Eddie Van Halen's Guitar Sound in the 1st album

Although there are many things still unknown, I tried to find out how to make the EVH's early guitar sound.


Franken Strat (*)

BODY : Northern Ash, 2 pieces. The weight seems middle (not too heavey). The paint was with acrylic lacquer for bike, not by nitro-cellulose.
NECK : Bird's eye maple. Maple cap, no lacquer. R is like a Les Paul.
The width of the neck is wider than an usual strat.
PU : An old PAF from 1961 Gibson ES335 was directly mounted on the body. As the tone was not the one Eddie was seeking at first, he had it rewound at Seymour Duncan until he got satisfied with the tone. It took several try and errors and 4 days. Distance between the PU and strings is said to be 1/8. The height of the pole pieces seems regular. The space between the bridge and pickup is almost like a Les Paul. Slantingly placed so that the high E would be picked up by the front pole, and the low E would be picked up by the rear pole. The PU was wax-potted to cut out the high, obnoxious feedback.
Peg : Shaller mini.
A tension pin : Set high to keep the tuning.
Nut : Brass. Oiled. Ditches are wide and deep to lessen the friction and keep the tuning.
Bridge : With a steel block and press saddles from an old strat (1958 or 1961). No floating. The saddles on the 1st album cover photo are tear drop-shaped brass. I have no idea which type of the saddles were used for the VH-1 recording.
: Gibson large. Eddie did fret jobs by himself to make the peak of the frets sharp.
Circuit : One volume knob (Gibson's 500K). Direct from PU without tone controller.
Tension Springs : 3 springs : One is straight. Two are slant.
Strings : Fender pure nickel XL-150 (009-040), which has not been sold recently. Eddie used to boil strings for about 10 minutes before he puts them on his guitar for stable tuning. Strings' height from frets is unknown but some people who played Eddie's guitar said it was high. D# tuning (This affects sound very much).
Pick : Fender medium 0.71mm. Eddie often has the pick with the thumb and the middle finger.


Eddie played the Ibanize Destroyer (Explorer type guitar) in the 1st album (Running with the devil, You really got me, Feel your love tonight and On fire), too. If you listen very carefully, you will find the Destroyer guitar sound is fatter than Franken strat (Eddie preferred the Destroyer's sound indeed). After the VH-1 recording, he cut out the body near the bridge and he could not get that warm and fat tone anymore.
Although the body wood has been said to be korina, it is said that Ibanez never produced a Korina Destroyer (they sold "Korina finish"). And it is said that the wood was ash or sen. According to Ibanez ad in around 1976, the body was ash. However, ash and sen are quite different type of woods. Sen is much lighter than ash and sounds softer and warmer. In mid 70's, Japanese mid-low priced guitars were made by sen. I have no idea which wood was used for Eddie's destroyer. As far as I hear the VH-1, the destroyer sounds warmer and fatter than the ash franken strat. Humm, I need to investigate further.
As for the pickup, it is also a topic of debate. An original Super 70 ? or PAF (rewound ?) ?? Eddie said it was PAF in an interview in which he talked about VH-1 recording and the sad story of cutting the wood of the destroyer.
Chronological photos of the guitar ;
(1) Before the VH-1 album. Covered. It seems original super 70.
(2) Promo video. Without cover. I guess it is the PAF he used for the recording. And I also guess it was rewound.
(3) June 1978 in Japan. Covered again...humm. In his interview in Japan, he said, "Though I don't remember the maker of this pickup, I searched it by myself and installed. As same as strat PU, this is also the custom made PU rewound by a craftman in Santa Barbara."

Anyway, it is difficult to point out the difference of the tone of the two guitars, and this means that the key of the VH-1 sound is in his amp and effecters, I believe.

Amp (Old Marshalls) *

Head (Main) : 1967's SUPER LEAD100 (Serial No.12301)
BottomFCombination cabinet with Celestions and JBLs

Head * *
One of the most precious old Marshall amp manufactured in 1967 with Plexi-glass and a laydown trans. It is said that the amp had been a house amp of "Pasadena Rose Palace" before Eddie became famous. Eddie says he used two Marshall amp heads at the recording of the 1st album (Young Guitar Sep 1978). There is no information on the another head.

According to Rudy Leiren, who had been Eddie's guitar tech from 1974 to 1990, power tubes were Sylvania 6CA7/EL34s. As for bias, he said he cranked it all the way up. But the detail is unknown. Preamp-tubes, some people guess they were Sylvania 12AX7WAs. But no detailed information.

