Electric Etudes: Eddie Van Halen Techniques
Learn essential licks from one of the most influential guitarists of all time.
• Improve tremolo-picking technique.
• Learn how to shift between several different rhythms during a solo.
• Understand how to play arpeggios with right-hand tapping.
Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.
If Jimi Hendrix was the most influential rock guitarist of the late ’60s, then Edward Van Halen is without a doubt the most important rock guitarist to emerge during the latter part of the ’70s. After relocating to California from the Netherlands, Van Halen completely reinvented modern rock guitar and totally changed everything that came after him. Along with his brother Alex on drums, bassist Michael Anthony, and manic frontman David Lee Roth, Van Halen would go on to spearhead one of the biggest rock bands of all time. The group’s catchy, hook-filled songs scored high on the charts and were the perfect vehicle for Eddie’s blistering guitar work.
For this lesson I’ve focused on the sound of vintage Van Halen tracks like “I’m the One” and “Hot for Teacher.” The licks in the solo can be heard in numerous Van Halen songs and will give you a pretty good overview of his style. The main challenge will be the feel of the rhythm part. It’s an uptempo shuffle that clocks in at a death-defying 230 bpm. The tendency will be to play the eighth-notes with a straight feel, but try to swing them as much as you can. I’ve tried to include as many “Eddie-isms” as possible in this track.
Click here for Ex. 1
The opening riff kicks things into high gear and is inspired by the groove from “I’m the One.” It’s built around an open-string figure based on the 5th string, and includes a speedy triplet move on the 4th string. The double-stops in both the first and second endings give a nod to Eddie’s fretwork in “Hot for Teacher.”
Eddie loves to use natural harmonics and I’ve included a bunch in the next section. These are fairly simple to play, but the key is developing just the right touch to make them pop. Place one of your fretting-hand fingers (usually your middle finger) directly over the fret shown in the tab. Don’t fret the note, but place just enough pressure to sound the harmonic when you pluck the string. If you’re new to this technique, start over the 12th fret—those are the easiest harmonics to generate.
The solo section kicks off with a flowing legato phrase that pops up in several of Van Halen’s most famous lead breaks. The lick is quite tricky and mixes up several different rhythms. The opening flurry is played entirely on the 1st string before descending across the strings and ending with a pair of bends.
Harmonics appear again in the next section of the solo. While holding the bend up to the C#, tap on the indicated frets to sound the artificial harmonics. These harmonics will be diatonic to the fretted note, namely a third or fifth. Hints of “Eruption” come next with a two-measure phrase that uses tremolo picking to walk up an F# Dorian (F#–G#–A–B–C#–D#–E) scale.
Take it easy with the wide legato stretches in the next section. Start them slow and make sure each note comes through clearly before you increase the tempo. At the end of this phrase, I mixed up the rhythm again and added in a quintuplet—a rhythmic figure that incorporates five notes in a single beat.
It would be hard to overestimate the importance of right-hand string tapping in Van Halen’s technique. He likely wasn’t the first one to do it, but he took it to places nobody had ever thought of. As a tribute to the groundbreaking “Eruption,” the next section of the solo is a very long legato phrase that screams all things Eddie. I start by arpeggiating an Am triad (A–C–E) before moving to an F triad (F–A–C). Since both triads share two common tones, the shift is as simple as moving the tapped note from the 12th fret to the 13th. More “Eruption” hijinks happen with a legato phrase that’s based around the A blues scale (A–C–D–Eb–E–G). With enough gain, these licks should flow pretty smoothly.
Recording details: For our track I used my Music Man Axis Super Sport, a guitar derived from the original EVH Music Man. The guitar tones came from Positive Grid’s JamUp Pro for iPad via an Apogee Jam interface. I panned the guitar to the left and added reverb on the right during mixdown. This technique adds space to the mix and is very apparent on Van Halen’s first album.
For the solo, I used a little bit more gain with a model of an MXR Micro Amp in JamUp and added both reverb and echo to the right side. Eddie’s tone is a lot cleaner than you may think, so don’t go for a saturated metal tone. To get that vintage EVH bite, make sure you don’t scoop out the midrange. Instead, try to dial out some of the lows and add some top-end presence.