Thoughts On Van Halen’s New One

February 23, 2012 | By | 8 Replies More

Been listening to Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth over and over and over for a while now. Couple reasons:

1. It’s great, and I’m a teenager again (minus a bunch o’ hair), running up to my room to put 1984 on the turntable.

2. Sometime after X listens (X = 1,000? 10,000?) things start to pop out, creep up and otherwise reveal themselves about the tunes, the tones, the playing, even the lyrics which I really never listen to, just sort of pick up.

Re: #2, during my first 10 or so listens, I wondered WTF I’d write about here about ED’s guitar tone. Is it woody? Is it even…good? What is it?

Here’s where I come out, plus a few thoughts about that tone.

It’s Different

Duh, but think about that. EVERY Van Halen album has had a different guitar tone.

I also started out not being a fan of the Sammy-era Ed tone, but that’s exactly the way I felt about Diver Down (why wasn’t it Fair Warning?), 1984 (why wasn’t it Fair Warning?), 5150 (what happened?!), etc.

Now I like all those tones. Those albums couldn’t be any other way – couldn’t have any other tone, you know?

So after realizing that, I figured at some point I’ll end up really digging the A Different Kind of Truth tone.

It’s ALL Different

Different band, different era, different style, different recording techniques. Different guitars, pickups, amps, effects. How could the guitar tone not be different? Has to be.

And maybe it literally has to be. Ed’s using a lot of wah and a pretty serious amount of whammy pedal. He and Wolf are doing a lot of runs together. Maybe Ed’s new tone makes all kinds of sense in that context.

Of course, I’d love it if it was Fair Warning tone 2012, and I guess it is Fair Warning-ish, but again, maybe I/we will love it down the road.

What Are We Hearing?

Lots of Ed fans have talked about Ed’s new nasal-sounding tone, which I think we first heard on the three-quarter-reunion tour with Dave. The tone’s been described as “cocked wah” a la Michael Schenker, and for sure that could be how it happens.

Actually could swear we’re hearing a pickup with a full-blown Alnico 2 magnet. I’ve played a couple, and that tone is very similar to what I got out of a newer, chambered Les Paul with a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates pickup in it.

The Pearly Gates is Billy Gibbons’ signature pickup and it has a serious “honk” – a similar honk I hear with Slash, who also likes Duncan A2 pickups.

(I’m sure it depends on what exact pickup you have and in what guitar and through what rig. Example: The Duncan-made EVH (also an A2 pickup, which Ed likes) has an A2 honk, but not as much of a honk as the Pearly Gates. I’m not a pickup expert, but I believe that’s because the EVH’s magnet is weaker and it’s a higher-output pickup.

Put that pickup in a guitar with more natural mids – like an alder-bodied Strat – and there’s more honk. Put it in a guitar with some naturally scooped mids (like ash), and it’s more balanced.

Btw, I played all of the above through plexi-replica amps and 4x12s with Celestion 25w (Greenback) or 30w (G12H30) speakers.)

BUT that theory got shot out the window – somewhat – when fellow Ed deet-heads on the forum pointed out that the new EVH Wolfgang pickups have A5 magnets. So no A2…unless Ed used a non-standard Wolfie pickup else on the new album. Doubt it, but we may never know for sure.


I haven’t played the new 50w 5150 III, but have played the 100w 5150 III. To me, that amp feels stiff – not as warm or organic as an older amp or replica amp. But I didn’t play it for more than an hour or so, that’s probably not 100% fair.

Some of that stiffness has to be the 6L6 power section, some of it probably has to do with the rest of the components and some of it must be how Ed likes the amp.

Whatever. Here’s the point I’m trying to make: Ed is playing higher-gain pickups into a battery of effects (in the loop?) into what I’d call a fairly stiff amp that to my ears has a bunch of mids, treble and presence.

That ain’t easy, folks. Controlling that, I mean.

And yet somehow he manages to get decent definition and it works in the context of the new band sound.

Maybe Ed gave up some of the sonic spectrum because the bass is much bigger now?

Here’s What We Have

All that said, do I wish the guitar tone on the new Van Halen record had a huge-sounding amalgamation of the plexi-driven tones on the first four or six records or whatever? Part of me wants to hear what that would sound like, but…I guess not really.

The fact that there’s new, inspired VH trumps all that stuff. And far be it form me to second-guess Ed’s ears, with or without tinnitus.

So what we have is a new Van Halen record, with:

> A new, good version of Van Halen (I still don’t love VH 3…)
> Dave
> Riffs
> A raw yet unfamiliar guitar tone – that, obviously, Ed himself chose
> Ed giving us effects dropped in on the fly, including two new ones (the wah’s not really new, but it is like this)
> A 56-year-old guy (and Alex at 58?) playing crazy stuff and still making it look easy

That is freakin’ great. Even a couple years ago, who woulda thunk it was possible.

So I’m willing to give this album the 10,000 listens it deserves. By that time I hope we have at least one more new VH album and some more guitar toneage and great riffage to talk about.

Seeing the band at Madison Square Garden next week, can’t wait. Will report back….


Category: Alex Van Halen, Edward Van Halen, Van Halen

Comments (8)

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  1. Ted Crane says:

    I just love EVERYTHING Ed plays on. Even VHIII

  2. Ken says:

    I saw VH in MI a few days ago. Ed had the honky tone on some songs, but on the mellower ones, it was much more similar to his older sounds. (Think “Dance the Night Away” and “Women In Love”.) Maybe the heavy channel on the 5150III naturally has that nasal EQ curve.

    To my ears, there’s also a lot of post-production compression on his ADKOT sounds. That always means sacrificing a little tone for the sake of hugeness.

  3. Steve B says:

    Weren’t we first hearing the cocked wah sound on the ’98 Cherone tour?

    I wonder if at his age, maybe EVH’s hearing has dulled in some frequencies and the new tone is compensating for it?

    Regardless, the new record is great. Thank God.

  4. GuitThumper says:

    Have you listened to “Blood and Fire” lately? Listen to how the guitar is split left/right. Two guitars? To my ears it almost sounds like it could be a stereo guitar a la “Top Jimmy.” Crazy talk?

  5. guitthumper says:

    Believe it or not that is the Ripley stereo guitar Ed’s playing on “Blood and Fire!” Ha!

  6. Ian says:

    You can’t assume certain tones, based on the magnet alone. A2 mags will aid the midrange focus of a guitar, but lack bass and treble response when you have a “hot” pickup such as Ed’s 14k preference. Think “Tone Zone”… a pickup with loads of “cocked wah” mids, big bass and nice treble detail, with an A5 magnet. His Wolfgang pickups use A5 magnets. Magnets alone do not determine tone. The wind, baseplate, pole pieces, etc… are factors as well.

  7. Khriss Bliss says:

    Very thoughtful article: ive listened to DKoTruth twice- mostly wincing at the Vai-ish tone (WAH the F?), but this opened my mind a bit. I went thru a barrage of bridge humbuckers recently in my Axis- the winner was still the Pearly Gates Alnico8- mainly for chunky response, & chime on any bedroom volume+ amp rig. Too much mid honk makes it too “easy” to play for me personally.
    Yet another insightful article!!!

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