We’re going to have to wait yet another week for the interview with Kevin Holbrook of YMI5150 guitars because we have yet another newsworthy event. This time it’s the recent Esquire interview with Edward Van Halen.
Now before you EVH fans get to getting your hopes up, let’s bear in mind the same ol’s:
1. NO ONE who gets to interview EVH knows specifically what to ask or what needs to be asked. No idea why this is so, just is.
2. At this point in the EVH signal chain gear hunt, there are now 100% certainties, even from the man himself, as you’re about to read.
Okay. The Esquire piece is a two-parter. The first part is sort of about the writer – allegedly a guitar-slinger back in the day – meeting Ed. Cool, I get it. Also covers a lot of interesting ground about just WTF happened on the 2008 tour and afterward until now. Ed was seriously messed up.
The second part is a Q&A, part of which is “about” Ed’s holy grail Marshall. “About” is in quotes because of #1 above, so you’ll have to bear in mind what you know to read between the lines and maybe get something out of it. Here are the applicable parts, edited down for brevity.
ESQ: Tell me about your amps, though. How much would you tinker with your amps back in the day?
EVH: Always. We were tinkering until we left on tour.
ESQ: I’m talkin’ back in the old days, with your Marshall. What did you do to that thing?
EVH: That was a stock amp.
ESQ: Come on man, rumor was that you rebuilt the damn thing.
EVH: I lied. Okay, this is a long story, actually. I think this is also my paranoia of interviews because…Dave and I did a promo, a radio promo, an interview promo thing before the first record came out. And here we were on live radio, and the guy’s going, “We have Van Halen, a brand-new band from L.A. here in the studio. So Dave, tell me” … And here’s Dave, “Bop, bop, yabba, dabba, doo,” you know? Then he turns to me and says, “I understand you and your brother, Alex, are from Amsterdam, Holland.” And I went, “Yeah.” Dead air.
It was a f**kin’ disaster. So afterwards, Dave goes, “Here’s what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna lie. You’re gonna make up some sh*t….” So anyway, I do my first full-blown interview with Guitar Player, and that whole thing is in my head. You gotta make up sh*t. You gotta keep it interesting.
So — okay, what I did was the amp was completely stock, but I used a light dimmer.
ESQ: You used a light dimmer on what?
EVH: I bought an English version, I had my 100-volt Marshall. I bought one through the recycling or the newspaper that was from England, and it was set on 220 volts. I didn’t know. So I plugged the thing in, but I’m going, “F**king thing doesn’t work. I got ripped off.” I just let it sit there. [Is he talking about the amp here? If so, so it wasn’t the house amp from the Rose Palace?]
After about an hour, there’s sound coming out, but it’s really quiet, cause it’s running on half voltage. So I go, “Hey, wait a minute. It sounds exactly like it’s supposed to all the way up, but it’s really quiet.” So we had a light dimmer in the house, and I hooked up the two leaves from the amp to the light, so I did it backwards, blew out the fuse box.
Then I went down to DOW Radio and asked, “Do you guys have any kind of super duper light dimmer?” They go, “Yeah, it’s a Variac, variable transformer, you know.” And on the dial you could crank it up to 140 volts or down to zero. So I figured, if it’s on 220 and it’s that quiet, if I take the voltage and lower it, I wonder how low I can go and it still work.
Well, it enabled me to turn my amp all the way up, save the tubes, save the wear and tear on the tubes, and play at clubs at half the volume. So, my Variac, my variable transformer was my volume knob. Too loud, [makes knob turning sound] I’d lower it down to 50.
ESQ: That’s amazing. But still, that was it? That was the only modification you did?
EVH: Just out of necessity. I need an amp I could play in clubs. We wouldn’t get hired, I would play so loud, you know, I’m going, what can I do? What can I do? Okay, I turned the voltage, the wall voltage into my volume knob.
ESQ: Did you lie to Guitar Player?
EVH: Wait, wait, wait, what I was gettin’ at was when I did my first interview, I told people the complete opposite. I told them I raised it up 140 volts. I felt so bad. I felt so fucking horrible, man. They said, “Please don’t attempt what Eddie Van Halen said in the last interview, because everyone was blowing their amps.” Everyone fried their amps ’cause of me. I felt so bad. I never lied again after that.
Couple More Tidbits
The whole thing is worth a full read for sure, but here are a few more tidbits.
ESQ: Not for nothing, Wolfgang is going to be the leader of this band.
EVH: If he isn’t already. I trip on it all. I’m just kind of watching it. I can’t think of anyone more blessed than me. For one, you know all the bullshit I’ve been through in my life. To have a brother that I’ve been playing with since day one, and now my son. I don’t think anyone else in music can actually say that.
ESQ: Why did you record outside of 5150?
EVH: Uh, that wasn’t quite my decision. I got out-voted. Well, you know, bottom line, Dave. He wanted to work at Hanson. The history of my studio. But in hindsight, we ended up going back to my place to mix it and fix stuff that was recorded improperly. I’m just not used to working with how they work in these commercial studios, you know? Of course it could have been done for free at my house.