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Eddie Van Halen Reveals His Biggest Lie

Eddie Van Halen
Jamie McCarthy, Getty Images

Eddie Van Halen doesn’t do a lot of interviews. In fact, during much of the last decade, he developed a reputation for being something of a recluse. But now that Van Halen is back on the road promoting its first new album in years, he’s feeling a little chattier — as evidenced by the way he opened up for a recent in-depth profile with Esquire.

The piece offers a fascinating glimpse at life in the Van Halen camp these days, written by unapologetic fan David Curcurito, who — like countless other rock-and-roll-loving American kids — worshiped at the altar of Ed in the ’70s and ’80s, hoping to learn the secrets of how to make those sounds come out of guitar. And as Van Halen recalls at one point, it wasn’t just fans who wanted to learn — he remembers a meeting with Ted Nugent after sound check:

He’s going, “Let me play your guitar!” I go, “Okay, here you go.” He starts playing my guitar and it sounds like Ted. He yells,”You just removed your little black box, didn’t you? Where is it? What did you do?” I go, “I didn’t do anything!” … He says, “Here, play my guitar!” I play his big old guitar and it sounds just like me. He’s going, “You little s—!”

One anecdote that should be interesting to longtime fans is the story of Van Halen’s custom Marshall amp, rumored to have been rebuilt from scratch. As he explains it, after the band suffered through a disastrous radio interview where Eddie couldn’t think of anything to say, David Lee Roth advised him, “Here’s what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna lie. You’re gonna make up some s— so they don’t remember it.” So when he was asked about the amp during a later Guitar Player interview, he followed Roth’s advice.

As it turns out, Van Halen picked up a secondhand amp without understanding the wiring — “I had my 100-volt Marshall. I bought one through the recycling or the newspaper that was from England, and it was set on 220 volts. I didn’t know.” He ended up buying what amounted to a “super duper light dimmer” — a Variac transformer — to get around the problem:

On the dial you could crank it up to 140 volts or down to zero. So I figured, if it’s on 220 and it’s that quiet, if I take the voltage and lower it, I wonder how low I can go and it still work. Well, it enabled me to turn my amp all the way up, save the tubes, save the wear and tear on the tubes, and play at clubs at half the volume. So, my Variac, my variable transformer was my volume knob. Too loud, [makes knob turning sound] I’d lower it down to 50.

The problem, as Van Halen admits now, is that when he talked to Guitar Player, he followed Roth’s advice and invented a more rock ‘n’ roll version of the truth:

I told people the complete opposite. I told them I raised it up 140 volts. I felt so bad. I felt so f—ing horrible, man. They said, “Please don’t attempt what Eddie Van Halen said in the last interview, because everyone was blowing their amps.” Everyone fried their amps ’cause of me. I felt so bad. I never lied again after that.

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