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July 8, 2023

zZounds' Iconic Rigs: Eddie Van Halen

Channel EVH's famous "brown sound!"

As one of the most influential guitarists of the last four decades, Eddie Van Halen pioneered a slew of virtuoso techniques and led the way for super-saturated overdrive. From intricate rhythm playing and tapping to incredibly slick, lightning-fast leads, Van Halen not only helped create an era of highly influential hard rock music, he defined it. Aside from his exceptional playing, Eddie's tone was all about cranking out an aggressive, grind-y midrange with crunchy tube saturation that became his signature sound, the so-called "brown sound."

While most of us will never have the chops to compete with Eddie's own playing, we can certainly attempt to emulate the guitar hero's sound. Learn more about EVH's famous tone and how you can achieve it with this month's edition of our Iconic Rigs series!

EVH Eddie Van Halen Striped Series Electric Guitar

EVH Eddie Van Halen Striped Series Electric Guitar
Arguably the most iconic piece of gear associated with Eddie is his heavily modified "Frankenstein" guitar. Originally custom-painted in black and white stripes in the mid-'70s by Eddie himself, this guinea pig of a guitar has been modified in almost every way, from pickups, to bridges, and even a nice red refinish by 1979.

While there can only be one original Frankenstein, EVH currently manufactures some pretty killer replicas that are meant to be played, and not just coveted. Not only featuring the distinctive striped finish, this guitar also includes a quarter-sawn maple neck with a compound-radius fretboard for comfort in every position. Topped off with an EVH Wolfgang humbucking pickup, this guitar is ready for shredding.

Eddie Van Halen Wolfgang Special Electric Guitar

Eddie Van Halen Wolfgang USA Electric Guitar
While the Frankenstein guitar is closely associated with Van Halen's younger era, Eddie's Wolfgang models currently do most of the heavy lifting on the stage and in the studio. Despite a sleeker and more professional look than the Frankenstein, the Wolfgang means business and can easily handle the wear and tear inflicted upon the instrument by Eddie's fingerboard gymnastics.

Designed and refined over a number of years with various manufacturers, the current incarnation of the Wolfgang is produced by Eddie's very own EVH brand, with every detail crafted to his exact specifications. In fact, this current Wolfgang is the culmination of a year's worth of trial and error, with different components and parts being swapped out every night during Van Halen's 2007-2008 world tour until the right combo was found.

Eddie Van Halen 5150 III Guitar Amplifier Head

Eddie Van Halen 5150 III Guitar Amplifier Head
When you think about an amplifier most associated with Eddie, one may be inclined to name a Marshall Super Lead. While that's absolutely correct, you will probably need to also pick up a Variac -- the almost legendary box that allows you to vary AC voltage (hence "VariAC") -- in order to completely nail EVH's tone. Since we don't carry Variacs, and since we also don't want you to melt your amp with one, we suggest choosing the EVH 5150 III amp head.

Complete with four 6L6 power tubes and eight(!) 12AX7 preamp tubes, this amp covers a lot of tonal ground, from the first Van Halen record all the way to Eddie's sound today. Each of the three channels has its own EQ, gain, and volume settings, so dialing in a specific era of Van Halen tone is a breeze.

Eddie Van Halen 5150 III Guitar Speaker Cabinet

Eddie Van Halen 5150 III Guitar Speaker Cabinet
What better way to complement a brand-new EVH 5150 III head than with a matching 4x12 cabinet? There's almost nothing more iconic than Eddie rocking out in front of a wall of speakers. While his choice of speaker cabs has changed over the years, the fact remains that in order to impose the type of striking stage presence Eddie needs, a stack of cabs is an absolute requirement.

These premium 5150 III cabinets are constructed from birch for enhanced resonance and feature four Celestion G12EVH speakers, which are modeled after the classic Celestion Greenbacks.

MXR EVH90 Van Halen Phase 90 Pedal

MXR EVH90 Van Halen Phase 90 Pedal
Whether you are an "Atomic Punk," or looking to pull off your best version of "Eruption," you are going to need a phaser pedal. Eddie favored the little orange beast that is the MXR Phase 90, and it can be heard all over Van Halen records. Known for its subtle swooshing that imparts a fat tone, Eddie used his phaser to create momentum and lushness on his leads, as well as many rhythm parts.

While you can still pick up the traditional orange Phase 90, MXR has teamed up with Eddie to create his own signature Phase 90, distinguished by EVH's trademark black, red, and white striping. The cool thing about this pedal is that it includes both "Script" and "Block" logo types of phase effects, selectable by a switch on the pedal. Select the "Script" for warmer, vintage-souding phase, or choose the "Block" setting for a more modern tone.

Eddie Van Halen's Tone on a Budget

Want the classic Van Halen tone, but also want to save some cash? We've got some ideas to nail EVH's sound with one very crucial piece of gear over at the zZounds Blog! Check it out, and watch the video below to hear how different guitar and amp setups can all sound like classic EVH.