The one and only Edward Van Halen was roundly criticized for his tone on the most recent VH tour. (Everyone’s a critic on the interweb!) I was at two shows on that tour, one in New Jersey (sounded bad), one in Madison Square Garden (sounded good). Neither guitar tone sounded particularly warm, but then again, there was a heck of a lot of volume involved.
Then there are the YouTube clips, which “clearly” do not demonstrate much woody tone. “Clearly” is in quotes because YouTube clips, especially of guitar tones at immense volumes, are basically awful. Or at least don’t tell you much.
But we’ll all listen anyway, and what you can clearly hear in the clip below is a cocked wah, which you can also see Ed step on. To my ears it makes for a nasally tone – in the clips and when I was there. Some have said that’s because Ed’s hearing is so shot that he’s cranking the treble to hear it. Me, I’m not so sure. No way I’m going to second-guess this guy’s ears or tone-chasing instincts.
(Caution: Dave says the F word in the intra-Panama banter.)
Anyhow, I’ve never looked into what he was using on that tour – or actually tours, because the band (really Ed) took a break about halfway through – and I wasn’t real curious…but I should’ve been.
Why? Two reasons:
1) This is Ed with the golden ears, and everything he does he does for a reason.
2) This might (MIGHT) give us a sense of where he’s heading for the VH IV album.
But as I said, I wasn’t curious until I found a couple pics of his ’08 rack on flickr (how, I can’t remember). From there I found a thread on hugeracksinc.com with info from LA amp guru Dave Friedman, who is THE man now when it comes to EVH tone – meaning he works on Ed’s stuff!
Here we go. Everything in italics is from Dave Friedman.
The head goes to a dry center cab. A line out is taken off the head speaker line and feeds a Lexicon PCM70. The PCM splits to stereo and on either side he has a Roland SDE-3000 delay for stereo echo then to a H&H V800 power amp. The power amp powers two more cabs and there are switches on the board for the PCM70 and the SDE-3000 delays. The PCM70 is used for Cathedral and the 3000s do the stereo echo around 250ms and 500ms with a few repeats.
5150 III heads and cabinets are stock. Look closely and you’ll see there’s a complete duplicate/back-up rig in this rack.
All pedals are true bypass loops except the wah.
On the MXR Chorus: It is just there for a couple of songs like “Pretty Woman.”
Someone asked: Dave, if you don’t mind me asking, since his pedals are in bypass loops anyway, why not get all of that stuff – pedals, power supplies, etc. – offstage and use a smaller and less-cumbersome pedalboard? The answer is so he could reach down and twist a knob if he wanted to. Dave said:
Yes on [twisting] the knobs…that is the way he wanted it, so that is what I did. The thing with him is you have to listen to him. No matter how backwards it sounds, there is always a reason and he is generally right.
More from Dave
> No midi in the rack – the pedals are in true bypass loops.
> Then [the signal] hits a BS2 balanced to the rack. Yes he runs through the rack effects [delays]. Those units sound great, almost better running through them. The PCM is only used for “Cathedral” and maybe to get a lot of delay in some solo spots. The 3000s do the stereo echo around 250ms and 500ms with a few repeats. The BS2 buffer is able to balance the signal to the rack and then at the rack it is converted to unbalanced to go to the head. This makes for a noise free 100-foot [cable?] run with no losses.
> In the rack it is two SDE 3000s, one PCM 70 and a Dunlop Smart Gate not used any more.
> On the SDEs: No new processor sounds like all the great old ones. Audio is just crap now. It amazes me how an 8-bit unit can sound so much better [than the current higher-tech stuff]. Also these [older] units are so much easier to use – no menu pages no cryptic manuals.
> He got rid of all harmonizers in 2004.
That’s it – except let’s not forget that new guitar he was playing too (EVH Wolfgang). Wonder what that did to the tone.