Eddie Van Halen hated that his guitar playing overshadowed his music

Publish Date
Wednesday, 17 February 2021, 8:19AM
Getty Images

Getty Images

Eddie Van Halen's transcendence as perhaps the most impactful guitar player of the 20th century was genuinely frustrating to him at times.

The late-Van Halen mastermind thought of himself as a musician first, and a composer, who also played guitar. His technical innovations on the guitar were the result of his pursuit of the perfect sound for his music, not of affirmation from other players.

Toto guitarist Steve Lukather described his longtime friend's tone-chasing in a recent interview with Guitar World.

"He was just a humble little guy who just loved to mess with s--t and do things different," Lukather said. "The worst thing that could have happened to Eddie Van Halen would have been guitar lessons. When it came down to details about equipment and how he liked to do things, he always had an 'adventure mentality.' He knew what he wanted. And he wanted really weird s--t."

Eddie saw the guitar as a means to an end, a tool to breathe life into the music that was in his head. Lukather saw Eddie's process up close for the first time in 1989. Eddie would do anything to get a guitar to make the sound he wanted — whether it was tapping the fretboard with fingers on both hands or more drastic measures.

Lukather and Eddie were working on the song "Twist the Knife" from Lukather's '89 debut solo album. Lukather was having trouble getting the right sound when Eddie offered a solution.

"He gave me a guitar and he said, 'Tune it up a whole step and take an A bass string and tune it [up] to B.' And I go, 'What? The neck's gonna bend in half. What the f--k?' He goes, 'Trust me.' I did it and I got a good take out of it, and that's the record."

Indeed, Eddie's most iconic instrument — his red, white and black 'FrankenStrat' — was routed, drilled, burned and otherwise 'modified' to the point where it looked more like something out of a landfill than a working musical instrument. But it worked for Eddie.

Lukather went on to recall a conversation he had with Eddie regarding his signature techniques, which were quickly nicked by a legion of players.

"I remember him telling me, 'Look, man, I never meant to turn it into this parlor-trick thing — it's just the way I play," he said. "He found a new way to fill out the sound. He created a whole orchestra on the instrument. ...You have to look at things pre-Van Halen and post-Van Halen when it comes to guitar."

This article was first published on iheart.com and is republished here with permission