TransTrem (left) and one with Sustainer (right) – VintageKramer.com photos.

The 5150 in 1991 was the original 5150: the 5150 II, which some have said sounds a little less gainy and more Marshall-like in the upper-mids, didn’t come out until 2001.

So again, Ed was using the original 5150 – sounds good! Give it a listen:

Dang – I love that tune!

Btw, “Can’t Get This Stuff” (below) also has that less-gainy tone.

More on ‘MWM’ and DLR

From the same Guitar World interview:

“Dave happened to call me around the same time Sammy quit because Warner Bros. notified him that Greatest Hits was going to come out, and he had a few questions about the packaging and other details like that. I told him, “Dave, I really don’t know yet. I’ll call you mid-week and let you know.” We were on the phone for about 45 minutes, and we apologized for things we had said back in high school – even junior high. It was probably one of the best conversations I’ve ever had with him. Especially since, as long as I’ve known him, we were never really friends. But band-wise, it just seemed to work. A few days later, instead of us calling David with the information on the CD. I decided to drive over to his house.

“We just had a great time bullshi**ing as friends. We hung out for about three hours and smoked some cigars. It was only about two weeks later, when I realized that the only new track that we had for the Greatest Hits was ‘Humans Being,’ that I came up with the crazy idea of having Dave sing on a couple of new songs. We thought about it for a couple of days and said, ‘Yeah, why the f*ck not?’ So I called up Dave and said, ‘Would you be interested?’ And he said, ‘Sure, I’m not doing anything.’

“I was very clear that he was not in the band – that it was just a project. What I wanted to do was write five new songs and pick two out of those five. We had a bit of difficult time because we wrote a song for him that he didn’t particularly care for. It wasn’t up his alley. So we got past that and [producer] Glen Ballard and I sat down with Dave, and I okayed with him all this new material I had.

“Eventually we narrowed it down to this pop song, ‘Me Wise Magic,’ and a shuffle, ‘Can’t Get This Stuff No More,’ with a ‘Panama’ sort of groove.

‘Me Wise Magic’…I nicknamed it ‘The Three Faces of Shamus’ because there’s that first low part, the high part and then the chorus. All three have completely different vibes going on. At first [Dave] wasn’t into that one at all. A week later, I was still playing him songs when finally he said, ‘What about the first one?’ So, finally, he came around….

“During the process, Dave and I were really becoming good friends. In my heart I really wanted to believe that he had changed a bit. We worked and we worked and he actually thanked me for hanging in there with him. It was a struggle to find anything that would inspire him and that he could connect to. Finally we came up with the other song, and Glen suggested the title and its premise. Dave came up with the lyrics, and it worked. Dave said, ‘Thanks, because anyone else would have probably thrown up their arms and said f*ck it.’ And I said, ‘Well, you’re a trooper, however long it takes and whatever. It’s all about making it a good song. There’s no time frame here – it doesn’t have to be done tomorrow. I just wanted to find something you liked, and I’m glad I found one.'”

Category: Edward Van Halen, Peavey

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