Did Jose Arredondo modify the amp ?
It is still in mystery. Eddie said in a 1978 interview that Jose beefed up the amps. But later he admitted that the amp was stock and Jose had just done basic maintenances. An Dutch amp tech who restored Eddie's legendary Marshall also said it was stock. But, how can we get that 1st album tone with stock Marshalls? The "stock Marshall theory" seems to make more people scratch their hairs. Ummm....
Limited witnesses regarding the inside of the amp are here.
By the way, there is a strange screw (white knob) on the back left side of the amp. What is this ? There are some remarks on this. I personally support the idea that it was a master volume. Because the amp was a house amp of "Pasadena Rose Palace".

Variable transformers
Eddie used variable transformers (variac) to change the amps' voltage. He sometimes cranked it up to 130, 140 volts or more (he said 160V) to overdrive the amp as he said, and sometimes lowered it down to 90 volts. As far as I tried 140-150 volts shortly, the tone itself was not so different from the standard 117 volts'. And the tone of 90 volts was a little bit milder. But Eddie said he often flied tubes in his early days. So I believe he really cranked the voltage up to around 140 volts at the recording for the 1st album as he said.
By the way, professional amp repairmen warn that cranking up to that voltage level is very bad for amps.

Setting of the front panel
All controls are full 10. Input jack used was "High gain and treble boosted" (Upper left jack).

Eddie said he used "two Marshall amp heads and two combination cabinets for the 1st album" (Young Guitar Sep 1978), as an illustration on the right. *
The combination cabinet consists of two Celestion Greenbacks (I don't know whether they were G12M-25s or G12H-30s. But I guess G12M-25s) and two JBL D-120s (D-120 is a speaker for old Fender amps). Eddie says Celestion creates distortion sound and JBL clean. I think one of the important elements of the incredible sound of early EVH is this combination cabinet. Both Greenback and D-120 are old type speakers, and signal more than 100 watts from Marshall heads exceed the capacities of these speakers. That's why, I suppose, Eddie blew speakers very often in his early days.

By the way, according to Van Halen's debut demo video, the cabinet covers were peeled. Some guy in Japan followed this, but the sound changed poorly and regretted. Photos at a recording studio for the 2nd album (as right) show the peeled cabinets, too. And it seems that Eddie had used peeled cabinets since club days.


The effectors Eddie used were listed below, but some of their configuration is still unknown. He stated "It was that first homemade guitar with a cable going through an MXR flanger, then a Phase 90, and then an Echoplex, and straight into the Marshall head.", or "an Flanger, a Phaser and then an Echoplex" (Rockin f Nov 1979). But, Eddie's effect board when he came to Japan in 1978 was as two illustrations below and more complicated than he stated.

MXR Flanger(M-117)
The flanger is the first effector after a 30 feet long cable from the guitar. It was used at intro of Ain't talk about love and Unchained. The flanger was customized to reduce noise and keep gains of signals.
Its setting is unknown. I set an MXR flanger between a guitar and a Marshall and tried every setting, but I couldn't get that aggressive flanging tone anyway. To Dweezil Zappa's question, "I've tried stepping on flangers to recreate the sound of "Unchained" and it never has the right vibe. It always clicks on in the middle of the sweep. That never happens to you ?", Eddie just replied "Yeah, I always luck out with that shit. Believe it or not, I always had it on one setting--my Echoplex too. Everything was just set the same all the time no matter what beat I was playing. But it seemed to work."
According to several opinions and my experience, I guess the nearest seeting is ;
Manual 10:00, Width 10:00, Speed 11:00, Regen 17:00 (maximum).
The next effector is an MXR Phase90.

MXR Phase90
A script type. The knob is turned to the minimum. The phaser was used in many guitar solos in the 1st Album. The Phase90 is one the most important and easiest elements for us to recreate the early EVH sound.
The next effecter after the phaser seems to be an Echoplex(EP-3).

MXR 6band EQ
Graphic EQ set on the front stage pedalboard. The setting is like a horse shoe curve (mid boost) as the illustration above. For this position's EQ, Eddie sometimes used BOSS GE-10 instead.
But, look at this picture.The input jack was not cabled! And the input jack of the MXR 6 band was not cabled either when VH came to Japan in 1978. This means that this position's EQ, Box1, and Box2 were not for the main signal chain (for another setup or for backup, I guess). Anyway, the function of this EQ is still unknown.
The next is the mysterious Box 1.

