Eddie Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen
Performing in the late 1970s with his Frankenstrat
Performing in the late 1970s with his Frankenstrat
Background information
Birth nameEdward Lodewijk van Halen
Born(1955-01-26)January 26, 1955
Amsterdam, Netherlands
DiedOctober 6, 2020(2020-10-06) (aged 65)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
  • Musician
  • songwriter
  • producer
  • arranger
Years active1972–2015
Musical career
OriginPasadena, California, U.S.
Associated acts
ChildrenWolfgang Van Halen
  • Jan van Halen (father)
  • Eugenia van Halen (mother)
RelativesAlex Van Halen (brother)

Edward Lodewijk Van Halen (Dutch: [ˈɛdʋart ˈloːdəˌʋɛi̯k fɑn ˈɦaːlə(n)], /væn ˈhlən/ van HAY-lən; January 26, 1955 – October 6, 2020) was a Dutch-born, American musician, songwriter, producer, and inventor. He was the main songwriter and lead guitarist of the American rock band Van Halen, which he co-founded in 1972 with his brother, drummer Alex Van Halen, bassist Mark Stone, and singer David Lee Roth. He is regarded as one of the all-time great guitar players in rock history [1] and was well known for popularizing the tapping guitar solo technique, allowing rapid arpeggios to be played with two hands on the fretboard.

Early life

Born in Amsterdam, Netherlands,[2] Edward Lodewijk van Halen was the son of Jan van Halen and Eugenia née van Beers. Jan was a Dutch jazz pianist, clarinetist and saxophonist, and Eugenia was an Indo (Eurasian) from Rangkasbitung on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).[3][4] The family eventually settled in Nijmegen, Netherlands.[5]

Eddie Van Halen and his older brother Alex Van Halen in 2012. The Van Halen brothers were the founding members of Van Halen.

In 1962, the Van Halen family moved from the Netherlands to the United States, settling in Pasadena, California.[4] Eddie and his older brother, Alex Van Halen, were naturalized as U.S. citizens.[6] The brothers learned to play the piano as children starting at the age of six.[7][8] They commuted from Pasadena to San Pedro to study with an elderly piano teacher, Stasys Kalvaitis.[9]

Eddie revealed in an interview that he had never been able to read music;[10] instead, he learned from watching and listening. For example, during recitals of Bach or Mozart, he would improvise. From 1964 through 1967, he won first place in the annual piano competition held at Long Beach City College.[9] His parents wanted the boys to be classical pianists, but Eddie liked rock music much better.[11] Consequently, when Alex began playing the guitar, Eddie bought a drum kit for himself; however, after he heard Alex's performance of the Surfaris' drum solo in the song "Wipe Out", he gave Alex the drums and began learning how to play the electric guitar.[11] According to him, as a teen, he would often practice while walking around at home with his guitar strapped on or sitting in his room for hours with the door locked.[12][13]

Eddie and his brother formed their first band with three other boys, calling themselves The Broken Combs, performing at lunchtime at Hamilton Elementary School in Pasadena, where he was in the fourth grade. He would later say that this was when he first felt the desire to become a professional musician.[14]

Eddie described supergroup Cream's "I'm So Glad" on the album Goodbye as "mind-blowing".[15] He once claimed that he had learned almost all of Eric Clapton's solos in the band Cream "note for note. ... I've always said Eric Clapton was my main influence," he said, "but Jimmy Page was actually more the way I am, in a reckless-abandon kind of way."[16]

Speaking at an event at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in 2015, Eddie discussed his life and the American Dream, saying "We came here with approximately $50 and a piano, and we didn't speak the language. Now look where we are. If that's not the American dream, what is?"[17]


Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen in 2015

Eddie and his brother Alex formed a band in 1972.[18] Two years later, the band changed its name to "Van Halen" and, at the same time, became a staple of the Los Angeles music scene while playing at well-known clubs like the Whisky a Go Go.[19][20] In 1977, Warner Records offered Van Halen a recording contract.[21]

Upon its release, the band's album Van Halen reached number 19 on the Billboard pop music charts, becoming one of rock's most commercially successful debuts.[22] It was highly regarded as both a heavy metal and hard rock album.[23] By the early 1980s, Van Halen was one of the most successful rock acts of the time.[24] The album 1984 went five-times platinum a year after its release.[25] The lead single "Jump" became the band's first and only number-one pop hit and garnered them a Grammy nomination.[26]

