“Do not try to play them like Edward – because you can’t”: Steve Vai says this is the secret to nailing Eddie Van Halen’s guitar parts in front of a live audience

Steve Vai and Eddie Van Halen
(Image credit: Sergione Infuso - Corbis / t: Icon and Image / Getty Images)

Steve Vai has discussed the secret to nailing Eddie Van Halen’s guitar parts onstage, reflecting on his time as guitarist in David Lee Roth’s solo band at the height of the ’80s.

Between 1985 and 1989, the electric guitar virtuoso spent four years on the road and in the studio with Roth (while somehow also recording his solo debut Passion and Warfare) and faced the nightly challenge of trying to win over crowds while playing EVH lines. 

Soon Vai’s friend, mentor and G3 tourmate, Joe Satriani will face the same task, as he joins forces with Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony for The Best of All Worlds tour this summer. 

Guitar World sat down with Vai earlier this week and took the opportunity to ask about what he had learned about tackling Van Halen’s signature lines. His takeaway was clear:

“Do not try to play them like Edward because you can't,” observes Vai, in the forthcoming interview.

“I was thrilled when I had the opportunity to play those songs with Roth because they're beautiful. They're like little orchestrations on the guitar; they fall so nicely and are very well constructed.

“So, when I approached them, I wanted to retain the integrity of the riffs because they're brilliant, and you need to respect them.”

However, the respect of Van Halen as an inventive, evolving player must extend to understanding that forensic study only goes so far in winning an audience over. 

Ultimately, as Vai explains, you can’t be focusing on both slavish recreation and still perform in a natural enough way to actually connect with a crowd. Your own DNA as a player will inevitably shine through – and so it should.

“I knew instinctually that I wouldn't try to sound like Edward because I couldn’t and didn't want to,” says Vai. 

“So, the best thing to do was to honor the parts and play them how I felt them. I’d play them, and it was great because they're fantastic guitar parts, and I did my best. 

“And after going through that, and even while it was happening, I felt relieved and comfortable with the audience, meaning the Edward fans. They weren't expecting Edward, and they were very kind to me.”

Keep an eye on GW for Vai’s full interview, in which he discusses the playing struggles that he overcame for his victorious Inviolate tour, the forthcoming G3 reunion featuring Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson, not to mention his double-header dates (and first ever music) with Satch

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Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.

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