In 1978, a young band burst into the mainstream with a guitar player that defied all the odds. This guitar player was a young Dutch man named Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, but you may know him better as Eddie Van Halen.
The group Van Halen were an American hard rock band who took pop sensibilities of the 1960’s and combined it with jaw dropping guitar virtuosity. Eddie popularised the two handed tapping technique in the guitar solo showcase Eruption. This technique pre-dates Van Halen, though Eddie is often mistakenly credited with creating this technique. He took it and brought it to the mainstream and it became a staple in most guitar players technique repertoires.
The pedalboard Eddie used in 1978 for the bands first album and subsequent tour was surprisingly simple.
- MXR Phase 90
- MXR 117 Flanger
- MXR 6 Band EQ
- Maestro Echoplex
- Univox EC-80A Tape Echo
- Remote Switches for the Echoplex and Univox
MXR Phase 90
If you could pick one pedal, and one effect that is most associated with Eddie Van Halen, it would be the MXR Phase 90. The original, bright orange box with the script logo. Today, there is an EVH Signature model with his own custom paintjob. The original was used on a lot of Van Halen tracks. Most notable the tapping section from Eruption, or the intro to Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love.
Eddie would keep the Phase 90 set at a relatively low speed. When used for solos, this would accent the pick attack at certain points of the passage and give the guitar tone a little movement.
MXR 117 Flanger
Eddie would also occasionally use a Flanger for a different type of modulation sweep. You can hear this on the final 3 notes of each repeat of the Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love riff or the intro for Atomic Punk.
Eddie would set this with three of the knobs (Manual, Width and Speed) between 11 and 12 o’clock and the Regen knob on full. He used to keep this pedal first in the effects chain. He would adapt the speed based on what song it was being used for.
MXR 6 Band EQ
The MXR EQ used by EVH in the late 1970s was the MXR 6 Band EQ. This was an EQ pedal that didn’t have a footswitch. It was connected inline and was always on. There was no way to turn this unit on or off. Eddie used this only on certain guitars that he felt lacked the mids compared to other guitars. Due to this pedal not having an on/off switch, Eddie would manually plug or unplug this unit as needed.
This was used as a slapback effect on guitar solos. Most of the Van Halen recorded solos contain a slapback delay of some type to thicken to notes out and create some ambient space.
Univox EC-80A Tape Echo
This was used at the end of Eruption for the strange oscilating feedback effect. He would often manipulate this unit live while holding a note to get various different effects. He would run the unit with the Repeat knob on maximum and he would turn the Delay amount by hand to manipulate the signal.
Remote Switches for the Echoplex and Univox
These switches were to switch on the Echoplex and Univox units. These units did not have their own footswitches so Eddie had them routed through a pair of looper boxes that he would use to turn them on and off when needed.
Eddie was always on the hunt for something better. This also carried over to his search for the perfect guitar. He was a keen modifier and liked to build his own guitars with parts he sourced.
The Frankenstein (Frankenstrat)
The white bodied guitar with black strips is iconic from the early Van Halen days. Eddie built this guitar in 1974 with the aim of making a guitar that had the playability of a Fender but the tone of Gibson. He loved the Fender style guitar shapes and the tremolo unit, but preferred the sound of the humbucker equipped Gibsons.
He purchased a guitar body from a company called Boogie Bodies, who also provided bodies for Charvel, along with a plain neck for $130. He painted the body black, added strips of tape around it and then sprayed over it white. He them removed the tape, leaving a white guitar with black stripes. The tremolo was from a 1958 Fender Stratocaster and the humbucker was a Gibson PAF from an ES-335 that he wax-potted with surfboard wax to prevent feedback.
1970s Ibanez Destroyer 2459 – The Shark
The guitar known as “The Shark” started life as a mid-70s Ibanez Destroyer, Ibanez’s answer to the Gibson Explorer. Eddie got this guitar in 1977, right before recording sessions started for Van Halen’s debut album. The guitar was originally a natural wood finish but Eddie painted it white, before adding tape, and then spraying it red to create another striped guitar. He used a chainsaw to cut out a huge chunk of wood from the lower part of the body and the rough cut he left resembled sharks teeth, hence the name “The Shark”.
This guitar was used to record the band cover of the Kinks hit, You Really Got Me as well as all the non-tremolo tracks on the album.
Amplifiers and Cabinets
1967/68 Marshall 1959 Super Lead
This Marshall amp was used for the first six Van Halen albums. There are many rumours and myths surrounding this amp and it’s famous “Brown sound”. The amp was bought second hand and imported to the US from England. UK amps run at 230v whereas US amps run at 110v. When he plugged it in for the first time, it was very quiet because of the voltage differences. Eddie fitted a variac transformer that allowed to him set the voltage entering the amp. He chose to set this around 140v and run the amp with all the dials set to 10. This allowed to him to get maximum volume but save the tubes from wear and tear.
He was also known to run this amp with a dummy box to take half the amps load. This means he could run one cabinet with the amps full power without the need for a second cabinet attached.
There were many alledged mods done to this amp over the years and many different stories about what went on with it.