The band won the 1992 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocals for the album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.[27] In 2019, the band ranked 20th on the RIAA list of best-selling artists with 56 million album sales in the United States[28][29] and more than 80 million worldwide.[30][31] Additionally, Van Halen charted 13 number-one hits in the history of Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart; meanwhile, VH1 ranked the band seventh on a list of the top 100 hard rock artists of all time[32] and, in 2007, Van Halen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[33] Individually, Eddie received acclaim for his guitar work in the band.[34][35]

Other work

Eddie engaged in several projects outside of his eponymous band, including solo work and partnerships with his brother on film soundtracks (such as The Wild Life, Twister, and a pornographic film[36][37]) as well as musical collaborations with Kiss bassist Gene Simmons, Nicolette Larson,[38] Michael Jackson,[39] Brian May,[40] Sammy Hagar,[41] Black Sabbath,[42] Roger Waters,[43] Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, and LL Cool J.[44] In addition, Eddie made cameo appearances in the music video for Frank Sinatra's "L.A. Is My Lady", an episode of Café Americain starring his then wife Valerie Bertinelli, and an episode of Two and a Half Men.[45]

Eddie was also an inventor on three patents related to guitars: a folding prop to support a guitar in a flat position,[46] a tension-adjusting tailpiece,[47] and an ornamental design for a headstock.[48]

Endorsements & branding


In 1981, Eddie made his first guitar endorsement by launching the 5150 Baretta model with Kramer.  This partnership lasted a decade, when in 1991 Eddie moved away from Kramer and joined forces with Ernie Ball / Music Man where they jointly developed the Music Man EVH model guitar - a partnership that lasted until 1995.  In 1996 Eddie teamed up with Peavey where they developed the Peavey EVH Wolfgang - this relationship lasted until 2004 when Eddie joined forces with Fender, initially releasing the Edward-endorsed Art Series guitars under Fender's Charvel brand and later developing the EVH brand (see below).[49]


Eddie's first string endorsement deal happened around 1989 when Ernie Ball launched the 5150 EVH line of guitar strings[50].  The gauage of the strings differed slightly from typical electric guitar strings at the time, which were 9, 11, 16, 24, 32 and 42 (in thousandths of an inch) - the EVH Ernie Ball strings measured 9, 11, 15, 24, 32 and 40.[51] After this endorsement deal ended, guitar strings became part of the Fender EVH line and are now sold as EVH Premium Strings.[52]


In 1993, Eddie collaborated with Peavey Electronics to develop a series of amplifiers and cabinets, collectively called the 5150 series. in 2004 Peavey and Eddie parted ways and Eddie started a relationship with Fender where they began development of the EVH products and brand.[53]

The EVH brand - guitars, amplifiers & accessories

In 2007 the first EVH branded amplifiers were produced by Fender, followed shortly after by a limited-edition "Frankenstrat" inspired guitar.  In 2009 they continued to press forward on the guitar front by releasing the Wolfgang-inspired EVH guitar line. The brand has since expanded to include many different models and styles of guitars, amplifiers and accessories.[54][55]

Style and influence


Eddie Van Halen using the tapping technique

Van Halen's 1978 instrumental solo "Eruption", which was voted number 2 in Guitar World's readers poll of the "100 Greatest Guitar Solos",[56][57] showcased a solo technique called tapping, using both left and right hands on the guitar neck. Although he popularized tapping, he did not invent the tapping technique, which had been used by flamenco guitarists for at least a century, as well as the likes of Western virtuosos like Paganini on both violin and guitar. According to MusicRadar, Steve Hackett – lead guitarist with Genesis in the 1970s – is "widely credited with inventing two-handed tapping" and was an influence on Van Halen.[58] When asked about this, Hackett said, "Eddie and I have never spoken about it, but yes, he has credited me with tapping... Eddie is a fine player, of course, and he's the one who named the technique."[59]

George Lynch said in an interview that he and Van Halen saw Harvey Mandel tap at the Starwood in the 1970s.[60] Van Halen named Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin as an influence, saying in one interview with Guitar World:

I think I got the idea of tapping watching Jimmy Page do his "Heartbreaker" solo back in 1971. He was doing a pull-off to an open string, and I thought wait a minute, open string ... pull off. I can do that, but what if I use my finger as the nut and move it around? I just kind of took it and ran with it.[61]

Until it expired in 2005, Van Halen held a patent for a flip-out support device that attaches to the rear of the electric guitar.[62] This device enables the user to employ the tapping technique by playing the guitar in a manner similar to the piano with the face of the guitar oriented upward instead of forward.[63][64][65]


