It's fair to say that 2020 is unlikely to be remembered as a vintage year by many people. And for us guitarists it's involved some pretty phenomenal human losses - Peter Green, Kenny Rogers, Charlie Daniels, Bob Kulick, Jack Sherman and Pete Way are just six of the magnificent talents we've sadly bid goodnight to. But possibly the greatest international shock was inflicted by the demise of Eddie Van Halen - unquestionably one of the most influential rock guitarists of all time.
Getting the Style
We've already paid tribute to this titan of the 6-string in our recent blog, although mere words fail to truly convey just what EVH did for guitar music - or indeed developments with the instrument guitar itself (his 'Frankenstrat' really was Genesis when it came to the whole Superstrat concept...) Above all, his style and - particularly - his skill, was an inspiration to a new generation of hard rocking players, who could have been forgiven for viewing him as the second coming of Hendrix. Seriously, how many other sole guitarists in a band have EVER managed to completely cover the melody AND harmony with that much conviction?
So, we understand if you're feeling inspired to try pick up a few of Van Halen's trademark techniques. And as ever, we're here to help you out! Here's four different nuggets of TAB to give you just a feel of how Eddie worked his way through certain songs...
This basic solo outline works in much the same way as the middle section of Runnin' with the Devil, fixing the fingers in certain partial barres and allowing the pick to do all the real work. Here we're using a broadly standard pattern, focussing on picking arpeggiated chords mainly on three individual frets - the 12th, 14th, 10th, and back to the 12th again, which works over G, A, and F major chords. Capped off with a nice full-bend flourish on the 1st string.
Chordal motifs were a huge feature of Van Halen's output - again, understandable since he was the only 6-string player in the band. The inspiration for this couple of bars comes from Unchained, but without using the drop D. We'll keep this tribute riff in standard tuning, and throw in a larger dose of syncopation than before. The trick here is to really emphasise the differences in texture between the palm-muted low E notes and those fat meaty chords (which still contain the open 6th string for added 'meat'!)
Van Halen truly loved his arpeggios, and the sustain from his favoured level of overdrive (i.e. a LOT) meant that even palm-muted, staccato-heavy broken chords retained their overall harmonic integrity. This can clearly be heard during much of Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love. We've tried to keep the spirit of that amazing tune intact with this little motif, adding slightly more harmonic movement, but retaining a belting un-muted power chord at the end of each bar.
Oh come on - we HAD to throw an Eruption tribute in here! This major harmonic pattern ascends slowly before plummeting back down, culminating in an inverted power chord. And to play it like Eddie would have done, make it fast. Very, VERY fast...
Wrapping it up
Whilst a perfect conclusion for this article would be to list all the famous players that Eddie Van Halen influenced, that task would entail another article just in itself. But the 2020 Billboard Music Awards saw speeches from the likes of G.E. Smith, Jack White, Dierks Bentley and Charlie Benante, all of whom he'd worked with, and an impressive (if enormously reduced) roll-call all by itself.
We hope that trying these exercises will inspire you to think about experimenting with Eddie's style in your own way. What better tribute to the man with the greatest smile in music since Dave Brubeck! Until next time...