Archive for Van Halen

GuitarSong #5

Posted in Education, Equipment, Guitar Songs, Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2016 by theguitarcave

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The fifth installment of the GuitarSong series profiles Edward Van Halen playing his ass off on the very hot-rodded I’m the One from Van Halen 1; a defining milestone in guitar history if there ever was one. Half of the tunes on this disc would be a suitable choice for a GuitarSong, but I’m the One will do just fine. While Van Halen the player certainly deserves a lot of credit for this album, Van Halen the band: David Lee Roth, Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen have also earned all of the cred necessary to be deemed rock legends. They each brought an indispensable quality and talent to a group that has brought many a great rock moment to fans for the last 40 years.

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Van Halen (1) exploded onto the airwaves and into the arenas of the USA in the early days of 1978. Released in an era when many thought the guitar and rock music was dead and buried, or at least very passé, the kinetic nature of the band, powered mainly by Edward Van Halen’s incredible guitar, proved the cynics wrong and charged to number 19 on the Billboard Charts. The album has since been awarded RIAA diamond status (meaning it has sold more than 10 million copies). As I have previously written here, Edward, unlikable though he may be at times, can legitimately be called a guitar genius because: there was everything before… then there was this album… then everything was different. Have a listen to the above live version of I’m the One. If anything, he plays it better than he did in the studio and for most people, especially rock players, that would be flat-out impossible. The studio version is directly below.

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You can get Edward’s bio from these links. It’s a very interesting immigrant success story! A couple of things: a) Edward and his brother Alex are the sons of a swing era jazz musician from the Netherlands; a guy who never stopped playing but also never achieved any success until he guested on Van Halen’s Big Bad Bill Is Sweet William Now on the Diver Down album in 1982. The brothers were already playing music together before they were in high school. A whole lot of Van Halen’s first TWO discs were already written before the band was signed. The band worked their asses off to write, practice and gig and even as late as the 1984 album, material that had been in the set list during the club days (House of Pain) was reworked and released. Here is a GREAT YouTube upload of almost all of their early demos. Listening to this it’s easy to see (and hear) how the band was destined for greatness. So much great material and a top-flight guitarist who had already outgrown the LA clubs.

Another very important factor was Edward’s habit of building and destroying guitars in search of the sound and look that he wanted and the legendary Van Halen tone; the world-famous Brown Sound. This has been a topic of speculation and conversation since the late 70s and often the least helpful person in the discussion was Mr. Van Halen himself. He deliberately misled readers on his setup on at least a few occasions and he was obviously very protective of his “brand”. His explosive introduction to the rock guitar world led to everything about him and the band being copied almost immediately; from the look and sound, to the playing style (especially with regards to tapping) to the guitar with one pickup/one knob combination. The “Frankenstrat” that Edward created was the result of a lot of misses with guitar building, but it did the job and is now in The Smithsonian. Along the way there was pain, frustration and lawsuits, but that’s rock and roll. Edward was really ahead of the curve as far as “Branding” and the modern world though. Everything about the look, style and sound of what he did was completely self-created. It wasn’t completely new because very few things are, but he did put the whole package together in a rather spectacular way. (David Lee Roth probably deserves some credit as well because he recognized Edward’s talent very early on and was very instrumental in creating an image for the band and everyone in it.

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At the most basic level, what makes Eddie Edward is that he swings like a mofo. This article (which is very good) from the Van Halen News Desk suggests that Van Halen is playing some kind of wildly fun and exciting West Coast bebop on I’m the One, although not in a Jazz style per se. The kind of fluidity and bluesy phrasing along with the effortless integration of rhythm, riffing, soloing, and two-handed tapping throughout the song is dizzying. All of Eddie’s guitar moves: speedy scalar passages, two-handed tapping, (pinched) artificial harmonics, deep bending with fast vibrato and wide stretches on the left hand, are in this song and are part of the Eddie Van Halen technique.While it has long been known that Edward’s guitar hero was Eric Clapton and his closest predecessor in style was Jimmy Page (whose pull-offs on the solo for Heartbreaker inspired the tapping Edward would later perfect) I would guess that growing up listening to his dad practice swing music on the clarinet and saxophone was also very influential. That would explain the bebop-sans-jazz feel wouldn’t it? On the isolated guitar track for I’m the One, which you can find (HERE), Edward’s great right hand rhythmic swing and incredible blues feel is really apparent. It drives the whole song. I’m the One is a hi-octane boogie in the same vein as Hot For Teacher and the main riffs of both songs are great rock from the blues tradition. Edward really melds these riffs together very well and the fact that he can play them very clean at a ripping tempo is what makes the whole thing exciting. Slow this tune down and play it more laid back fashion and it could be a ZZ Top tune (a band VH used to cover). Anyone who has ever seen Van Halen live knows Edward is always tapping his foot — he has incredible timing and rhythm, which combined with a great right hand, are qualities you will find in any top-flight guitarist.

