Watch Eddie Van Halen play guitar, demo his gear and discuss his legendary technique in this in-depth Smithsonian interview

Last night (February 12), Eddie Van Halen spoke in an hour long interview at Washington, D.C.'s Smithsonian National Museum of American History and Zocalo Public Square as part of the institution's What It Means to Be American series. Fortunately, for the rest of us, it was all recorded for posterity and shared on YouTube in the video above.

Journalist Denise Quan moderated the sold-out event and the Dutch-born Van Halen, 60, discussed his American journey, alongside “his role in creating one of the biggest American rock bands of all time and how he has reinvented the way the guitar is played and designed.” And, oh yeah—he played guitar!

Quan is a great host with a knack for asking guitar-orientated questions in ways that appeal to players and non-players, alike. 

As such, Van Halen explains in clear terms how he pieced together the tonal innovations and playing techniques that proved so revelatory in the late-’70s – and so influential in the decade that followed. Many of them he admits, were because he didn’t have the cash for fancy gear.

“Call them tricks, call them whatever,” says Van Halen. “But getting the techniques out of a guitar was out of necessity because I couldn't afford the pedals, you know? 

“I couldn't afford a wah-wah pedal, couldn't afford a fuzz box and all the toys that everybody else had. So, I did everything I could to get sounds out of the guitar with my fingers.”

As part of the event, Van Halen and Fender donated a master-built replica of Van Halen's white-with-black-stripe Stratocaster to the museum. This is the guitar that changed the world in 1978 when Van Halen cross-pollinated Gibson's electronics with Fender's body and neck designs. 

To represent the path of progressions in his instrument designs, a Stealth finished EVH Brand Wolfgang guitar also was included to represent his modern-day workhorse.

Van Halen and Fender also donated an EVH Brand 5150-III amp and speaker cabinet to showcase Van Halen's electronic growth and musical gear over the decades.

Watch the full clip above and, if it leaves you thirsty for more, check out this classic Eddie Van Halen Guitar World interview from 1981.

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Damian Fanelli
Editor-in-Chief, Guitar World

Damian is Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World magazine. In past lives, he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor. He's written liner notes for major-label releases, including Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'The Complete Epic Recordings Collection' (Sony Legacy) and has interviewed everyone from Yngwie Malmsteen to Kevin Bacon (with a few memorable Eric Clapton chats thrown into the mix). Damian, a former member of Brooklyn's The Gas House Gorillas, was the sole guitarist in Mister Neutron, a trio that toured the U.S. and released three albums. He now plays in two NYC-area bands.

With contributions from