Fair Warning Tone Ain’t All the Same

March 24, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

evhGot it in my head to figure out which Van Halen song tones – not album tones – I liked the most. Started with Fair Warning, whose balls I just can’t get enough of…which doesn’t sound so good but you get what I mean.

Listen to it cranked in my car because that’s the only place I can crank music these days, and that’s the way that music was meant to sound. (Rock n roll was not supposed to dribble through frickin’ earbuds, and hearing it that way does not result in maximal woody toneage.)

So anyhow, I’m listening closely to Fair Warning, and am amazed to hear pretty widely varying guitar tones. Guess it’s conventional wisdom that FW is all Frankie through the Grail Marshall, but after really listening, I ain’t buyin’.

Everybody’s ears are different, but below is what I’m hearing…by song, from gainiest to least gainy – leaving out Sunday Afternoon/One Foot, Push Comes to Shove (mellow) and Hear About It Later (all Strat) since those are different animals.

1. Dirty Movies – Most gain on this album, almost Sammy-level gain (seriously). If that’s a PAF through a Marshall ONLY, I’m a llama. Also more balls than the “regular” EVH tone. You can hear everything you need to hear (at volume!) in the first 60 secs or so. The riff tone, not the slide geetar:

2. Mean Street – Second-most gain, also more balls. Can hear more transparent Marshall on the open G chords, but the rest of the riff is FAT.

3. Sinner’s Swing – Second-most gain (tied), in a different way. I hear this as more gain than Mean Street, but more trebly (Marshally? Frankie-y?) than Mean Street. Sounds like solo is tracked live, and NO WHAMMY again.

4. Unchained – Getting into Frank/PAF territory a bit. Lots of upper mids, way more than, say, Dirty Movies.

Full tune:

Iso track:

5. So This Is Love? – This IS Frankie through the Marshall. No doubt.

Full tune:

Guitar only:

So if #5 is the classic EVH tone – especially moving forward to Diver Down and 1984 – WTH is going on in the other tunes? Options:

> Dirt pedal – Doubt it, but you never know.

> Eventide Harmonizer – Makes its overt debut on this album,but don’t think it’s the only reason for the dirt and is used more in solos anyhow.

> Compression – Possible ingredient, partly because think I do hear compression on Push Comes to Shove…but again, that tune’s different.

> Different amp or tubes – Sounds like heresy, but my ears make me wonder whether he may have used different amps and/or guitars on single tunes here or there in the Roth era.

> Different pickup – Convinced this is absolutely going on (plus maybe more) at least on #1, #2 and maybe #3. Meaning something like a DiMarzio Super Distortion or Seymour Duncan Custom.

> Different guitar – I think this is likely for at least #1, #2 and #3. Is the tone way ballsier than So This is Love? Yes. Do you hear any whammy on the main guitar track (not the solos)? No!

> Different mic’ing/production – Very possible, not sure what kind of effect this would have.

Here are the factoids speaking to me:

> Lots o’ dirt

> Lots o’ balls (Les Paul-like lower mids vs. upper mids)

> No whammy use on main riffs

I’m thinking it was at LEAST a different pickup on some tunes, if not a different guitar and possibly different or additional amp….

Btw, have read on the interwebz some people have said Ed used a Lester Paul for Fair Warning. As far as I know, this is speculation – Ed nor anyone else ever said so.

Give the tunes a LOUD re-listen NOT on computer speakers or earbuds (which sound more distorted), and let me know your theories.

And btw, I think if I could get Mean Street tone with the ability to get to Dirty Movies, I’d be a pretty happy geetar slinger….

Category: DiMarzio, Edward Van Halen, Seymour Duncan

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  1. Ken says:

    There is at least one telltale moment I can think of in “Mean Street” that proves that Ed used the Frankie (or, at least, a whammy-equipped guitar) on the rhythm track. Fast-forward to 1:56 to hear the giveaway whammy dip. He could be bending the neck or turning the tuning head, but I doubt it.

    Generally, I’m betting on a high-output pickup, a boost in the front (echoplex?), and some compression and EQ at the board. And who knows what else? I don’t think Ed would touch a fuzz or distortion pedal with a ten foot pole, but he might have something else up front. And the variac, too–that slightly buzzy quality sounds like a mixture of voltage starvation and creative post-production EQing to me. There was a guy on the Metroamp forum who came up with an EQ curve that nailed the “I’m The One” tone, which sounds very Fair Warning-ish to my ears, but it looks like Metroamp is down. Which makes me very sad.

    There’s definitely some post-production compression on the “Unchained” rhythm track. Listen to the unaccompanied bit at the beginning. There’s very little transient peaking on those chords, compared to what you’d expect to hear from a humbucker into an old Marshall running wide open.

    The singular thing about this record is that there are so many layers of guitar. You can bet there are spots where he used different guitars on the same songs–definitely on “Hear About It Later” where he used a Stratocaster (or something with single coils) for those flangey arpeggiated bits.

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