The genius of Eddie Van Halen in 10 stages

Eddie Van Halen
(Image credit: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

Eddie Van Halen’s death is an enormous loss to the guitar community. While there will never be one indisputable ‘Best Guitarist in the World’, no one can deny that Eddie changed the face of rock guitar.

His contributions to guitar technique, guitar and amplifier design, and songwriting, are some of the greatest of all time. Here are 10 ways Eddie changed the game for every guitar player who followed.

1. Eruption

On this signature piece, again from the first VH album, the tapping gets the attention, but the tone, blistering legato, and creative note choices are all equally important. Amid all that virtuosity, Eddie still played with joyous rock ’n’ roll abandon. It makes his playing appeal to people who never listen to shred instrumentals.

2. Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love

Some virtuosos forget the power of a simple song and a catchy hook, but EVH knew when to keep things simple. Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love (from the debut Van Halen album) is played by palm muting and picking the notes from an open A minor chord. The singable solo is played on one string. Melodic genius.

3. Frankenstrat


(Image credit: Future)

Eddie helped to develop the Floyd Rose, suggesting improvements like the fine tuners at the bridge. He was also the first notable player to put a humbucker in a Stratocaster, giving a tone leaner than a Les Paul but tougher than a regular Strat. It’s still the definitive choice for hard rock and metal.

4. Mean Street

The opening to 1981’s Fair Warning was a leap forward even for Van Halen. Eddie slapped the bottom string with his thumb like a bass player, alternating with tapped doublestops on the B and E strings. His fretting hand rhythmically muted the strings for an incredible percussive effect.

5. Beat It

Michael Jackson and producer Quincy Jones wanted rock credibility, and there was only one name to call. Eddie hung up on Jones three times, believing him to be a prank caller. Once in the studio, EVH nailed the solo on the second take and refused to take any payment.

6. Hot For Teacher

Almost all would-be Eddie clones lacked two things: the groove and the sense of fun. It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, as Eddie and Alex learned from their father, a virtuoso swing clarinettist. Hot For Teacher, from 1984, is as funky as Chic, but at 260 bpm.

7. Back to the Future

When a time-travelling Marty McFly needed to persuade his dad that he was in fact an extraterrestrial from the planet Vulcan, he played a tape marked Edward Van Halen on his Walkman. Eddie recorded other-worldly guitar noises specially for the film, and to 1955 ears, they could only be from outer space.

8. Judgement Day

Even the most creative geniuses usually run out of steam after their first decade, but 1991’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge showed EVH continuing to push boundaries, using a drill on Poundcake and on Judgement Day placing his fretting hand over the top of the neck to tap syncopated arpeggios with both hands.

9. Jump

Eddie had experimented with synths for years and could have done this song sooner, but Roth was keen not to alienate the band’s core fanbase. The time was right in 1984, and Van Halen combined synth-pop with hard rock to produce an indisputable classic. The guitar solo made everyone jump.

10. 5150

EVH 5150III 50-Watt 6L6 Head

(Image credit: EVH)

Eddie’s signature amps – all three versions – have become the go-to choice for metal guitar tone. Van Halen diehards often prefer his early Marshall tone, but super-producer Andy Sneap used the 5150 to define modern metal. EVH demanded crushing high-gain, tight low-end and great tone, all essential for drop-tuned riffing.

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Total Guitar editors

Total Guitar is one of Europe's biggest guitar magazines. With lessons to suit players of all levels, TG's world-class tuition is friendly, accessible and jargon-free, whether you want to brush up on your technique or improve your music theory knowledge. We also talk to the biggest names in the world of guitar – from interviews with all-time greats like Brian May and Eddie Van Halen to our behind the scenes Rig Tour features, we get you up close with the guitarists that matter to you.