Van Halen Artist Study: Gear & Tone


A Strat style electric guitar with a PAF humbucker pickup in the bridge position and a whammy bar system (preferably a Floyd Rose) with a locking nut is the preferred choice for replicating the Van Halen sound. You only need one knob, the volume knob, which was used often to alter dynamics throughout any song. Although almost always tuned a half-step down from standard tuning, from E to E flat, for this tutorial we'll be in standard tuning. The guitar is strung with extra-light strings.


This style used a Marshall Plexi sometimes paired with a Variac to overdrive the tone. The tone was never as distorted as other hard rock bands at the time, choosing a much less harsh tone, with much less distortion. Most modern amps can achieve the amp sound by setting the distortion level to about 12 o'clock, bass at 9 o'clock, mid at 12 o'clock, and treble at 3 o'clock.


This style relies on "cheap stomp boxes". These were an MXR Phase 90, an MXR Flanger, and an Echoplex (which is a tape delay machine). It's also possible to use a 6 or 10-band MXR EQ. The reverb heard on early VH albums was not part of the guitar tone, but added in after the fact in the studio.

Dave Celentano
Instructor Dave Celentano

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