Finally, another thing I always liked about Edward was how he used effects; almost like a chef or line cook, sprinkling and seasoning here and there to spice up a dish. Mostly what one heard in the early days was the Phase 90, Flanger and/or Echoplex, but they would produce great effects in just the right places. Here is a Guitar World article on Van Halen and MXR. One interesting tidbit from the article (read the whole thing for detailed info on EVH and pedals):

Earlier this year (2015), in preparation for the 40th anniversary of MXR, its parent company, Dunlop Manufacturing, took a survey to learn how guitarists perceive the pedal maker. One of the questions asked was, “Which player do you associate the most with the MXR brand?” The respondents chose Eddie Van Halen more than 60 percent of the time. Notably, the runner-up received fewer than half as many mentions.

Here is probably the most succinct definition and exposé of the early VH sound. This is good too. If you’re looking to try to replicate, beware of anyone who over-complicates either of these two links. Really it all comes down to a Strat-style guitar body with a Gibson/Seymour Duncan PAF pickup, a Marshall Plexi and some MXR pedals. Oh…and you have to be able to play like him and most people can’t. Don’t ever underestimate how much one hands (and brain) affect the sound. They do. A lot!

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Here is Doug Steele’s series on I’m the One. I’ve recommended his video lessons before and he definitely does it right and gives you the breakdown you need to be able to get this song together.

Here is another lesson on I’m the One from Steve Townsend

Here is the Songsterr tab of I’m the One.

A fairly good illustration of the Van Halen pedal sound. I do not like another one that I won’t name and won’t link to suffice to say that they do a lot of videos on different players’ classic sounds and I don’t think any of them are very accurate.

Eddie Van Halen at The Smithsonian. Yes he is an institution. All Hail!

Always lots of good stuff at the Van Halen News Desk!

Edward certainly doesn’t always interview well and this Billboard article is no exception. I’m not sure why he has such a low opinion of Michael Anthony these days. That certainly wasn’t always true. There are some interesting factoids for guitar players in the interview though.

A somewhat funny hipster critic review of Van Halen 1. I’m linking to it because when you get right down to it, EVERYBODY has to admit this album completely rules!

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Hearing Van Halen 1; I’m the One, Running With the Devil, Feel Your Love Tonight and On Fire and then seeing the band live a bunch of times was a big influence on my life and musical career. I learned some of the tunes, played some of them (On Fire, You Really Got Me, Ice Cream Man) live in bands and musical projects over the years and even patterned my live sound after what I interpreted from the sound of this album and song. I used the Phase 90, Flanger, and though I had an Echoplex I used an analog delay pedal only because it was more reliable and easier to carry around. I still approach playing with this same gusto that I heard on this record and in some ways though Van Halen’s sound and abilities evolved over the years, there is a focus on some of these tunes, including I’m the One, that he never topped. It’s just a perfect rock rip from beginning to end. Edward Van Halen put great guitar to great songs and created an impressive body of music and in the process made the guitar an instrument people wanted to play again. Because he was so good at what he did, for a time in the 80s he completely personalized what a guitar player was. Though many years have transpired since then, with all of the attendant highs and lows that come with life, Edward can still play like a badass and I’m the One is still a great GuitarSong and a great example of virtuoso rock guitar.

Be a Better Guitar Player! (Links_2016)

Posted in Education, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2016 by theguitarcave
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There are a whole lot of neato things online these days. Have you noticed? No? Well here’s a few things that you may find interesting, especially if you’re a guitar player. I do try to keep these posts updated and maintained. Currently I don’t think there are any busted YouTube links anywhere on my blog, but that is a challenge and not something I can worry about every week. Sometimes things disappear. Such is life and the internet.

I thought this lesson was way cool when I found it and now I do it regularly — play guitar scales like Bach. This is an exercise you can get under your fingers quickly and it forces you to break familiar patterns. Not only do you develop new ways to see and navigate the fretboard, you also expand your ear potential. Plus, these scales sound more musical right from the get-go as instructor James Scott points out during the lesson. This looks like a good channel with a lot of cool guitar instruction!

