How Van Halen''s split broadened the musical landscape of the mid-''80s.
I remember the days of running down to the mailbox to see if the latest of many guitar magazine subscriptions had arrived, always hoping for one of two players to be on the cover: Eddie Van Halen or Steve Vai. Nothing drove me to my room faster for a three-hour session with the metronome than a fresh article from one of these rags. In the ’80s, young guitarists had to learn scales, finger tapping, whammy bar stunts, and lightning-fast crazy picking in order to have the chops necessary to play the music of the time period. It's funny to look back at how we dressed and the acrobatic crazy style of guitar playing, but if y¬¬ou wanted the admiration of your high school peers—and more importantly, the attention of the big-haired, acid-washed-jean-sporting girls from homeroom—you had to separate yourself from the pack. These were the days of force-fed hair metal and gigantor arena rock perpetuated by the publishers of Circus, Hit Parade, and Metal Edge magazine, as well as MTV and record store advertisements. Ah yes, it was a great time to be a 13-year-old kid.
The biggest things to happen to this 13-year-old kid in 1986 was the release of the Van Halen album, 5150, as well as the release of the David Lee Roth album, Eat ’Em and Smile.
They were complete opposites in style, image, and content. On one side of the coin you had the dynamic, polished, and perfected recipe of Eddie and Sammy. On the other was the innovative-daredevil playing of Steve Vai, combined with the "WTF is he saying?" lyrical stylings of Diamond Dave—the original ass-less-chaps-wearing golden god of metallic entertainment. 5150 was drenched in keyboards, Simmons drums, and high, melodic vocal melodies—not to mention, great pop-rock songwriting. Eat ’Em, was filled with high-flying, impossible guitar and bass riffage, combined with the spirit and vision of the original blonde banshee, and DLR’s own brand of back-page Penthouse magazine, tongue-in-cheek lyrics.
Eat ’Em and Smile
David Lee Roth assembled the ultimate team of wizards to go out and compete with his former band: a drummer in Greg Bissonett that could rival Alex (in drumming, though not in partying); Billy Sheehan, who attacks the bass like no other, often laying down a rhythm track that guitarists could never match; and, last but not least, the original little green man … Steve Vai.
Digging deep into Vai's tracks is an eye-crossing experience. Even today, more than 25 years later, nobody has intertwined the inventive power chord rhythm verse tracks, (thank you EVH), with mind-blowing lead guitar pyrotechnics and highly original noodling everywhere in between like Vai has. Picking apart his guitar lines track by track is a sonic adventure—and a surprising number of licks are actually played by Billy! There is a clickety-click tonality to Vai's playing, where you really hear the feel of his right hand in the guitar parts. Picking out individual notes in chords, and making them the connecting glue from riff to riff. He also makes wonderful use of the Floyd Rose, both in leads and in chord dynamics, bending and shaping movements by way of dips, wiggles, and dives.
Dave and the boys created a new style of music: Two-parts fire and ice musical imagery, one part pomp and diamond-studded fluff, and one part tight-rope walk between dynamics and silliness. It was a new Diamond Dave: stronger, faster, and bolder than ever.
The Roth show was nothing short of a full-scale sonic attack on the audience. Steve Vai wiggling like a charmed snake on his side of the stage, and Billy 'rasslin his bass around his body like a leather boa, were perfect bookends to Captain Charisma spinning, kicking, and gyrating in center stage. These guys were great entertainers, providing classic ’80s arena rock excitement that matched their insane musicianship.
Van Halen was also branching out, giving in to Sammy's pop sensibility and songwriting craftsmanship, while still allowing Eddie to give us plenty of harmonic dive bombs and horse whinnies.
Eddie may be the greatest hard rock rhythm player ever. Creating solid, motor-revving song foundations, often with two- and three-note power chords, and combing that with his brother’s constantly cymbal-washed backbeat, makes a huge sound. Recently strapping on the high-dollar headphones and going inside the tracks, I realized that Alex was overplaying and attacking many of the tracks with furious drumming, while Eddie is actually keeping it more reserved and just performing the track in a solid, rhythmic mantra, choosing the right breaks between lyric lines, to throw a little flash here and there.
The introduction of the Steinberger TransTrem into Eddie’s hands was something that even I was a little skeptical about (I thought I knew it all at the ripe old age of 13), because even with the red/white/black graphic, at the end of the day it still looked silly. Yet the riff of “Get Up” and intro of “Summer Night” are just outright innovative and unique.
Van Halen was having fun. They were putting out the good party vibes, with grins from ear to ear, dressing in pajamas on a sleek stage and just running, jumping, and providing stadium-energized rock with plenty of sing-along anthems and Bic lighter opportunities.
It was a good time to be a kid. The Van Halen split provided a new spark for both camps, and you could be a fan of both sides, because they each gave out enough of a different energy that you didn't have to choose which was better. They were both great power punch rock albums that a young guitarist could really sink his fingers into.
