1980 EVH Interview Highlights, Pt 1

May 12, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More

EVH_GPMag_cover_8004Edward Van Halen’s tone has been dissected, obsessed over and pursued to the ends of the tonal universe maybe more than any other single guitarist’s. That’s no surprise because the man is the Beethoven (gifted substance-abusing composer of the popular music of the time), Paganini (virtuoso) and [some other classical reference having to do with tweaking instruments] of our time.

But like anything that gets obsessed over – especially in this Internet age – after a while it becomes pretty much impossible to separate fact from fiction, even if you’re hearing or reading it from the horse’s mouth. Did Ed mislead, lie, fudge, omit or simply tell the truth? Can anyone really know for sure?

With that in mind, here’s just some of the legendary April 1980 cover story from Guitar Player magazine – it’s what Ed actually said at the time. The interview “was conducted while Woman and Children First was in its final mixing stage,” GP wrote in the intro. The intro also said the conversation was SEVEN HOURS – where the F is the rest of that tape?!

Anyhow, here are the most interesting parts. I’m going to highlight the stuff I think sometimes gets forgotten and is just as important as the better-known/remembered “macro” stuff about Frankie, etc.


GP: What made you decide to build your own guitars?

EVH: A Les Paul to me was just the cliched guitar, the rock and roll guitar. I liked the sound, but it didn’t fit my body. I’d have to wear it too high to be able to stretch as I do, and it looks funky. So I wanted to get that type of sound, but with tremolo. And Bigsbys have got to be the worst. So I bought a ‘58 Strat years ago when we played high school dances, and Dave and Al just turned and started throwing sticks at me! They said, “Don’t use that guitar — it sounds too thin!” You know, single-coil pickups. They had a real buzzy, thin sound unless I used a fuzz box, and that’s even worse [he did not like anything other than amp distortion]. So I sold that and then two years later I bought a router and dumped a Gibson PAF pickup into a ‘61 Strat. It got very close. All of a sudden the band said, “That’s okay, It doesn’t sound like a Strat anymore.” Then I heard that a company called Charvel made exact duplicates of Fender guitars, but out of nicer wood.

Is this where you got the wood for your first homemade guitar?

Yeah, this very first one was the black-and-white striped one on the first album. I went to Charvel and had them rout a body out for just one pickup and one volume knob. I had to cut my own pickguard to cover everything up because it was originally a three-pickup Strat body. I used the vibrato tailpiece from a ‘58 Strat for that guitar [he recorded with that non-Floyd Rose guitar through Fair Warning]. I also had Charvel make me a really wide neck. I hate skinny necks. I like it bare wood because I hate to slip and slide when I start stretching strings. Now at the same time, I built what I call my shark guitar, which is actually one of the first Ibanez Destroyers [shaped like Gibson Explorer] made out of korina wood [not really]. I made the mistake of taking a chainsaw to it and putting a bunch of weird stuff on it.

Did it lose some tone?

It lost the tonality I want….

Did you make another guitar for your second album?

I made the yellow-and-black Strat. It has an ash body by Charvel. It was my idea to have it rear-loaded so I wouldn’t have to have a pickguard, and Charvel routed it for me. The pickup that’s on the photo is not really what I use — I had just finished slapping it together and painting it when they shot the album cover, and just stuck some garbage pickup in it to look like a complete guitar. Then I took the pickup out of my first guitar and stuck it in there, but it didn’t sound too good. I don’t really go for DiMarzio pickups because they’re real distorted. I like a clean sound with sustain — I hate the fuzz box, real raspy sound. So I put a PAF magnet in a DiMarzio pickup and rewound it by hand, which took a long lime. I actually ruined about three pickups, and by the fourth time it worked. I didn’t count the windings — I just did it by sight.

What are the most difficult aspects of building your own guitar?

Making the neck fit the body. Another problem is that the strings on a Stratocaster are spaced differently than a Gibson’s: If you use a humbucking pickup, the strings don’t line up with the pickup holes. So I’ve tried slanting the pickup so the high E string will be picked up by a front pole and the low E will be picked up by a rear pole. For the sound I like, it is also important to get the space between the bridge and pickup right [very important for an early Ed sound!]. I do it almost like Les Paul. If I put it too far towards the neck I get the Grand Funk and Johnny Winter tone, and if I put it too close to the bridge I get a real trebley Strat sound. So I move it up towards the neck a little bit from the Strat sound to get a beefier tone.

Have you any special methods of refretting necks?

Yeah, I hate the way people refret necks. I do it real simple: I sand them down with some 400 wet-or-dry sandpaper and then use some steel wool. I hate flat frets because the more space you have for the string to rest on, the more room you have for the intonation to be off. I like big frets height-wise, but I make them come to a peak. From a side view, one of my frets would look like the tip of a pick. It doesn’t come to a complete point, but it would be rounded as opposed to flat. Another thing is that you have to put them in from the side rather than from above, and a lot of people take them straight out and rip the wood. I toured the factory and saw how they did it and said, “No wonder I ruined so many fenders by pulling them straight out!”

– End of Part 1 (of 3) –

Fund Drive

Since everyone doesn’t read every post, appending posts with this for a bit. C’mon fellas!

Doing a “keep the lights on and do more cool sh*t” fund drive. If you dig and look forward to WoodyTone, and find the info fun and valuable, pleasedonate! Options for a one-time $20 or $10 below. Gracias!

$20 one-time

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Category: Edward Van Halen, Humbuckers, Ibanez, Strat

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  1. WoodyTone! - More on the DiMarzio Super Distortion | February 24, 2011
  1. Ventanaman says:

    I love old articles about EVH gear. However, EVH's comment about how he "loves wide necks" is amusing given the narrow neck profile of hist 1st signature guitar from Music Man.

    Keep up the great work – I love this blog!

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