I have to say up front that Van Halen’s 5150 is one of my least-favorite VH albums. Naturally the songs and playing are good (truth be told I’m more of a Dave-era fan), but I’m not a huge fan of the buzzy guitar tone and the electronic drums. The VH brothers lost so much wood on that album!
So for those reasons, I never was motivated to sit down and really learn any tune form that album – at least that I can remember. But my son the drummer (for now) wanted to jam the tune “Summer Nights,” maybe because it was as hot as a fox in a forest fire (Skynyrd reference) this weekend. So I sat down with the tune and figured it out enough to satisfy his urge to jam and my picky ears. Not exact – not sure I’ve ever gotten a VH tune exact – but okay.
Here’s what I realized/figured out:
1. That tune is played on a Steinberger with the TransTrem, the bridge that transposes the entire guitar up and down in tune. Cool toy, I’m sure, but since it was just me and the Les Paul I had to figure out the intro in whatever version of A440 +/- EVH was using that day. Could it be done? Yep. It all happens in what I’ll call in my uneducated way the 1st- and 3rd-fret bar chord positions.
2. The verse riff is cool! In fact, the whole tune is cool. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it’s always a treat to see what Ed throws into his tunes.
3. The tone is…achievable. Ed’s playing his small-bodied (I presume) Steinberger – which sounds less woody than his other guitars – through what I believed was a Soldano SLO-100. BUT it looks like the SLOs didn’t hit the street until 1987, and the 5150 album came out in 1986. So what was he using? Google was no help. Anyone?
Anyhow, here’s what you can use to get close to that buzzy tone:
> Any pickup + Soldano SLO-100 (or any Soldano) + any cab.
> Any pickup + Peavey 5150 + any cab.
> Any pickup + any good fuzz/OD/distortion box + Marshall-style amp + any cab. This combo is tough to beat for Ed’s 5150-style tones. The Marshall has more balls at lower volume, and a good stompbox can put you into that territory.
If you want to get fancier, throw in pristine chorus reminiscent of an Eventide Harmonizer.
Ed’s tone always has a good amount of mids, usually pronounced upper-mids like Marshalls, and lots of “clear” distortion – meaning no mud. He also plays and sounds very articulate even with all that distortion, and his riffs reflect that. So having all that buzz won’t help and can actually hurt unless you can nail the notes and the feel.
Here’s the tune from the Live Without a Net DVD. The tune is faster than the album version, but the tone is very similar.
Here’s a 1989 version with the tone a bit (just a bit) cleaner.
Category: Edward Van Halen