We all “know” what Edward Van Halen used on the first six records, right? Frankie (mostly), a variety of bridge-position humbuckers, mostly MXR effects plus a few others here and there, his magical 100w Super Lead with Sylvania 6CA7s, 4×12 cabs with Greenbacks (mostly), a Variac.
That’s the base tone for sure. But as much of a tinkerer EVH was, I’m sure we’re ignorant about a lot. Maybe a ton. Here’s one thing that may run counter to years of conventional EVH wisdom. More on the way….
Ed used and liked single coils. He liked a Les Pauls and Les Paul Juniors with P-90s, but likely replaced them with humbuckers for “buzz” reasons.
He liked Strats too, but his bandmates weren’t a fan of the thin sound single-coils got (thus Frankie was born). Ed also used Strats in the studio (“Women in Love” intro, possibly “Bottoms Up,” “Hear About it Later”).
And for a time he appears to have had the Frankie neck single-coil wired up to the humbucker. Yep, it worked.
Don’t know if the following video conclusively proves the latter point, but to me you can clearly hear what sounds like TWO single-coils on this clip, like in one of a Strat’s two “inbetween” settings.
I know the amp was 100w, could’ve been set clean or sounding clean or whatever, but a humbucker alone driving a clean amp doesn’t sound like that. And even if one of the Frankie humbucker coils wasn’t delivering the goods, one coil alone doesn’t sound like that either.
The Secret Switch
If you heard what I heard in the above clip, you may be asking yourself, why is Ed playing a whole song with that tone?
Who knows. Maybe he liked that tone that day or that week. But here’s another theory: Maybe he didn’t know that’s what his tone sounded like.
How is that possible? Because it was live and stupidly loud, and because he had a secret switch on his guitar that switched between humbucker-only and hum+single-coil.
This “secret switch” possibility was first noticed by Ed-tone guru Rockstah on the metroamp forum a couple years ago. Listen to and watch the following video at 4:45.
You see Ed manipulate something and hear an audible click. The video Rockstah first linked to is no longer up but was zoomed in closer, and Ed made a face when he clicked whatever it was that was like, Holy crap, did everyone hear that?!
It may be worth noting that Ed was just coming out of a part of his solo where he wanted a cleaner tone.
Also worth noting is that photos from the era (above two vids are from ’82 Largo, MD show) seem to clearly show that the red neck-position single-coil was hooked up.
That photo is from another metroamp forum thread, and it’s worth noting that people in that thread then tried the humbucker + neck single combo and loved it.
I’ve also done this, with a George Lynch-like setup (humbucker at bridge, single at neck) and a 3-position switch. With the humbucker and single coil on together, the tone is fatter and clearer than just the humbucker alone. It sounds really good, but is noiser thanks to the single-coil.
Note that I did not get that inbetween Strat sound like Ed does above.
Try it, you may dig it. I’m itching to try it again….
Category: Edward Van Halen