A Look at EVH’s 1st Interview, Part 2

June 30, 2010 | By | 5 Replies More
Fingers flyin' in '78!

Fingers flyin' in '78!

What did Edward Van Halen really say about his early tone? Did he really mean it? What can we read into it? Following is the remainder of the tone-related excerpts from the November 1978 Guitar Player interview (part 1 is here). Commentary by yours truly.

The Whammy

> Remember he’s talking about a vintage-style (6-screw) Fender bridge.

“Nobody taught me how to do guitar work: I learned by trial and error. I have messed up a lot of good guitars that way, but now I know what I’m doing, and I can do whatever I want to get them the way I want them. I hate store-bought, off-the-rack guitars. They don’t do what I want them to do, which is kick ass and scream. Take the vibrato setup, for example. You have to know how to set it up so it won’t go out of tune, which took me a long time to get down. It has a lot to do with the way you play it – you can’t bring it down and not bring it up. Some people just hit the bar and let go – you have to bring it back right. Sometimes you’ll stretch a note too far with your fingering hand, and it’ll go flat. Here you have to pull the bar up to get it back to normal.

“I’ve also found that gauged set of strings will work better than one you make up. Like, I used to use heavier bottom strings with light top strings, and it didn’t work very well. I also buy a different spring from Fender for my vibrato – one that’s a little looser – and this makes a big difference. You also have to watch out for the little string retainers Fender uses because sometimes the strings can get caught in them and go out of tune.”

> Looser springs = more in tune trem. Isn’t this a trick Jeff Beck employs?

> Ed knew his gear backwards and forwards. No doubt.


Onstage, Eddie uses an Univox echo unit that is concealed in a World War II practice bomb. “I had a different motor put in it,” he says, “so it would delay much slower and go really low. I use this for ‘Eruption.’ I also use two Echoplexes and a flanger for subtle touches. And I use an MXR Phase 90 phase shifter that gives me treble boost for solos, too.”

> Bang! “Treble boost for solos” – MXR phasers didn’t come stock that way. He got his modded.

The Variac

“I use voltage generators, which can crank my amps up to 130 or 140 volts. Amps sound like nothing else to me when they are cranked so high, but you have got to keep a fan on them because they blow so often. You have to retube them every day, and they usually don’t work for more than ten hours of playing.”

> This is a tough one. By now, many people have proven – some from watching Ed in private situations – that he turns the voltage down using the Variac, which decreases volume and “browns” the sound. Ed is also supposedly a master of misdirection when it comes to his gear, as are many of his peers. But Ed also said that for the Fair Warning sessions he turned up his variac to 140 volts (if I remember right) and “watched the tubes melt” or something like that. Since doing this would be very bad for the amp, most people feel like he was full of it. But in light of the ’78 interview, maybe not – because he admits that turning the Variac up so much kills the amps. Also bear in mind that Ed was blowing output transformers left and right on the VHI tour, so…maybe he really was turning the Variac up?

> Messing with a Variac, especially turning it UP, supposedly is dangerous for you and your amp. So don’t try it.


> This is a cool story. Starting at about 2:24, Jas Obrecht tells the story about how he came to interview EVH for that 11/78 GP issue. Pat Travers blew him off and he got stuck with Edward Van Halen – but there’s more to it than that.

– End of part 2 of 2 –

Category: Edward Van Halen, MXR

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  1. Derek says:

    Once again, Jay…simply amazing work chasing down details on EVH's sound and gear. The interview with Jas Obrecht was a great one, as well. It is funny that he mentioned being blown off by a "third-tier musician" named Pat Travers. I have heard more people talk about unsatisfactory run-ins with Pat Travers than almost any other musician. Weird!

  2. SHG says:

    > Bang! “Treble boost for solos” – MXR phasers didn’t come stock that way. He got his modded.

    No, MXR phasers DID come that way straight from the factory. The old script-logo Phase 90 had a noticeably treble-boosted EQ curve. The later block-logo Phase 90 was much smoother by comparison (I've owned both types).

    This is why the EVH MXR Phase 90 has a toggle switch – it goes from the old script-logo treble-boosted circuit to the block-logo smooth circuit so you can have whichever you want. See:

  3. James says:

    I think what Ed refers to is the effect the Phase 90 can give when it’s used like Ed used it – on a pretty slow sweep, when the phasing reaches the top end of its frequency range it does give a pronounced boost in treble, just as when the phasing goes back to the lower end of its frequency range the sound becomes more muffled and darker – the treble boost effect comes from the phasing.

  4. KhrissBliss says:

    Curious! I forgot about his buying looser tremolo springs- maybe that’s why his dives are dramatically slow. I thought (mistakenly) that the Jeff Beck tremolo trick (which he wouldn’t tell Randy Rhoads) was what you see in that Zloz outdoor fest photo that best shows the back of his Frankie /B&W days- the outer springs are moved inward one notch which BOOSTS the tension.
    BTW, when I used this photo (that reveals the back of the guitar) to make a B&W Frankie for my friend’s birthday, I discovered another ever-so-minor EVH factoid: most of the B&W Frank was masked with ONE piece of electrical width tape- it starts at the top horn & does both sides around 6-7 times. (the thin lines ARE tape added later.)

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