The "Frankenstrat"

Van Halen used custom equipment throughout his career. His original choice of guitar was a Gibson Les Paul, for which he replaced the original P90 pickup on the bridge with a humbucker in order to sound like Eric Clapton. He is most associated with the Frankenstrat, a custom guitar he built from parts. The maple neck cost $80, while the ash body was bought for $50 as the wood had a knot in it. The tremolo arm was originally taken from a 1958 Fender Stratocaster, and was later replaced with a Floyd Rose arm. The guitar had a single Gibson PAF (patent applied for) bridge pickup from a Gibson ES-335, which he enclosed with paraffin wax to prevent feedback. The Frankenstrat was originally painted black, but was recoated with Schwinn red bicycle paint in 1979.[66]

For Van Halen's 2012 tour, and early 2015 television appearances, he used a Wolfgang USA guitar with a black finish and ebony fretboard. For the 2015 tour, he used a white Wolfgang USA guitar designed by Chip Ellis, featuring a custom kill switch.[67]

Pickup selection

Van Halen used a variety of pickups including 1970s Mighty Mites, which were made by Seymour Duncan and were copies of DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups.[68] Van Halen also used Gibson PAFs, one of which was rewound by Seymour Duncan in 1978.[69]

In an interview with Guitar World in 1985, Van Halen stated that his guitar sound style which he called "brown sound" is "...basically a tone, a feeling that I'm always working at ... It comes from the person. If the person doesn't even know what that type of tone I'm talking about is, they can't really work towards it, can they?"[70] In an interview with Billboard magazine in June 2015, he stated that with the expression "brown sound" he actually tried to describe the sound of his brother Alex's snare drum, which he thought "...sounds like he’s beating on a log. It’s very organic. So it wasn’t my brown sound. It was Alex's."[70]

Personal life

Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli at the 1993 Emmy Awards

In 1980, Van Halen met actress Valerie Bertinelli at a Van Halen concert in Shreveport, Louisiana.[71] They married in California a year later and had one son, Wolfgang.[72][73] In 2005, Bertinelli filed for divorce in Los Angeles after four years of separation.[74] The divorce was finalized in 2007.[75]

The following year, Eddie proposed to his girlfriend, Janie Liszewski, an actress and stuntwoman who was Van Halen's publicist at the time.[76] The two married in 2009, at his Studio City estate, with his son Wolfgang and ex-wife Bertinelli in attendance.[77] His brother Alex Van Halen is an ordained minister and he officiated Eddie's wedding in 2009 and his former sister-in-law Valerie Bertinelli's wedding in 2011.[78]

Health and death

Van Halen struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse. He began smoking and drinking at the age of 12, and he stated that he eventually needed alcohol to function.[79] He entered rehabilitation in 2007,[80] and later shared in an interview that he had been sober since 2008.[79]

Suffering from lingering injuries from past, high-risk, acrobatic stage performances and crashes, Van Halen underwent hip replacement surgery in 1999, after his chronic avascular necrosis, with which he was diagnosed in 1995, became unbearable.[81] He began receiving treatment for tongue cancer in 2000. The subsequent surgery removed roughly a third of his tongue. He was declared cancer-free in 2002.[82] He blamed the tongue cancer on his habit of holding guitar picks in his mouth, stating in 2015: "I used metal picks – they're brass and copper – which I always held in my mouth, in the exact place where I got the tongue cancer. ... I mean, I was smoking and doing a lot of drugs and a lot of everything. But at the same time, my lungs are totally clear. This is just my own theory, but the doctors say it's possible."[82]

In 2012, Van Halen underwent an emergency surgery for a severe bout of diverticulitis.[83] Recovery time required due to the surgery led to postponement of Van Halen tour dates scheduled in Japan.[84] Van Halen was later hospitalized in 2019 after battling throat cancer over the previous five years.[85] He died from the illness at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California on October 6, 2020, at the age of 65.[86][87][88][89] On October 6, some of Eddie Van Halen’s childhood landmarks in Pasadena became memorials where fans could pay their respects to the guitar virtuoso.[90]


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  86. ^ Wolf Van Halen [@WolfVanHalen] (October 6, 2020). "I can't believe I'm having to write this, but my father, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, has lost his long and arduous battle with cancer this morning. He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I've shared with him on and off stage was a gift. My heart is broken and I don't [think] I'll ever fully recover from this loss. I love you so much, Pop" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
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