For you anyone who aspires to play Gypsy Jazz or Jazz or Shred guitar, or well, anything, The Boss finally has a series of instruction videos. Yes, Bireli Lagrene, King of All Things Amazing has been captured in all of his multi-instrumental awesomeness and he will impart his techniques and secrets to you! Thanks to DC Music School there are now 4 volumes of Bireli instruction available; everything from Gypsy Jazz guitar to Bebop/Modern Jazz guitar with some bass and violin thrown in for fun and education. Seeing as how all of the previews look downright splendiferous I can’t imagine how cool the entire lessons are! While I was away DC Music School released In the Style of video lessons with guitarists Tcha Limberger, Frank Vignola, Adrien Moignard and Sebastien Giniaux. Quite an impressive catalog! By the way…anyone who doesn’t think Bireli is about the best guitarist in the world need only view this live concert. Great band and I lost track of how many jaw-dropping moments there are in the set.

Christiaan van Hemert is the latest and greatest guy bringing Gypsy Jazz guitar education to the masses. He has been the driving force behind The Rosenberg Academy and is now doing a lot of his own videos on YouTube. He has developed into quite a good guitar player. Some of the ideas, tips and exercises he gives out in this Q & A series are very helpful. Recently he just started a new series called Gypsy Jazz Replay that looks to be a lot of fun. The couple episodes I saw selected a song with a guest soloist and then they all sat around and talked about the thinking behind what they played. Great advice for improvisers!

I’ve mentioned this guy before and I check in regularly with what he is doing — Morten Faerestrand! Really amazing player and always good for a neat idea or tip/technique. You can view these videos as stand-alones or as teasers for a larger comprehensive teaching program or group of lessons you can take advantage of here. I love working these new pattern exercises because, like the Bach scales above, playing these patterns regularly takes you into a completely different zone and it’s especially good for either adding depth to what you already have or breaking out of the dreaded INRsImprovising Navigational Ruts.

One thing that I did over the last few months is get real organized because there were a bunch of specific things I wanted to work on in “the woodshed” as they say. I would get to the end of a practice session and realize I had not worked on ideas that were on the mental list, so I made a hard-copy list and posted it where I could see it during my practice time and even when I was sitting around and oddly enough, I found the internalization process went much faster. As we all know, it can take awhile to work in a new move to an improvised situation, but I was happy with how quickly some of this stuff showed up in my playing. I also tried to target specific tunes I knew I would be doing with specific concepts. So in that way, while the licks/patterns/ideas might not have been completely coming out of that improvised zone, I was able to play them naturally in a jam without that “I’m forcing this in here” feeling that sometimes happens. All in all I think the writing and the targeting drastically improved the woodshed to play-time and I have kept adding to the list. What I do now is work a “new stuff” part of the practice and a “maintenance” part where I go over the things I already feel I have down but don’t want to forget. It works out pretty well and makes for a fun practice because I can play slow on things I need to focus on because they are new and I can alternate that with things I can already rip on pretty well. So the practice is organized and doesn’t get boring is what I’m trying to say. Good Times!

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During the long weeks that I was laid up and couldn’t even play guitar I watched many of these videos from YouTube user Reg523. I believe he is a jazz player from the west coast who puts up stuff to flesh out concepts he talks about on the forum at jazzguitar.be. So he isn’t really doing a lesson and he isn’t doing a performance either. It’s like he’s playing and trying to say what he’s thinking as he does it and he is a great player! I watched several of his videos on standards I play regularly and got some new ideas. I also loved this version of the Beatles Can’t Buy Me Love…so I learned it pretty much as is and do my own soloing. Great stuff! Also…if you become a member of jazzguitar.be you will receive a whole lot of lessons via email, some free, some as part of a paid package with free teaser stuff.

Alex Ipsa-Cowan is another jazz instructor on YouTube who has some really interesting ideas for guitar advancement! He plays a lot of straight ahead standard-jazz and breaks down many topics like playing over rhythm changes, playing outside, the bebop scale, arpeggios and many other guitar-type topics! I think, like a lot of players/instructors now he is available for Skype lessons if you so desire and he also has some performance videos with his band who are pretty crackin’ so definitely give a look and listen.

Though I don’t play it anymore, I was real impressed watching videos of Doug Steele, specifically his Van Halen instruction videos. This guy can shred like a BOSS, explores a whole ton of different players and playing concepts and has a really good teaching style/sense of humor! Makes for very cool, entertaining videos. He also has a page devoted to Gypsy Jazz and Django Reinhardt on his website. Cool! After a day and a half of watching Doug’s channel I wanted to go out and get all of my old gear back and crank it UP!!! But some things you gotta leave in the past and/or with other people. Definitely a good thing for anyone out there who wants to crush!