Box 1
A switch box, which was originally a Tone Vender's frame, written "1" in red. No one knows what it is. This box is connected with an output of an equalizer as the illustration. Where two cables at the left go to is unknown. And what is this short cable at the left for ?
Anyway, it seems to me a line selecter switch box to change amps in case. Eddie said "I have this footswitch where if one (amp) blows out, I just kick the switch and it changes to another one. It's like a bypass switch. When you click it, the other amp comes in."

Box 2
An aluminum box written 2 in red. It is also a mysterious box, because the box in the photo is not connected with other effectors. Is this the same kind of switch box as the Box 1 ?

Maestro Echoplex (EP-3) x 2
I believe he used them in parallel, because if we use two echoplexes in serial, unnecessary noise would be generated, and the setting of the two echoplexes were the same. I thought the one is for a backup, but there are two foot switches beside his effect board on the stage, which means he used two echoplexes separately. Umm... what is the difference ? Eddie said that he used only one echoplex at the same time.
The next effecter after the EP-3 is BOSS GE-10 (Graphic EQ). There are two photos on this when VH came to Japan in 1978. The one photo clearly says that EP-3 and then GE-10, but the other photo looks one of two EP-3s has no connection with GE-10.
By the way, one of the keys of the early EVH guitar sound, I believe, is this Echoplex. Guitar tone becomes slightly fat, smooth and quite a little bit boosted through an Echoplex. Brian May commented that Eddie had come to the studio only with an old Marshall head and an echoplex for the "Starfleet" session. And that as for the guitar solo of Michel Jackson's "Beat it", VH official home page says "An old Marshall amplifier and cabinet were used, (though not his trusty Super Lead) and the solos were played on Edward's now-retired Charvel Frankenstrat along with an Echoplex." By listening to the two solos, you will notice that the echoplex did not play a role of a tape delay so much. These sounds are good. But I feel the guitar sound of the 1st album is still more aggressive than these, so I want to know whether Eddie used EQ for the 1st album.
By the way, if you place a tape echo before an amp head, the guitar sound would become good, but the delay sound would become dirty. As far as I hear the guitar sound of the 1st album, delay sound by the echoplex is not so conspicuous. The beautiful echo sound throughout the album was done by mixing side ; "a slight 10 millisecond delay added to the dry tone with a Evantide, and a hard pan from the output of an EMT plate reverb."

Graphic EQ. As the illustration, this is after an EP-3, and the gain and mid ranges are boosted. Anyhow, GE-10's settings on the two photos I mentioned above seem slightly different with each other even though the photos were taken on the same site, day and cameraman. Ummm....
There is no cable for its foot switch, so I suppose it was always on. Eddie commented that he used an EQ "between pedals and an amp" to boost the signal because he used a 30 feet long cable, which reduces gains especially high ranges.

Univox EC-80 *
A tape echo in the bomb rack. Its position in the signal chain is not known, either.
EC-80 is run by a cassette tape and is not a high quality echo machine. When I found a dusty one at a second hand store, the master said "I don't recommend this noisy one".
Eddie changed its motor so it would go real low and delay much slower. EC-80 was used at the end of "Eruption". Although I wrote on this site that the dive had been by studio effect, but I recently learned that it was not correct. The proofs are;
1) Sound clip of Eruption before studio tweaks 01:44`03:32 of the YouTube
2) A guy replicated the dive by his EC-80. Eruption Dive testing
By the way, there are two EC-80s seen in the 2nd album recording photo. * What are these for ?


I haven't been able to get written infomation nor photos yet. What I heard are ;
- Distance between the mic (SM-57) and the speaker was 1.5-2 inches.
- The 1st album was recorded through a Universal Audio Console.
- The second album was recorded through a neve console.

My guess

I could not find out the truth finally. But considering every available information, the diagram I suppose is ;

1st Album recording
Guitar - Flanger - Phaser - Echoplex - GE-10 - EC-80 (Usually by-passed) - Two Marshall heads (cranked up by variacs) - Two combination cabinets.
Two SURE SM 57 microphones were used (One is strait toward the center of the speaker cone, and the other was at an angle).

Main set : Guitar - Flanger - Phaser - Echoplex - GE-10 - EC-80 (Usually by-passed) - Amps.
Sub set : Guitar - EQ (MXR or GE10) - Box 1 - Echoplex? - Amps.


Official VH HP
Compilation of interviews with Eddie
BBS in Plexi Palace
Mr. VHoholic's page

Personal sound clips