27 Years Later
With the perspective of a quarter-century behind me, this is what I see as the high and low points for each record:
I love the free form feel of Eat ’Em and Smile—feeling like the rock train could go off the rails at any moment lends to the excitement of Steve Vai's playing. “Elephant Gun” was a great example of the power and fun of the new band: classic VH double-bass-drum groove with classic Diamond verbal musings. “Big Trouble” was my favorite from first listen—it just had my curiosity piqued. I still have no idea what the song is about, but it's easy to lose yourself in Vai's trickery and string-weaving wonders. The song “Bump and Grind,” sounds to me like the band looks and “Shyboy,” despite being an awesome Billy Sheehan tune before Dave, remained a great performance after Dave. “Yankee Rose” was the first thing we saw from the spandex- and ladies’ boot-clad, good-time having DLR band.
On the downside, the album is too short: 30 minutes and 39 seconds is far too short for such a highly anticipated release. Plus, only six of the 10 tracks are original Roth compositions—nearly half of the record is covers of others, which gives the appearance of a rushed album, trying to keep up with the Van Halen brothers’ release. The energy captured on this album is nothing short of circus sideshow fun, and it would have served well to have had a little more of it.
Overall I think the songs, melodies, riffs, and lyrical content of 5150 are great. It's a full album feel—fast songs, slow songs, songs about girls ... all the important ingredients. The rhythm guitar track of the title song—not just the supersonic intro but the single-note simplicity of the verses and riff note choice—is a thing of guitar hero beauty. In addition to faves “Best of Both Worlds,” “Summer Nights,” and “Get Up,” I have to tip my hat to the opening song, “Good Enough.” In 1986, we were buying cassette tapes—no skipping tracks, and you started the album on the first song. The first song was the first thing the band wanted you to hear, and in crazy anticipation of only the biggest thing to happen in my 13 years of life at that time, putting in the new Van Halen album, was something of a religious experience. I had no idea what to expect, and by the end of “Good Enough,” I knew that I was going to accept this new VH album with open arms … open arms raised high, with devil horns flying!
Minuses? Short haircuts and electronic drums! I must admit that at the time, I loved the sound of the drums and could not get enough of the round-the-world tom rolls that Alex is known for (it was the ’80s after all), but sitting here 25+ years later, the tones of those drums don't hold weight to me.
In summation, 1986 was a fork in the rock ’n’ roll highway, and I liked both directions! Please share your memories and perspective in the comments section below.
Gearmanndude...born on planet Rockturneas...sent by the ancient tone lords to provide public service to planet Earth...to demo gear, man. Dude...
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Looking for a compact, “noiseless” way to plug in and play guitar? Check out the brand-new Gibson Digital Amp, available only in the Gibson App.
The new Gibson App simplifies the learning process and brings guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way. The Gibson App is the place to take your guitar playing to the next level. New to the Gibson App is the Gibson Digital Amp, the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediate players and pros to get their sound anywhere. The Gibson Digital Amp is an accessible amplifier for both acoustic and electric guitars, and is currently available for Apple/iOS users--an Android version will debut next year.
Use the Gibson Digital Amp’s jamming guide to get started and transform your sound with built-in effects and pedals, jam to backing tracks, or use it in lessons and songs. The Gibson Digital Amp only requires your phone, and wired headphones for the best playing experience, no cables are needed. The amp features 3 acoustic mic presets, 4 electric amp presets, and 6 effects pedals.
The Gibson Digital Amp is the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediates and pros.
The Gibson App uses a unique two-way, interactive platform to teach guitar students how to do everything from playing their first note to shredding loads of songs. The Gibson App features interactive lessons with thousands of lessons and songs. Learn the songs step-by-step with video tutorials from superstar artists and pro guitarists in the “Gibson App Guide.” The Gibson App also includes the new Digital Amp, a built-in tuner, a metronome, Gibson TV, and new songs are added every week. New Gibson App Guides are added regularly and include Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer’s favorite iconic KISS guitar solos, Richie Faulkner’s (Judas Priest) “Guide to Metal,” Jared James Nichols’ “Guide to Blues,” CELISSE’s “Guide to Songwriting,” and more.
The Gibson App uses “audio augmented reality” to provide dynamic feedback to students as they learn and play. As you pluck a note or strum a chord, the Gibson App listens to your guitar and gives you real-time feedback on your playing. It also gives students a more contextual learning experience: Instead of learning chords and scales in a vacuum, you’re able to practice on a scrolling tablature that lets you hear how you sound with the backing of a virtual band. That means you can load up “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Girl" by Tom Petty, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Where is My Mind" by Pixies, “Country Roads” by John Denver, “I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett, “Heaven” by Kane Brown, “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran, “Killer Queen” by Queen,“ Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns ‘N Roses, “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Roxanne” by The Police, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, and “Don't Look Back In Anger” by Oasis and hundreds more songs in a wide range of genres, to see how your play matches up with such seminal tracks.
