Eddie Van Halen is widely considered the most significant electric guitar innovator after Hendrix. Rightly so, no one before him had ever played with such intensity, power, and heavy tone. All guitarists hail his experimenting with guitars and amps as the foundation of hard rock and metal guitar. This Eddie Van Halen guitar and gear list is meant for all guitar players who want to know in detail what gear he used and how you can get the “brown” tone today.
Born in the Netherlands in 1955, his career spanned from the 70s to his recent death on October 6, 2020. Not many other musicians achieved what Eddie did in the 80s. His career with Van Halen and later solo put him into stardom as a ‘Guitar God.’ Most importantly for us guitarists, no one had ever heard a wilder-sounding guitar before the self-titled album ‘Van Halen’ came out in 1978.
The tight articulated playing, rock shredding mixed with blues, and pulsating rhythm guitar still stand out today, even though imitated by thousands of others. Who would even imagine that a homemade Superstrat he named “Frankenstrat” and modded amps would become so iconic as to inspire entire genres?
As a studio guitarist, I get a request for a “Van Halen Sounding” rhythm or lead part at least once every month. Collecting some of his gear or similar ones that achieved that tone was not only a passion but a necessity. Leading you to some of the budget alternatives to the Van Halen tone is one of the main reasons I write this article.
5 Thing You Need To Know About Eddie Van Halen
- His legendary guitar solo track “Eruption” brought tapping to the mainstream and defined how Rock solos would sound in the future
- His band, founded by Eddie and his brother, is ranked seventh on the list of top 100 Hard Rock Bands and 20th on the RIAA list of best-selling albums
- ‘Van Halen’ was inducted into the Rock n” Roll hall of fame in 2007
- He collaborated with many top-charting musicians, most notably with Michael Jackson on the ‘Beat It’ solo
- He designed along with Peavy the 5150 amplifiers and later on started his own amplifier company ‘EVH.’
Eddie Van Halen’s Guitar – The Frankenstrat
The “Guitar God” of the 80s used a guitar as unique as his playing. The guitar results from combining different guitar body parts, mainly Charvel with a Stratocaster. His goal was to keep the slick body and playability of the Strat but make the tone heavier by fitting PAF Gibson pickups later switched to Seymour Duncans.
The limited functionality of the pickup selector and visible inaccuracies show that this guitar is ‘home-made’ with little knowledge of how electronics work. After getting it assembled and ready, the final touch was putting strips of gaffer’s tape on the body and painting it originally white before re-taping and painting it red in 1979.
The guitar went through many changes with different necks, bridges, and pickups. He admitted that many of the changes, such as the extra pickups and pickup selector, were not attached to anything and only meant to throw off companies imitating him. Ibanez, Charvel, Fender all had their take on making a signature model.
Today, fortunately, you purchase a signature Frankestrat with the latest upgrades that fit any modern guitarist.
EVH Striped Series Frankenstein Relic
This guitar is a perfect replica of Eddie’s original with all its ‘flaws’ and a versatile, easy-to-play rock guitar. Even though many players don’t like artificially relic guitars, there is no other way of achieving the Wild and almost Careless look of the Frankestrat.
- It stays true to the original Van Halen design and finish
- Heavy rock tone that spans from warm to right and aggressive
- Dummy Strat Single-coil on the neck and Wolfgang humbucker on the bridge
- Comfortable 12”-16” compound-radius fingerboard with 22 frets
- EVH Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo with D-Tuna
- Basswood body and Maple neck/fingerboard
This single-cut solid-body guitar is arguably one of the best guitars to play rock and metal with.
The tuning is perfectly stable, and the hand D-tuna lets you switch to drop D tuning in an instant without detuning the other strings. The Stratocaster neck pickup adds versatility with a sharp, clean tone fit for blues and soft rock.
One thing to note is that Fender owns EVH, and all the guitars now are manufactured by them.
If you are a Van Halen fan, this guitar is all you wish for. After all, it’s designed by his company. If you are not much into Eddie’s music, you will hardly find a more versatile instrument for heavy rhythm and lead playing.
The guitar is expensive but not as much as to make it not affordable as many signature models of other guitar heroes. If you want to learn more, you can read a full review of the Frenkestrat that goes into much more detail.
Did Eddie Van Halen use other guitars apart from the Frankestrat?
He used other guitars in the second half of his career, most of which he designed himself.
