1995 Guitar World Interview: Eddie Van Halen Regains His 'Balance'
Eddie Van Halen discusses Balance in this 1995 Guitar World interview.
What kind of acoustic did you use?
It's a South American guitar called a Musser. I bought it at [L.A. vintage shop] Norm's Rare Guitars.
Other than using an acoustic, did you do anything else out of the ordinary for the album?
Nope. As usual, I have two Shure SM-57's miking one cabinet. Pretty much everything was recorded with the 5150 amp, but I did use the old Marshall Super Lead head on about three tunes. The stuff that's real clean-sounding, like "Aftershock," was done with the Marshall.
Why did you decide to use the Marshall again?
Just to get a different sound.
A few years ago, you were convinced that the amp had faded beyond the point of usefulness.
I think I just got tired of it. Just recently, this Dutch guy named Peter cleaned the amp for me and restored it to its totally original state. Even though I never had the amp modified, a bunch of parts had been replaced over the years.
I've also got a Peavey 5150 combo unit coming out in January. It's 60 watts and has two 12-inch speakers and a sealed back. It's a bad-ass little amp. It just shits all over every other combo on the market -- at least in my opinion. I've been working on the amp for the last year because I wanted it to have a really good clean channel, 'cause most people who want a combo amp need it to be versatile.
Of course, I wanted the main sound to be happening, as well. That also took a lot of work, because the amp's electronics had to be packed into a smaller box, with the controls on top. When you start changing wire lengths around like we had to, it usually affects the sound, so it took Peavey's tech, James Brown, a while to perfect it.
Even though this record has a drier sound than For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, the guitars still have that chorus-y shimmer that's become a staple of your sound lately. Do you double most of your rhythm tracks?
No, not at all. But everything has the Eventide harmonizer on it. The dry guitar signal is on the left, and the duplicate sound that the Eventide generates is on the right. I barely use the harmonizer as an effect; it's just to split my guitar to both sides of the stereo spectrum. I have it set to detune to 98, so it harmonizes just a little.
When did you start splitting your signal like this?
I think Fair Warning, or the album after. Maybe 5150.. I forget. But that's been my thing ever since. In the old days, Donn Landee [engineer on every Van Halen album from Van Halen (Warner Bros, 1978) through OU812 (Warner Bros, 1988)] would have my dry signal on the left and a little echo or reverb on the right. And I'm going, "Well, why don' t we use the harmonizer and get the whole fucking guitar over there instead of just [makes breathy noise to imitate the decay of a reverb or Echoplex unit] -- the tail-end of everything I play. I hated that sound.
Really? I always thought of it as a really cool trademark of your sound.
I can't stand it. I guess it worked for the first record. But after that it got old really fast. If you have a car and the left speaker's blown, the guitar is gone. If you're sitting on the right in the back seat, you don 't hear the guitar even if both front speakers work. What kind of shit is that?
It sounds like you have your guitar plugged into a Leslie on "Not Enough."
We plugged the Marshall into the Leslie via this preamp box that my tech, Matt Bruck, brought over. He had used it on the demo tape for his band, Zen Boy. He hooked me up and I just played it.
What inspired the solo on that song?
I was hearing a Beatles-ish feel, so I went for a "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" kind of thing.
The songs on Balance seem to have more key changes than your previous work.
It 's called "better songwriting." [laughs]
Has your piano training given you an increased understanding of harmony, which in turn helps your songwriting?
You play some barrelhouse piano on "Big Fat Money," but besides that, there aren't very many keyboards on Balance. Is there a reason for that?
Yeah, I haven't really spent that much time playing piano lately. I think that old synth sound didn't feel right for this record. I might use it in the future, though. Who knows.
"Big Fat Money" has an unusual solo that's almost humorous. What prompted that radical departure from your usual style?
That was Bruce's idea. He's going, "Hey, let's go for a jazz sound." And I'm going, "Okay." So I pulled out an old 335, ran it through my Marshall set really low and just did it. It's funny.
At the end of the instrumental track "Baluchitherium," there's an entire menagerie of guitar sounds.
That's exactly what it is. It sounds like a bunch of animals -- like a zoo. There's a bunch of birds and chirps and dinosaur calls and the elephant sounds I've always made. It just felt like a fun thing to do. You can even hear my dog Sherman howling on there.
What mic did you use on the dog?
Uhhh, a Sennheiser. [laughs] We have pictures of it too; it's so funny. We had to tape a hot dog to the microphone. Swear to God. The dog was afraid of the mic. We kept pushing him up there and he'd back off. So we taped the hot dog to it, and then started making a bunch of noise. We actually bought a tape of a fire engine. We'd play the tape, and Sherman would get up to the mic, sniff the hot dog, and bark.
In addition to the dog and the other animals, it also sounded like there was some six-string bass on that song.
Actually, no. You know what I used? It was a Music Man Albert Lee model guitar that I strung with heavier strings and tuned down to low A.
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