The earliest interview we have of Edward Van Halen is the one Jas Obrecht did that ran in the July (and then November) 1978 issue of Guitar Player magazine. But we weren’t reading everything Jas had on tape because just like with any print interview, what’s published is cropped way down.
At the time no one could’ve known – except maybe George Lynch and a legion of SoCal EVH followers – how important Ed and his tone would be to guitardom…and thus how much “forensic” study would be done over the decades on Ed’s signal chain.
That study, never formal, has resulted in a lot of good info, but also a lot of doubt, rumor and just plain bad (incorrect) info. If you’re an EVH fan, you know all that, so done with the background.
Recently Jas published the entire transcript of that EVH interview – and all EVH fans owe him a beer for doing so. Are any holy grail tone tidbits in it? Nope. But there is some info that confirms some of the deets that’ve been squeezed out over the years, and also sheds some new light on a couple things. So buckle your safety straps, here’s the “new” stuff. Note that Qs/As are not in order they appear in the interview to group like items together.
Jas: Your main guitar with the Charvel body and neck – you have one pickup in it?
EVH: Yeah, just one. It’s a rewound P.A.F., an original old Gibson pickup. I had the coil rewound to my specifications.
Do you modify your Pauls?
No. Just the pickups. They’re P.A.F.s also, rewound.
You really like those P.A.F.s.
Oh, yeah! Like on the record [VH I], I like the way they sound. They really sound different. They’re not stock, though. Like this one right here. I just bought that gold-top because it’s got two original ones in it, but they don’t sound quite right, so I gotta get ’em rewound.
What we learned:
> Ed was using rewound – meaning overwound – pickups (plural) in 1978. No doubt. And has since then.
What kind of equipment and effects do you use?
Ah, I’ll tell ya, man, the stuff I used onstage today isn’t really my setup. See, we toured Japan, and on the way back over, all my good sh*t got ripped off. Got lost in air freight – by [shouts into microphone] Pan Am, ya f*ckers! No, really. Some of it got lost – didn’t get put on the same plane, whatever.
I used to have four very old Marshalls – like ’65 – and I had a guy named Jose, who’s in the San Fernando Valley somewhere, beef ’em up. He put bigger transformers in ’em. There’s a thing called bias in an amp, and you crank it all the way up and it really makes the tubes hot.
I use these other things, which are called voltage generators – like a Variac? It’s a big box with a knob on it that controls voltage. Plug your amp into it, and it goes all the way from zero volts to like 140. The amp’s only supposed to take 100 volts, but you crank the thing above that like to 130, 140 volts, and the tubes really glow. So ya gotta keep a fan on ’em.
Those amps used to blow like every other gig, and you have to retube them every other day, but they crank! They sound like nothing else to me, because they’re so overdriven. They usually don’t work for more than 10 hours of playing – maybe even less, because usually every other gig they blow out. They drop like flies, you know.
What we learned:
> Hmmm. Even though EVH said (as did others who know/knew him) that the Variac set at 90-ish is the way to go for VH tone, and this setting has been tried and tested legit, here he’s saying the opposite…same thing he said he did for Fair Warning. Both times he said the tubes melted, which no doubt they do. Questions: Would EVH try this? Absolutely. Would anyone risk electrocution and ruining an amp just to possibly sound like VH I and Fair Warning for 10 hours? Not recommended, but….
Current Live Amps
What kind of a stage setup do you use for your amp tops?
I’ve been through everything. [Laughs.] I used to have some old Marshalls that were pretty nice-sounding, but I lost those. So now I’ve got some new Marshalls. I have these English amps that are called Laneys. These are 100-watt and they’re very similar to a Marshall. I use Music Mans.
What else do I have? I can’t even remember – I’ve got so many different heads! I just got to patch them all together and hope it sounds cool. It’s working out pretty good. The Music Mans sound alright.
What we learned:
> He did mention Music Man amps twice. Why? Well how ’bout these apples: Music Man amps at the time used 6CA7 power tubes and were biased hot (apparently 700v plate – more here). Sound familiar?!
– End of part 1 of 2 (or maybe 3) –
Let me know if you’ve heard the break in this tune before….