Finally, the old school, brought to you by a guy who has over time become one of my favorite players, Barney Kessel. I have an album review of his over in the right column and since then have acquired some of his other albums. Really great stuff. I will have a separate post on Barney soon, but back in the day he had a series of guitar instruction videos that are now on YouTube. While the quality of the videos is here and there, the information contained within is fascinating and invaluable. One of the best jazz and chord harmony players ever laying down the heavy-duty rap on how to do it. Definitely recommend. There is another here.

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As I’ve done before, this post will get made into a sticky for the year so it will stay at the top of the page. If I find anything to and add to it I will. Also, the new links for lessons will get added to the right column. Enjoy!

Fun with Alternate Tunings

Posted in Education, Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2014 by theguitarcave

I saw something surfing online last night that reminded me maybe it would be cool to make a sticky thing for open tunings. After all, its a popular (if sometimes slightly complicated) topic and the manipulation of various strings on the guitar to various different pitches from the standard concert tuning has resulted in soooooo much quality music. So to whit, here’s a short primer with some background info.

I already touched on the subject of open tunings in the Keith Richards posts and if you are interested in what he did you can read here and here. I did NOT touch on the subject in the Jimmy Page posts even though I certainly could have. Page used many tunings over the years with great success. Some, like the completely twisted tuning for When the Levee Breaks (EACFAC) were probably his invention. Some like the infamous CIA (Celtic-Indian-Arabic) modal tuning (DADGAD) were not. Below is Davey Graham, a British guitarist who was an extremely huge influence on Page playing this tuning in a folk setting in the early 60s. Davey, in addition to being a great folk player also did well with jazz and “world music” before anyone thought of calling it that.

What led me to consider a post on tunings was a visit last night to the Joni Mitchell website. She has a whole section devoted to guitar transcriptions and over her very long, incredibly successful career used an estimate 50 +/- different tunings she basically just made up. She even has an archivist who has kept track of them for her. However, there is a system involved and if you are interested in the theory behind the tunings you can view that here. As you may or may not know, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were completely enthralled with Joni Mitchell and may or may not have been influenced by some of her early 70s recordings. Jimmy didn’t use quite as many tunings as Joni, but he did have several interesting ones and I’ve listed them below. All of the tuning numbers are low-to-high and from the studio recordings. Some were changed live, Dancin’ Days was probably recorded with a guitar in standard and another in open G. After the list there is a nice version of a very pleasant and easy That’s the Way from Earl’s Court in 1975. Tune to open G and have fun!

Open G (DGDGBD)
That’s the Way
Going to California
Black Country Woman
Dancin’ Days*

Open C (CGCEGC)
Hats Off to Roy Harper

CIA (DADGAD)
Kashmir
White Summer
Black Mountain Side

Drop D (DADGBE)
Moby Dick
Ten Years Gone

Open A (EAEAC#E)
In My Time of Dying

“Page C” (CACGCE)
Poor Tom
Friends
Bron-Yr-Aur

“Page C 2” (CFCFAF)
Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp

“Page D” (DGCGCD)
The Rain Song

“Page Slide 1” (EFCFAE)
Jennings Farm Blues

“Page Slide 2” (EACFAC)
When the Levee Breaks

“Page Slide 3” (EADGBD)
Traveling Riverside Blues

Of course many other guitarists have used altered tunings throughout their careers. Sonic Youth have an online primer that details the tunings for what looks to be everything in their catalog! Quite the list of outrageous stuff! Many hard rock bands made use of the Drop D tuning including Pantera, Van Halen and Soundgarden. Speaking of Soundgarden, they had some really far-out tunings on the Superunknown and Down on the Upside albums. I was a fan of the EEBBBB tuning that is used on The Day I Tried to Live and My Wave. Burden in My Hand is a great example of a hard rock approach to an Open C tuning (which originally would’ve been used for acoustic bottleneck back in the day). In this post I detailed the C tuning metal players from Tony Iommi to Matt Pike favor and I will once again refer you to the Wiki page on guitar tunings, because it’s a good resource.

