Why Eddie Van Halen was told to stop throwing picks into the audience

Eddie Van Halen of Van Halen performs at their dress rehearsal for family and friends at the Forum on February 8, 2012 in Inglewood, California.
(Image credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Former Eddie Van Halen guitar tech Tom Weber and Van Halen keyboard tech Greg Rule recently appeared on Rock Talk with Mitch Lafon and The Jeremy White Podcast, and among the many, many great stories VH stories discussed (including the infamous 2007 performance of Jump when Ed’s guitar was completely out-of-tune with the keyboard track), they went deep on a tale about stolen Eddie guitar picks.

The story began with a comment from Rule about how, at one point on the road, Ed was told not to throw any more picks out into the audience. “It incited a brawl,” Rule said. “And so he agreed, and I think that’s when they started to sell the picks.”

From here, Weber, um, "picked" up the story:

“I got kind of potentially in hot water at one point during the ‘07 tour because I carried all of Ed’s picks with me on the bus,” he said. “They weren’t in my rig, they were in my bunk in a basically small overnight bag kind of a thing.”

Teased White, “Did you get caught bootlegging picks, Tom?”

“No,” Weber continued. “The thing was, they started showing up on eBay. And the first half of the tour we didn’t have a signature pick. But the second half of the tour these things start showing up on eBay and it’s like, ‘Okay…’

Weber went on to explain that Eddie had red, white and black striped picks, and also a “Herco 50 in silver, which were the picks that he played onstage. And then we had the same thing in a gold pick, and he carried those around in his pocket basically so that if he wanted to hand one to somebody, the only way you were gonna get a gold one is from Ed himself.

“And I put those out on his mic stand so that he could pitch whatever he wanted to pitch at the time. And we never counted anything, he just said, ‘Line the mic stand with ‘em.’ And I’d always get a stagehand, because the first thing that anybody was gonna do after a Van Halen show, stagehands are gonna go after Ed’s guitar picks on the mic stand. 

"So whoever I would pick when we loaded in I’d say, “Okay, come and find me before the show’s over.’ And then when they’d come and find me I’d say, ‘The first thing that you do when the lights go off after the show, you go up on that stage, you bring me Ed’s microphone stand with all the picks attached, don’t let anybody take ‘em. And I’ll take care of you guitar picks-wise from there.’

At one point it was brought to my attention that management was seeing these things being sold on eBay for three, four, five, $600 apiece

“Well, at one point it was brought to my attention that management was seeing these things being sold on eBay for three, four, five, $600 apiece,” Weber continued. “And where are these guitar picks coming from? Because obviously the person selling them has multiples of them. And it’s like, ‘Okay, I don’t know what’s going on here, because I carry Ed’s guitar picks like a little old lady carrying her purse in the hood.’

“This goes on and I’m kind of suspect. This isn’t good. And one day I’m day I’m sitting at dinner in catering and one of the video guys comes up to me and says, ‘I know where your guitar picks are going.’

The answer?

“We used to strike all the microphone stands to the drum riser, and there was a big scrim cloth that covered the drum riser,” Weber explained. “And then at the beginning of the show that would go straight up in the air. But all the microphone stands with all the picks on them would go on the drum riser and then the scrim would come down. 

"Well, the video guy informed me that nobody knew it, but that day he had installed a video camera pointing straight down at the drum set. And what he saw was one of the guys on the crew was waiting for everybody to go to dinner and then he’d sneak up there and take picks off Ed’s mic stand.”

How did Weber deal with the offending crew member?

“I found him right after dinner. I said, ‘Okay, I know what’s going on. And if you don’t wanna go home tonight, you stop. Because you’re gonna cost me my job and I’m not having it.’ He said, ‘Dude, I didn’t mean any harm…’ But you’re making, 12, $1,800 a week more than everybody else in your department by selling Ed’s guitar picks!”

At this point in the story, Lafon and White circled back to the initial topic of conversation: “What does Eddie do when he’s told, ‘You’ve gotta stop throwing guitar picks into the crowd?’ ”

“I would have no idea, because that wouldn’t come from me,” Weber said simply. “My job with an artist is to make sure that, if they’re happy when they walk on the stage, that they stay that way. And if they’re not happy when they walk on the stage, that they’re happy when they walk back off.”

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.