The Striped EVH series is not limited to the Frankestrat replica, and there’s the Wolfgang series to consider. All the guitars go under the brand EVH (Edward Van Halen). The parent company is, however, Fender.
Eddie used multiple guitars, and there are many EVH models you can buy today, varying from affordable to extremely expensive.
Van Halen Guitars You Can Buy Today
The Striped EVH series
The single-pickup Striped Series 5150 and the wild-looking Striped Series Shark are especially worth checking out for a more specific tone and look.
All guitars of the Stripped series were designed and sometimes originally built by Eddie himself. He would often go on stage with a completely new ‘home-made’ guitar and leave people wondering what the model was. Luckily he decided to make replicas of the most popular ones.
The tone of these guitars is very similar to the Frankestrat since they are used to achieve a similar result.
The Wolfgang Series
The Wolfgang series is an original Van Halen design manufactured first by Music Man and later by Peavy. The guitar series is named after his son, who later became the bass player of Van Halen. Like all other EVH guitars and amps, the series is manufactured with the help of Fender a
Suppose you have been playing guitar for some years. In that case, you can immediately tell the similarity between the Wolfgang series and Music Man’s primary series of guitars. Both as short scale, easy to play, heavy tone, and versatile. Most importantly, they span from affordable to premium. You can get a great guitar.
Some notable Instruments on the Wolfgang series are the EVH Wolfgang USA Signature and the budget alternative EVH Standard QM.
The US-made models are excellent rock/metal guitars with the latest modern features. Even though the difference in price between the two models is massive, you can get a similar feel and tone from the QM and WM series.
Eddie Van Halen Amps – The 5150
The biggest Van Halen contribution to guitar tone was designing the Peavy 5150 amp. Along with Peavy engineer James, they spent the early 90s building the first 5150 model that pushed rock and metal to new sonic heights. The 5150 tone is so common today that many of you reading articles probably own an amp or plugin that somehow emulates it.
The 5150 came out of the need to have more gain and more flexibility for heavy music. Before that, the Van Halen “Brown tone” was achieved using a simple variable transformer to tweak his Marshall Amp.
The Variac simply pushed the amp above its limits producing more gain. When Van Halen’s first album was released, no one had heard that much gain on a guitar before and high gain amps were not what they are today.
Some of Eddie Van Halen’s main amps were the following.
1960s Marshall Super lead
This amp was the standard for rock guitarists of the Era that all the great used at a point. The Super lead and its many variations are one of Marshall’s finest and most sold creations over the years. Everyone from Eric Clapton to Jeff Beck used them with success.
Eddie’s original Marshall had small tweaks, but it was mainly stock. The variac set at different would make his Marshall tone unique and have the listener wonder what gear he is using.
Today there’s not much point in using the same setup as amp builder caught up, and this unique setup has influenced every high gain amp.
Peavy 5150 Blockletter
There are many different 5150 amps today built from different brands. However, all of them are based on the original Blocketter amp released in 1992 by Peavy.
This highly praised and groundbreaking amp was the first to give hard rock and metal players all the gain and control they needed. It’s safe to say that entire metal sub-genres were born after this amp was released.
As Eddie’s main amp and contribution to rock’s sound, the best way to reproduce his tone is to purchase one of its many variations. An original Blockletter is hard to find and only a few of them used the original ‘Svetlana’ power tubes that eventually ran out. If you manage to find one in good condition, it would be wise to buy it if you can afford it.
The ‘5150 Tone’ is a visceral wild distorted tone fit for every kind of heavy genre. It’s highly versatile and customizable with the right guitar and technique by adding or removing small nuances.
The original Blockletter amp, in contrast with the newer edition, has less gain but is wilder as it lacks the articulation of modern amps. Some vintage tone lovers tend to prefer the nature of these amps due to their originality.
The Peavey 5150 II and 6505+ are great choices for a very similar tone to the authentic.
EVH 5150 Iconic
After parting way with Peavy, Eddie founded his own company, EVH” which to this day produces EVH amps. Even though Fender owns the brand, the amps stay true to the original 5150 tones and add a modern element.
All EVH 5150 amps have one main difference from Peavy 5150’s; The more articulated controlled tone and more gain. Having more gain makes them more suitable for Metal and its extreme subgenres that require down-tuned guitars and lots of gains. This amp essentially created the modern metal tone.
