- Publish Date
- Friday, 7 January 2022, 8:47AM
There are few behind-the-scenes jobs in rock 'n' roll more prestigious than being Eddie Van Halen's guitar technician, and that particular job came with a mountain of pressure.
Eddie's virtuosity, exacting techniques and unique playing style demanded a lot from his instruments, and especially in the later years of his career, guitar techs who truly understood Eddie's needs became harder to come by.
After a string of techs who didn't measure up, Eddie and the rest of the Van Halen camp were relieved to find Tom Weber, who held onto the job from 2007 through Eddie's death in 2020.
Weber and Eddie first met in 1987 but were reconnected through Eddie's former tech Matt Bruck in the mid-2000s, when Eddie had lost (fired) several techs in between. Bruck took Weber over to 5150 Studios and laid out the parameters of the job interview.
"Matt takes a guitar out of a gig bag and hands it to me and he said, 'You're to set this up the way you think Ed would like it, and I'm to give you absolutely no information to go by,'" Weber told the The Jeremy White Show.
Weber thought the challenge was odd, but reasoned that "if this was easy, I wouldn't be here. And I know that they're on at least their third guy in production rehearsal. So things aren't going well at this point."
Clearly, there was more to Eddie's setup than that of a typical guitarist. So Weber thought back to his encounter with the maestro so many years earlier and what he knew of Eddie's playing style and musical background.
"I remember, you know, shaking hands with him [in 1993]. He had a really strong grip," Weber said.
A heavier hand could mean that Eddie would intonate sharp when fretting notes in a standard setup. Weber's task, he thought, might be to compensate for that.
"So I figure, Ed's got a helluva left hand. I'm going to have to set the intonation flat enough so that when he grabs the neck the notes are right," Weber recalled. "Well, when you strike a note on a guitar to tune it, the note starts out going sharp and then it settles into pitch. Ed Van Halen's not going to stay in one place long enough for a note to settle into pitch. So as you pick the string, I figure that's got to be the note.
"He's also a classically trained pianist, so the strings open [unfretted] on the guitar don't mean anything [in terms of intonation]. They have to be in tune with themselves where he's playing for any given song."
Weber says he went on to temper tune the guitar, meaning the open strings would ring flat so the fretted notes would be in tune under Eddie's strong fingers.
"...The high D# [open string] is literally 14 cents flat, which means that if I played one of Ed's guitars the way that I play my own guitars, I'd sound like a blithering idiot because I'd be so out of tune it was ridiculous," he noted. "But I thought, 'Okay, this is as far off-center as I can make it and if it's wrong, I've had a chance at working with arguably the greatest guitar player of our time."
Bruck brought the guitar up to Eddie and returned a few minutes later with a smile on his face. He told Weber that "nobody in the world can tune a guitar" for Ed and Weber got closer on his first attempt than anyone before him.
Weber was sent back to his hotel with another guitar to work on. Ed wanted to make sure he was good and not just lucky.
After returning the next day, Eddie tried out the second guitar in front of Weber.
"He picked it up and he put the neck up to his ear and he played a chord and he said, 'It's perfect. Where have you been all my life?'" Weber recalled. "I said, 'On the other end of the phone waiting for you to f---in' call me!' He had my telephone number since 1987..."
Check out the full segment via the player above!