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.
> 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.
“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 –
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