A Fly on the Wall at 5150

Eddie Van Halen fans got a real treat recently when the man himself mounted several GoPros and gave us a tantalizing close-up look of his playing and setup while demonstrating the new EVH 5150 IIIs amp head.

While the amp demo is great (and I plan on checking one out at my local store soon), for real Eddie Van Halen fans this video is as close as we've ever gotten to seeing his fingers in action. So if we break out the microscopes, what can we learn from this video?

The Gear

About forty-three seconds in we get a quick glance of Ed's rack in the background with one of the new amp heads perched on top. It's difficult to tell from this shot what's in the rack, but with a little research we find that the rack is composed mostly of power-conditioners, power-amps, wireless units and few delay units.

Ignore the guitar, look at the rack

Ignore the guitar, look at the rack

If we step back from the rack and look at the guitar we see that Ed has some black electrician's tape on the bottom of his bridge pickup. I've heard tale of this being a "hack" to keep the high-E string from catching under the edge of the humbucker—presumably from big whammy-bar dives. Steve Vai has been spotted with a similar trick, but applied to the neck pickup.

These shots are great for seeing the fingers in action, but what's on that pedalboard?

These shots are great for seeing the fingers in action, but what's on that pedalboard?

In the bottom of this headstock-mounted shot we get a tantalizing look at Ed's pedalboard. Obviously the entire suite of EVH pedals are here, but the first thing I noticed is that monstrous six-button foot-switch. It looks just like the four-button one that came with my 5150 with the same EVH branding, but I've never seen this six-button version in the wild.

Also notice the gaggle of cables coming out of the right-hand side of the pedal board. These are likely the connections to the aforementioned rack-unit we saw earlier. Would it surprise you that the colors of the cables mean different things to Ed? It certainly would surprise me.

Around 1'53" we get a better floor shot of the pedal board and the mega-footswitch:

Somebody knows how to use a label-maker

Somebody knows how to use a label-maker

Here we can see read a few of the labels. With a little more poking around I found other pictures that shows that the big footswitch reads (from left-to-right):

  • Cathedral
  • DDLS
  • Chorus
  • Octave
  • Flange
  • Phase

The "Cathedral" setting indicates that Ed probably uses this to trigger several effects at once, but the remaining settings seem to control individual effects. This is probably for ergonomics and efficiency as much as anything else. As someone with heavily-loaded pedalboard I can attest to how handy it would be if all of the footswitches were located in a line at the bottom of the pedalboard. As it is I feel like Ralph Macchio at the end of The Karate Kid performing the "Crane" stance when I need to stab a pedal at the back of the board.

I found it amusing to see the background lyrics for Mean Street on the piece of paper on the left-hand side. Out of all the backing vocals Eddie has to sing, those must be the lines that don’t stick in Ed’s head—or maybe they’re just inspirational.

If we turn away from the gear and look the hands we see the classic Eddie Van Halen tapping technique at work here. Notice how Ed tucks the pick away in the crook of his middle finger while tapping with his index finger. It's my theory (and I don't have much proof of this) that this is why he plays so well with a thumb-and-middle-finger pick-grip. More on that in a bit…

One shot that intrigues me the most is the slow pan across the amp head:

Are these Eddie's settings? One thing I can tell you straight-away is that they are loud. My 5150 III at one-quarter volume will destabilize load-bearing walls. At the two o'clock position I imagine high-flying aircraft are at risk of falling out of the sky.

I tried these settings out on my "stock" 5150 III and they weren't particularly earth-shattering. Given that each channel seems to be set roughly the same, I suspect this was done more for the camera than for sound—much like how all watches are displayed with the time set to 10:10 in advertisements.

The Technique

At around 2'24" we get a great up-close shot of Eddie's pick-grip. He's always had an unusual pick-grip using two fingers and a thumb instead of the traditional index-finger-and-thumb approach. Here’s a quick glimpse of how comfortable he is using his middle-finger and thumb as the main grip-points on the pick:

Index fingers? We don't need no stinkin' index fingers!

Index fingers? We don't need no stinkin' index fingers!

Look at that. He doesn't even need that index finger. It's like a lazy relative just hanging around your house drinking all of the beer out of your fridge. Further along in the video you'll see him switch to the more "traditional" index/thumb grip pair. This is pretty unusual as most guitarists typically stick with one grip.

If you turn your attention to the headstock shot on the right, you can see how high Eddie wears his guitar. We have (mostly) Jimmy Page to thank for the sling-it-low-to-be-cool look. For those of us that physiologically can't play that way it's comforting so see someone like Eddie ride it high. God bless you Ed.

As we move along to around 3'23" we get a great up-close shot of an EVH pick-slide. I’ve always felt like Eddie has the best damn pick-slides in the business. In this shot you can see how close he is to the bridge and how he’s on the bottom two strings—two key ingredients for that jet-plane-in-your-face sound he gets from his pick-slides:

This is probably my favorite camera-angles of the entire video. It's like seeing Eddie play through his own eyes. It's comforting to see that such a technical player can thrive with relative normal-sized hands. Guys like Steve Vai and Paul Gilbert seem blessed with spindly long fingers, but Eddie proves that you don't necessarily need them to fly.

While this video wasn't anything like a one-on-one guitar lesson from the master, it was a great close-up look into his gear, his technique and his 5150 studio. Hopefully the EVH line has some more fun stuff coming out so we get some more cool videos like this one!