Mark Tremonti recalls the time Eddie Van Halen gifted him a guitar backstage

Mark Tremonti and Eddie Van Halen
(Image credit: Gina Wetzler/Getty Images / C Flanigan/Getty Images)

If you’d ever had the chance to meet the late Eddie Van Halen, the encounter would probably have included a fair bit of stunned silence followed by some nonsensical, awe-struck mumbling. 

For Tremonti, however, his meeting with Van Halen went a far cry better, and saw him leave New York’s Madison Square Garden with a free electric guitar, some sound-shaping axe advice and even a kiss on the cheek. 

Speaking in the latest issue of Guitar World, Tremonti recalled the time he received all three after the pair crossed paths way back when the Creed and Alter Bridge guitarist was opening for Van Halen in the late-'90s.

“I have some really special memories,” Tremonti began. “One of them is when we were opening for Van Halen at Madison Square Garden and Wolfgang was there. He must have been 6 – he was just this tiny kid!

“Eddie had given me one of his guitars backstage,” he continued. “He tapped away on it and said, ‘Yeah, feels good, here ya go!’ and obviously that’s become one of my most prized possessions.”

However, the tale doesn’t end there. As it turns out, Van Halen bestowed the axe to Tremonti without giving him one crucial piece of advice, which concerned the guitar’s functional setup. No surprise there, given Van Halen’s much-discussed fondness for DIY.

“When the show was over, we were backstage underground and there was 300 crew, guests, press everywhere, just swarming the place,” he explained. “We saw Wolf, his mom and Eddie walking out. 

“Eddie saw me out of the corner of his eye and walked through hundreds of people to come over and say, ‘Hey I forgot to tell you – you need to take out two springs to make it play right – sorry I forgot to tell you that earlier!’

“Then he gave me a kiss on the cheek and walked right through all the people clamoring for him again. He did that for me?! He had his kid and his wife with him and knew he’d get caught up by everybody, but he took his time out because he gave a shit about his products and passing on knowledge. 

“I got to see him at his core a handful of times and I was lucky. It was a very cool thing.”

It’s the latest story of Van Halen giving his peers guitar-tweaking advice, after Phil Collen revealed Eddie helped shape the tone of Def Leppard’s Hysteria by encouraging him to put a humbucker in his Fender Stratocaster.

Elsewhere in the interview, Tremonti praised the recent successes of Wolfgang Van Halen and Mammoth WVH, who released their debut album earlier this year and recently completed a US tour supporting Guns N’ Roses.

Of Wolfgang, who played bass guitar in Tremonti between 2012 and 2016, Tremonti said, “When you take away the Van Halen name, he’s just a really nice, down-to-earth kid – and he’s super-talented. 

“When you hear him sing live, he’s incredible – plus he’s great on drums, guitar and bass. I found he was really good at learning stuff and memorizing parts. Writing a record is a different skill; it’s very far away from being a shredder or killer drummer.”

Tremonti went on to say he was “blown away” when he heard Mammoth WVH’s self-titled album, citing his impressive compositional chops, and described it as a record “I’d wanted to hear for a long time”.

“I think he’s doing a little better than playing bass for the Tremonti band right now! I’m happy as hell for him.”

Head over to Magazines Direct to pick up the latest copy of Guitar World, which finds John Petrucci compare guitar playing with weight lifting and features an interview with The Black Crowes’ Rich and Chris Robinson.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.