The 5150 Iconic was released in 2004, with many new models released since then. Out of all, the EVH 5150 III stands out as it’s small but packed with heavy tones. Being more affordable than the average high-gain quality tube amp with three channels changed the game for many great guitarists.
What is the ‘Brown Tone?’
In the words of Eddie, “I want my guitar to sound like Al’s snare…..Warm, big, and majestic.” The brown tone can be described with the same words. Muted power chords sound percussive, while open chords are aggressive and wild. The Brown Tone, more precisely, is the guitar sound of Van Halen’s first three records.
Eddie is known to play open chords and acoustic-like arpeggios using this particular tone. A great sound to take as an example of the brown tone is the song ‘Ain’t talking bout love’, where his arpeggios, power chords, open chords, and solos shine.
Eddie Van Halen Effect Pedals
Without getting into the effects Eddie Van Halen uses, I will say up front that most of his tone comes from the amp and guitar. He is not known for using complex pedals board, which makes his creativity and musicianship even superior.
His pedalboard only covers the basic categories every gigging played would need. A unique aspect of his usage of effect is that, in most cases is very subtle and mainly intended for making the guitar stand out or filling up the song sonically.
MXR PHASE 90
Eddie liked to use a phaser pedal when soloing to make the lead stand out from the rhythm parts. The MXR Phase 90 is a subtle phaser effect that does not color the guitar tone extensively. It gives enough edge to be heard on top of other instruments if set up correctly.
The modern variant is the MXR EVH EDDIE VAN HALEN PHASE 90, which keeps the vintage feel but adds more colors. Both pedals are expensive but provide a great tone that can fit any style, not only Van Halen fans.
Here’s our complete MXR Phase 90 Review.
DUNLOP ECHOPLEX DELAY
This warm tape echo effect pedal can be found in many guitar heroes’ pedalboards. Apart from the splendid tone, the ‘age’ knob that darkens or brightens the feedback sets the pedal apart from others.
You can find a place for this effect in every rig, no matter the genre.
MXR 117 FLANGER
You can hear a Flanger effect in both the rhythm and lead parts of many of Van Halen’s songs. This effect was beneficial to him.
Being the only guitarist in the band effect used on rhythm and lead tracks fill the song with sonic delights and make riffs and lead memorable.
MXR EVH 5150 CHORUS
This pedal is a modern variation of Eddie’s original chorus pedal. The recreation is so true to the original that you can achieve the exact tone as the 70s and 80s albums.
It has both a Mono and Stereo output with an internist and volume control that help you find the right balance.
Dunlop EVH95 Eddie Van Halen Signature EVH Cry Baby Wah Pedal
This pedal is a reissue of Eddie’s personalized cry baby pedal in the 90s. Eddie’s Wah didn’t sound like any other, and this pedal is part of the merit.
How to get the Eddie Van Halen tone on a budget?
Getting the Eddie Van Halen tone is a matter of having the right ‘category’ of gear and some knowledge on how tone works.
As I mentioned before, most high gain amps today are based on the 5150. The advantage of this is that all budget high gain amps have a certain similarity in the tone. An affordable guitar fitted with a humbucker and an amp that fits the criteria, along with a couple of standard pedals like the Boss DS-1 could take you close.
When recreating the Van Halen tone with other gear, you should keep in mind not exaggerating the gain. The “Brown Tone” does not have as much gain as many people think. The amp is powerful mainly because of the high volume rather than the gain.
Another thing to keep in mind is the note separation. Eddie likes to play open chords with distortion, sounding clear. Put as much gain and balance the high and bottom end to neither sound muddy nor scratchy.
Question: What gauge pick did EVH use?
Answer: The most common was a 60 gauge Max-Grip Pick.
Question: Which guitar did Eddie Van Halen bury with Dimebag Darrell?
Answer: The original yellow bumblebee guitar was buried with Demeabd Darell.
Question: Did Eddie Van Halen use distortion pedals?
Answer: Eddie Van Halen never publicly claimed to use a distortion pedal and relied solely on the gain of his amp.
Final Thoughts on Eddie Van Halen Guitar and Gear list
Recreating Eddi Van Halen’s tone goes along with finding a high tone that just works. His tone set a standard that has been applied in modern heavy music. It has been replicated so much that many have lost the perception that it started from Eddie and his makeshift modded guitar and amp.
My final thought would be to plug in your guitar and try your hand at some of his songs. You will know what gear you need or lack to achieve the tone by learning his music. Buying gear without a fixed purpose might not get you the result you expect.
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