An electric guitar Eddie Van Halen gifted to Jason Becker in ’96 has sold for $110,000 at auction, helping pay for over a year’s worth of the shred icon’s ALS care.
Becker was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1989, and by ’96 had lost the ability to speak. Visiting him at his family home to show his support for his ailing friend, Van Halen gifted him a black signature Peavey Wolfgang guitar. It’s completed with Eddie’s D-Tuna system on its Floyd Rose trem and a loving message of support scribed in gold pen.
The message reads: "Jason. We will play guitar together in the future. Love – from heart to your soul. Eddie Van Halen, '96." Becker's thumbprint also features on the rear of the neck.
The instrument was auctioned at Guernsey's auction house in New York, and despite its sentimental value, Becker has stated he’s okay with it going to a new home.
Says Becker: “I'm completely fine with this guitar being put up for auction. It was just collecting dust on my wall, and I thought it should be with someone who would really love and appreciate it as much as I do, and hopefully share it with others.
“Whenever people visited my house and saw the guitar, their faces would light up, knowing they were close to something that had a connection to Eddie,” he continues. “My family would share stories about the day he came over, sat on our couch, jammed, and hung out with all of us.
“Over the years, Eddie was incredibly kind and generous to both me and my family. These memories are something that all of us will cherish forever. To many, he was a guitar hero and a larger-than-life character. He meant all of those things to me as well, and then he became my friend. He was as kind, generous, and compassionate as he was a musical genius.”
While auctioneers had estimated a final price of between $300,000 and $400,000, the money raised is inarguably vital, funding over a year’s worth of treatment for the guitarist, which costs $100,000.
In the run-up to the auction, Becker’s assistant Stephen Correa stopped by LA vintage mecca Norman’s Rare Guitars to showcase the instrument in all its glory. Norman’s Rare Guitars posted a clip on its YouTube channel, in which Correa, Norm Harris and Michael Lemmo check out the instrument and share the story behind it, with Lemmo also doing a sizzling Van Halen impression.
Becker, who is able to communicate and write new music with his eyes via a system he developed with his father after his diagnosis, hopes it becomes much more than just a guitar.
"I hope it serves as an inspiration,” he says, “for people to extend as much love to others as Eddie bestowed upon me and my family on that day.
"The auction of this guitar will benefit my family in many ways, but equally important, I hope it shines a light on the extraordinary heart that beats within Eddie.”
Before his diagnosis, Jason Becker seemingly had the world at his feet. He released two albums alongside Marty Friedman in Cacophony before a 1988 solo album, Perpetual Burn. He joined David Lee Roth’s band for 1991 album, A Little Ain't Enough, by ’96 he was no longer able to speak, prompting Van Halen’s visit on August 31.
During his time at Becker’s family home, the pair also filmed an awareness-raising video for the disease, with Eddie telling stories, opening up on his creative process and playing Becker’s Peavey Numbers prototype guitar.
Never-before-seen footage of that day was released on Becker’s YouTube channel in December 2020 and shows Van Halen as not just a wonderful guitarist, but a gentle and caring soul. It’s something Becker is quick to reiterate.
“After Eddie's passing, I shared a video of that special day, revealing a side of him that very few had the privilege to witness,” says Becker. “Reading the heartfelt comments and witnessing the overwhelming outpouring of love for Eddie from so many has genuinely touched the depths of my heart.
“Eddie was such a beautiful person. He was incredibly kind to me and my family. Not only was he my biggest influence, he had such a huge heart. He honestly saved my life.”
Despite his diagnosis, Becker has continued to write new music with the aid of his communication system. He released Triumphant Hearts in 2018, which saw the Californian musician enlisting an A-list cast to perform his compositions. Players included Steve Vai, Jeff Loomis, Guthrie Govan, Greg Howe, Steve Morse, Paul Gilbert and Joe Bonamassa.
In a statement expressing his gratitude for the auction’s support, Becker also revealed that he’s “excited to share new music and other exciting projects with you” in the future.
“Each and every one of you deserves to know how genuinely grateful I am for your unwavering support,” he adds. “It's because of all of you that I'm able to bring the music I envision to life and share it with you."
In a rare interview with Guitar World earlier this year, Becker stated his next release would be called The Strawberry Jams.
“It will be so much fun for fans to hear,” he teased. “I recorded tons of stuff constantly until I couldn't play anymore. The first 'single' is going to be such a fun, big surprise for guitar players.”