Tapper: Remembering Eddie Van Halen

I'm getting really tired of writing these now, and it may not even be the only one this week.

On 6th October 2020, God clearly decided they'd had enough of Hendrix, Cobain and Zappa, wanting a new guitarist to play for them. With this decision, 2020 struck again and took Eddie Van Halen away from us, one of the very few guitarists in history who can truly be labelled as a guitar hero.

As a guitarist, Van Halen is primarily known for popularising the technique that he called "tapping". This style incorporates the use of both hands on the fretboard, rather than just one, and opens up many possibilities when it comes to shredding some solos. He didn't invent the technique; it had been popular with flamenco guitarists for 100 years beforehand, but the release of the guitar instrumental 'Eruption' in 1978 brought it to a wider, more mainstream audience, blowing their minds in the process. It's incredible when you hear it, and even more incredible that he was disappointed by the recorded version, saying there was a mistake in it. Where?!

With his band Van Halen, Eddie would find global success with the likes of 'Runnin' With The Devil', 'Panama', 'Hot For Teacher' and signature song 'Jump'. 'Jump' is easily Van Halen's most recognisable record, which is interesting considering it largely lacks the ridiculous guitar talent he's known for. Instead, 'Jump' is driven by synthesizers which are played by...Eddie Van Halen. It is one of the lesser-known facts about him, but as much as he was a guitar virtuoso, he was also a classically-trained pianist and more than handy with a set of keys in front of him. 'Jump' includes both a guitar solo and a synth solo, so he was really allowed to flex all of his musical muscles on it.

Might as well...Jump! (Credit: Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

Van Halen would establish themselves as one of the greatest hard rock bands of all-time - not that it helped Billie Eilish know who they were - but Eddie would also make a name for himself outside of the band. He worked with the likes of Gene Simmons, Brian May, Roger Waters, and LL Cool J, but his most notable appearance outside of his eponymous band undoubtedly came with Michael Jackson, for whom he performed the iconic solo on Jackson's 'Beat It'. In addition to recording the solo (in just two takes), he also rearranged the song and did all of this completely free of charge. What an outrageous decision - but one he always stood by.

Eddie's 'Frankenstrat' guitar become his most famous one. A custom-built guitar made up of a mixture of Fender and Gibson parts, its cracked red design became synonymous with the guitarist, with multiple signature guitars later taking after it and its design being the cover art of Guitar Hero: Van Halen.

Eddie Van Halen was a guitar God. There have been many brilliant hard rock artists over the years and plenty of great guitarists, but Van Halen became known for his outstanding guitar work. It wasn't just on 'Eruption'; listen to the guitars in 'Hot For Teacher' and you realise that he was a seriously, seriously good player. Tenacious D's film The Pick of Destiny referenced this by suggesting he was a previous owner of the legendary pick. He was up there with the very, very best rock guitarists, and to be taken away at 65 is absolutely tragic; that is no age at all to die.

I've tried to get through this without using the word "legacy", but once again someone is leaving us who will always have a huge legacy. One of the first guitar Gods, Eddie's talents no doubt inspired a whole new generation of guitarists to give it a whirl. Few, however, will emulate what he did, and his death serves as yet another reminder as to why cancer needs to be kicked in the dick. He's in rock heaven now, and no doubt he arrived to the sound of Eruption being blazed throughout the cosmos.

Rock in Paradise, Eddie Van Halen. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.


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