You Can/Can’t Sound Like EVH

August 10, 2010 | By | Reply More
Al Estrada ripping it up in tribute.

Al Estrada ripping it up in tribute.

The latest of the perennial debates about Edward Van Halen’s early tone/rig, the post You Too Can Sound Like Angus and this AmpGAS! post got me thinking: Can anyone with decent chops – say, “Running With the Devil,” “You Really Got Me,” “Dance the Night Away,” maybe “Everybody Wants Some” and “Unchained” – get close to sounding “like” EVH?

John Suhr, who recently offered up some KILLER info on EVH’s mythical Super Lead (here and here), also had this to say about playing through that amp on an enormous thread:

“If the amp was ever modified in the preamp section [for more gain] it would be very obvious especially to me. I was looking for this with dentist glasses since I too had a hard time believing it [was largely unmodified] until Ed played it.

“When I got to wind it up in private, I cried in my beer since it seems Ed must have taken the magic tube out of the amp and swapped it with a 12AY7 [preamp tube] since with my playing it sound more like Billy Gibbons – EVH tone was nowhere in the picture.

“Also remember you need to Variac to get that last little bit of crunch. That is when the power section will lose headroom, but Ed sounded great either way. Remember too that he didn’t remember [effects] what he had in front of it. Even an Echoplex is going to add gain [going into the front of the amp].”

Remember that he’s saying that after playing through THE amp.

Al Estrada’s Rig

Here’s another bit ‘o crumpet…er, info…to throw in this particular pot. Have you heard of Al Estrada? If not, you might have run across him on YouTube by virtue of his spot-on Ed-mimicking performances. If not, here’s Al live this past April:

Awesome, eh? Not just the playing, but the TONE. Woody!

Luckily Al knows exactly what he used to get the tone, and was helped by John Suhr. Here’s what he used in the above vid:

> Suhr EVH replica guitar, Shure wireless
> Tonefreak Buff Puff (switched off, used as buffer only)
> MXR Flanger reissue
> MXR ’70s script logo Phase 90 [this is the order Ed used his effects: guitar > flanger > phaser….]
> Line 6 Echo Park (used for ‘Cathedral’ only)
> Maestro EP3 Echoplex run into a looper for clean bypass
> Boss GE-10 EQ [Ed might have only used these live, but a killer EQ, no longer made]
> Boss NS2 Noise Suppressor
> Marshall plexi reissue [100w], Variac set anywhere between 75 [wow!] and 90 volts
> THD Hot Plate attenuator, set down 2 notches (8 db reduction)
> 16 ohm 4×12 cab loaded with Celestion Greenbacks [25w each]

It might be tough to comprehend in this age of effects loops, but yes, all of that stuff is BEFORE the amp – all of which adds gain, per John Suhr’s comment above.

Al added this about the amp/variac attenuator setup:

> “This is John’s SL [Suhr-modded Marshall Super Lead] in the video. Everything is dimed except Bass at noon, Variac down anywhere between 80-90 volts. Only the upper right [amp] input is used – the other inputs on this amp are disengaged internally.”

> In terms of any issues from using a Variac and attenuator together: “No problem at all as long as the ohms are matched between the head and cab…. The Variac alone does bring down the volume quite a bit but not enough for sound men, apparently. I find that the Hot Plate doesn’t change the tone much if only taken down a notch or two. If I need more attenuation than that I would slave into another amp” [meaning run the Super Lead into another head or power amp, which would then control the volume going to the speakers].

If you need a visual representation of Al’s rig, here it is:

My 2c

My take on all this is probably the same as yours: If your chops aren’t up to it, you can play Ed riffs through a Metro Amp ’68 Marshall replica and sound like crap. Or maybe “good crap” because the amp sounds killer!

It’s not as easy as channeling Angus. Ed’s style, rhythm, attack, note choice and all the rest of it are such a unique package that even one wrong note – with everything else right – will make the whole thing sound “wrong.”

But if you have decent chops and the right equipment, you can sound like Ed. Or at least Al Estrada (that’s meant as a huge compliment to Al!).


> Al’s websites are and

> Reach John Suhr here.

> Just in case you’re wondering how Van Halen got its first record deal, here’s a documentary on it:

Category: Al Estrada, Boss/Roland, Echoplex, Edward Van Halen, Marshall, MXR, Suhr

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