As I mentioned in the Keith Richards post linked above, altered tunings can really expand your sound, but they can also be a huge pain in the neck too, especially in a live situation. If you are in the position of being able to haul multiple guitars around then you can tune as many as you want to whatever you want. You certainly can’t be trying to adjust to dramatically different tunings between songs. If it’s just a matter of dropping the E string, you’ll be ok, but even going from standard to open G and then back to standard is a bit dodgy. I’ve found that doing so stretches out the strings in a way that makes the tuning sound weird and they go “dead” faster too. Ideally you should have a guitar for a certain tuning and set up the guitar to the various tension the tuning produces. An open A tuning, for example, puts much more stress on the guitar than the open G because the D, G and B strings all have to be raised a pitch. Generally, I’ve found that acoustic guitars especially have an easier time and a warmer tone if the strings are detuned into an altered tuning rather than being raised, but that certainly isn’t a rule. There is a lot of trial and error involved with this approach to guitar playing so just go nuts! We’ll end with the late, great Michael Hedges who was also an altered tuning aficionado. His catalog of songs with open/altered tunings is also quite extensive and there is a database here should you be looking for something.

Can You Take Me Back Where I Came From…?

Posted in This and That with tags , , , , , , on September 11, 2011 by theguitarcave

Once the wacky weather passed I got some time away in the country for a few days. It was very enjoyable and a much-needed break from the noisy life of NYC, at least in theory. But a funny thing happened while I was visiting my mother, who still lives on the street where I lived for a couple of years before I moved to NYC. For the first time in years there are guitar players on the street again. I heard them practicing while I was there. The family next door to my Mom is home-schooled, which is a pretty radical concept compared to how I grew up. If someone had told me back when I was a kid I would be home all day being taught by my Mom and part of the curriculum would be fifteen minutes of trying to play Billy Squier riffs (I think??) I would’ve done by best Peter Griffin and said “AW SWEET!” There was another guy on the street who was rapping and rocking an acoustic on the porch and I think he might be a Juggalo, but I’m not sure ’cause I’ve never met any Juggalos. That’s what happens as you get older…you become way out of touch with what’s happening and what things actually are.

I didn’t take a guitar along this trip because I was trying to get away from EVERYTHING for a few days, but sometimes life doesn’t let that happen. All of this guitar and rapping stuff brought back some memories I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Back in the day, before I moved to the city, I was one of the crazies of the block; running with a fast crowd, staying out really late, hanging with friends who had motor-head cars and playing lots of VERY LOUD GUITAR. I pissed off our next door neighbor, a retired cop who spent a lot of time on his front porch keeping an eye on the street, many times. He would be driven inside by me learning to play Hendrix, Van Halen, The Rolling Stones and whatever else I was doing. One summer between school years I was working the 5-11 shift in a furniture factory and then I would stay out until dawn half of the time. Every day before work I would “wake up” to the Sex Pistols’ Nevermind the Bollocks, which was a very motivating album, especially since it sounded a lot like all of the industrial noise in the factory. I didn’t even have to get out of bed to turn the record on, but once it was over I was ready to go…most days anyway. I’ve never been one to do things half-measure and since my “room” was the attic, I would crank up the stereo and amp to ear-crushing levels. Everyone else on the block was pretty subdued and I was the only guitar player and I thought all of that behavior ended when I left. I hadn’t noticed any changes either and it’s not like I haven’t visited my Mom in 25 years, I mean, gee whiz. But I guess I was wrong.

I’m sure my neighbors didn’t relate to any of the music I was playing and even my family didn’t really know what was going on. During the “Sex Pistols Summer” my younger sister asked me, “Why do you keep playing that really dumb song that goes I WANNA BE, I’M OK?” I tried to explain the concept of ANARCHY in the UK to her, but what did she care? The Sex Pistols were more out of place in that environment at the time than Juggalos are today. Jim Morrison’s intro to the Soft Parade got my Mom in a bit of a tizzy and though she has always been a music lover and very supportive of my musical aspirations she never understood and totally didn’t like the whole concept of VOLUME and why it is important for some forms of musical expression. The funny thing is, now I am almost as old as she was back then and I tend to stay away from forms of expression that require a lot of volume. One reason is I completely fried my ears over 2 decades of playing music by PLAYING REALLY LOUD and never wearing earplugs. The other reason is I am into forms of expression that don’t require volume or, rather, VOLUME. In a way, these NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK are like my descendants or something. I’m glad they are doing what they like and hope they continue even if I have no intention of ever liking what they do. I wasn’t enthralled that my vacation kept being interrupted by out of tune guitar and rapping, but I certainly don’t want to be that ex-cop from my youth, snarling at everything he doesn’t understand. I also don’t want to turn into a music snob, because I still like all forms of music, but sometimes it’s hard to NOT ACT YOUR AGE, no matter what age you are.