As you’re playing, the Gibson App gives you feedback on timing and tone, ensuring that students are getting active input on how their play is developing. The Gibson App appeals to players of all levels, it’s not just for beginners looking to learn a few chords; the app can assist seasoned guitarists who are working their way through difficult riffs, want to learn their favorite songs, or polish their advanced techniques.
Players can also challenge themselves by speeding up or slowing the tabs. Like having a full-time guitar teacher, the Gibson App keeps track of all your progress and adjusts lesson plans accordingly. The Gibson App released a “backing track mode” which supports both lesson and song playback without headphones, so users can self-select what works best for their current environment. And that’s not all: the Gibson App also packs in a fully-featured digital tuner for guitar first-timers, there’s even a detailed lesson on how to tune your instrument, a multi-function metronome, players can connect to free one-on-one consultations with Gibson’s Virtual Guitar Tech team, and to direct links to the Gibson, Epiphone, and Kramer online stores for easy shopping for guitars, gear, apparel, and accessories.
Learn Guitar With The Gibson App
The Gibson App is more than a pocket-sized guitar teacher, it’s loaded with an archive of exclusive content and original programming from its premium and accessible award-winning online network, Gibson TV, featuring music icons telling their best guitar stories, with more episodes and installments added regularly. Users can watch Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi share insights and tales from his decades-long career on the series “Icons,” dive into Joe Bonamassa’s assortment of legendary Les Paul guitars on “The Collection,” or see how Gibson’s iconic instruments are made in their Nashville factory from body to binding on “The Process.” There’s even a series called “The Scene” that focuses on backstage stories from hallowed music venues from coast to coast like The Troubadour and Grand Ole Opry.
The Gibson App free version features a few lessons a day; the premium version of the Gibson App offers full access and a 14-day free trial, then costs $19.99/£16.49 monthly or $119.99/£98.99 yearly.
For more information, please visit gibson.com.
This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
Belltone Guitars, as part of their Custom-Select System curated offering of pickups, has partnered McNelly pickups to create a one-of-a-kind retro-vibe P-90 pickup in the standard Filtertron size format. This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl, and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
The McNelly P-90 Foil-Coil comes housed in a ‘raw’ nickel outer casing with a dull nickel foil face with metal mount screw gromets to complete the ‘new-vintage’ aesthetic, making it a perfect choice for your signature Belltone custom build. Available exclusively through Belltone Guitars.
Check out the Custom-Select System belltoneguitars.com to preview the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons and all our standard and selectable components available to create your own signature Belltone. Then visit the Dream Lab on our website and select either model B-Classic ONE with its top binding or B-Classic TWO with its arm and body contours select your body color from our wide range of offerings, select your neck profile of either standard ‘C’ or thicker ’59 Round Back and either Maple or Rosewood fingerboard followed by your tuners, pickguard, and strings. Finally, review our curated custom-designed, and unique pickup selection to locate the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons to complete your signature build.
Builds start at just over $2,300.00 with a custom case and shipping included.
For more information, please visit belltoneguitars.com.
McNelly P 90 Foil Tron video Sep27
Belltone P-90 Foil-Tron Pickup
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses.
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the release of the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses. The new Relentless P and Relentless J series pickups feature the Relentless cover designed in collaboration with Billy Sheehan.
As with the Relentless pickups, we removed all the hard edges from the standard P Bass and standard J Basspickups, and added an arch to the top of the pickups to bring the sensing coils and pole pieces closer to the strings. These improvements increase the dynamic range and make active circuitry unnecessary.
The Relentless P and Relentless J pickups incorporate Neodymium magnets and produce 70 percent more output than traditional passive pickups, and they’re dead quiet due to the incorporation of metal covers and foil-shielded cables. To dial in (or fine-tune) the individual string output, the Relentless P and Relentless J include eight adjustable pole pieces. These pickups also have a broad magnetic field so you can even bend notes without volume dropout.
DiMarzio’s extra shielding makes the Relentless P and Relentless J better for both recording and stage performances. We’ve mounted them onto robust .09375” thick circuit board base plates to eliminate the annoying protruding mounting screws — ultimately creating a more comfortable and consistent foundation to rest your fingers on.
The new Relentless P steps beyond the traditional P-Bass sound and can only be described as massive. It has more of everything: more volume, beefier lows, a growling midrange, and crispy highs with better individual string definition.
The Relentless J incorporates a new invention, (patent pending) parallelogram-shaped coils, offering an expanded mid-range punch, snappy highs, precise lows, and a new dimension to the sound of the Relentless series pickups.
Relentless P and Relentless J pickups will breathe new life into any bass, increase playability, and work well for any style of music from Motown to metal.
DiMarzio’s Relentless P, Relentless J Bridge, Relentless J Neck, and Relentless J pair are made in the U.S.A. and may now be ordered for immediate delivery.
Suggested List Price for the Relentless P is $169.00 (MAP $119.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Bridge and Relentless J neck is $155.00 (MAP $109.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Pair is $296.00 (MAP 209.99).
For more information, please visit our website at dimarzio.com.