There are guitarists, then there are better ones. Ruling above them all are people like the late Eddie Van Halen - an icon, a legend, a guitarist! He died Oct. 6, 2020, from cancer when he was only 65 years old.
While some guitarists have gone on to find themselves a valuable part in history, Van Halen was the one who took things a step further and redefined musical history. He was described as a “guitar god” by Kiss singer Gene Simmons. Many others have claimed he was a modern-day Mozart. Back in 1984, a song was breaking all kinds of records. It was called Jump, and the man behind its insane creativity was Van Halen. He was known for his almost alien-like skills on guitars. While the world continued to learn by copying others, Van Halen created new techniques and set the gears in motion for the world to follow.
Rise to stardom.
Eddie Van Halen was born in the Netherlands, and he initially learned how to play the piano. In 1962, he and his family emigrated to California, and on his way over he played the piano on the boat. He later learned how to play the drums, and eventually settled with a guitar, a move that would soon make him into a legend.
This talented musician formed a band called Van Halen, and he was the driving force behind the songs. The band released its first album in 1978, and it quickly became a commercial success. The album reserved the 19th spot on Billboard charts, thus cementing a solid foundation for Van Halen. Over the years, Van Halen continued to produce four more albums, each of them receiving mixed reviews, but largely successful. However, the biggest success was yet to come.
In 1984, on the release of the band’s sixth album, Eddie Van Halen shifted his creativity a little and focused on synths over the guitars. What transpired was Jump, a single that dominated the charts. Following that, this gifted guitarist continued to impress the world with his original and creative approach to music.
Throughout his career, he gave the world many albums, some of which are:
- Van Halen
- Van Halen II
- Diver Down
- For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge
- Live: Right Here, Right Now (live album)
- Best of - Volume I (compilation album)
Five must-know songs For guitarists
If you truly love your guitars and you aspire to be a great guitarist, below are five songs you should absolutely know, learn, and play.
These are not listed here because I wanted them to be there (OK, that may not be 100 percent true), but these alone will give you so much knowledge that you may never need to consult any other book again.
- Panama - There is yet to come a song that has a better intro than this one. Eddie Van Halen gave the world a truly classic track.
- Jump - If guitarists are known for their solos, this is it for Van Halen.
- Eruption - A live recording that stopped the world in sheer awe. Van Halen proved yet again why he is the guitar god.
- Why Can’t This Be Love - Van Halen silenced the critics, and he did it exquisitely well.
- Poundcake - When you think six strings aren’t enough, in comes Poundcake.
All of the above are truly creative and will deservedly inspire every single guitarist on earth.
Eddie Van Halen was already famous in the United Kingdom, especially for playing the critically acclaimed solo of Michael Jackson’s Beat It. It was during this era that Van Halen gave the world something called “two-handed tapping,” leaving even the then-greats lost in the shadow of his brilliance. The world had never seen anyone use that technique before, let alone master it. Van Halen gave the world a completely new venue to explore and learn from. The crowd that normally gathered around the stage would wait eagerly for Van Halen to pull off this mind-boggling technique. The experience was electric, and that is to say it mildly. His techniques inspired generations of guitarists throughout the world, most of which went on to become extremely successful. Rolling Stone magazine named Van Halen as the eighth entry for the world’s all-time greatest guitarists (Murray, 2020).
Van Halen was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. He was honored for his exquisite pieces from Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love to Panama.
Frankenstein - A Composite Electric Guitar.
Every major celebrity, signature artist, or renowned legends usually impresses guitar manufacturers, pushing them to produce a line of unique guitars as a tribute. Of course, these guitars do sell like hotcakes, and Frankenstein was no exception. However, this special one has a different story. Unlike Ibanez, which continues to mass-produce its guitars, Frankenstein was created and designed by Van Halen himself. Using only the most desirable parts from Gibson and some Fender guitars, Van Halen wanted to create a masterpiece. He was aiming to put together pieces, just like in the monster-come-to-life story, to create the perfect guitar that could deliver him the kind of tone he wanted. The product was named Frankenstein. The guitar struck a chord with audiences. Every other company went on to replicate his design while other guitarists started working on their own designs. Van Halen initially painted his guitar white with black stripes. After noticing how many guitarists started copying his design, he repainted the guitar and added a touch of red. The guitar remains in exhibitions for the world to see and pay respects to the late legend.
To give you an idea of how major of an operation the guitar underwent, here are some specs
- Contoured ash Strat-style body
- Two-piece maple neck
- 25.5” scale
- Spray-painted (red, black, and white)
- Bolt-on neck with a rosewood dot inlay
- An unmarked headstock
- A modified Gibson PAF humbucking pickup at the bridge
- A dummy neck pickup
- Heavily modified pickup cavity at routing
- Single volume knob labeled “Tone”
- Floyd rose locking vibrato bridge
- Rolled duct tape on the lower horn to attach picks
- Plastic reflectors on the back
- Fender neck plate (the Met 150, n.d.)
If you are a seasoned guitarist, you would know just how difficult the fusion between Gibson and Fender would have been. However, Van Halen persevered, took a chisel and carved what needed to be done, and eventually created a masterpiece for the world to admire. Today, it serves as a part of his legacy.
The guitar can be viewed at The Met 150 Museum.
When Eddie Van Halen died Oct. 6, 2020, fighting throat cancer, he left behind a legacy that could never be replicated.