Eddie Van Halen was one of the most iconic guitarists of all time; there can be no denying it. As the lead axeman for rock titans, Van Halen, he is credited with developing techniques on the guitar that we now see ubiquitous in the harder forms of rock music. Everywhere from metallic hardcore to black metal and even pop music, you see flecks of his influence.
It was mainly the technique of two-handed string tapping that Van Halen became known for developing, taking it past the rudimentary form that the likes of Steve Hackett of Genesis and Harvey Mandel had used earlier. Whilst shredders such as these came before him, at the time, Van Halen’s style was pretty unique. In this sense, he can be hailed as repackaging guitar virtuosity for the future, and consequently, he has influenced countless subsequent shredders.
Unsurprisingly, it was Eddie and his brother Alex who formed what would become known as Van Halen the band in 1972. However, they did not opt to use their surname until two years later. They quickly became regulars on the LA rock circuit and by 1977 they had signed a major deal with Warner Records. Their debut album, Van Halen, was released in February the following year, and it featured classics such as ‘Runnin’ with the Devil’ and ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love’. It featured Halen’s instantly iconic two-handed tapping technique and it marked him out as one of the greatest axemen of the modern era.
The band then embarked on a prolific recording career, and, fast forward to the early ’80s, and they had established themselves as one of the world’s biggest rock bands. Their sixth album, 1984, boasted the hit single ‘Jump’, and went five-times platinum the year after its release. By the end of the decade, Van Halen were hailed as one of the most influential rock bands of all time, a status they could not have developed without the unerring talent of Eddie Van Halen.
Regardless of whether you like guitar virtuosity or not, Eddie Van Halen’s technical proficiency on the guitar was incredible, and he cannot be denied his place in the halls of the six-stringed greats. Not only was he a pioneering shredder, or solely Van Halen’s guitarist, but Eddie Halen also made a name for himself with his glitzy collaborations and his development of equipment to aid guitar playing.
Most famously, he played the guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s mega-hit ‘Beat It’, but he also worked with greats such as Gene Simmons, Roger Waters, Black Sabbath and even LL Cool J. He also teamed up with his brother to pen the soundtracks for films such as Twister and The Wild Life.
Showing himself to be something of a guitar player’s guitar player, across his life Eddie Van Halen was awarded three patents that related to the guitar. The first was a folding prop that supported a guitar in a flat position, allowing players to double-hand tap on the guitar as if it was a piano. The second was a tension adjusting tailpiece enabling players to change the pitch of the strings, and the third was an ornamental design for the headstock of his signature Peavey EVH Wolfgang model.
Influenced by Jimmy Page and other notable guitarists, Van Halen’s development of shredding as a concept was critical. In a way, he can be regarded as the bridge between the likes of Jimmy Page and that of modern virtuosos such as Dragonforce. A true innovator, he inspired everyone from Jack White to Tom Morello.
Even though he sadly passed away in 2020, Van Halen’s contributions to music and guitar playing will not be forgotten. A true game-changer, there can be no surprise that young guitar players today look to his work as a source of coveted inspiration.
This got us thinking then, what are Eddie Van Halen’s best guitar solos of all time? It has been a thankless task, but we have managed to strim it down to just 5, attempting to convey a concise image of the guitar playing god that he was. This is just our opinion but should be used as a starter for healthy conversation.
Eddie Van Halen’s 5 greatest solos:
Where else but to start the list with the song that announced Eddie Van Halen to the world? Only 1:42 in duration, this is the majesty of ‘Eruption’. Featuring divebombs, arpeggios and of course, double-handed tapping, this is rightly hailed as one of the greatest guitar solos of all time.
The sheer brilliance of Van Halen on ‘Eruption’ is dizzying. It is one glorious racket that many have tried and failed to imitate, owing to the late legend’s unmatched technical ability.
No list of Van Halen solos would be complete without 1982’s ‘Beat It’. An absolute classic, this was the first time that shredding was properly appropriated by the mainstream. Without it, you could say goodbye to the likes of Santana and Rob Thomas’ hilarious 1999 collaboration ‘Smooth’. Take from that what you will.
‘Beat It’ would not have had the same grit without Van Halen’s contribution. His solo is a pocketbook version of the visceral work he did in his own band’s setting. Featuring harmonics, arpeggios and divebombs, the solo is as well known as the song – a marvellous achievement.
‘Hot for Teacher’
Taken from their classic album, 1984, ‘Hot for Teacher’ became one of the biggest songs in ’80s metal. A bonafide classic, there’s no contemporary shredder that hasn’t been somewhat influenced by Van Halen’s guitar moves on the track. Comprising a mix of glam and speed metal, Van Halen’s playing from start to finish is incredible.
From the solo at the inception to the endless riffs, he produces in the song, his work on ‘Hot for Teacher’ really is quite something. So ridiculously ’80s, the solo in the middle is so visceral it feels as if Van Halen might slip up at any point, but then we realise it’s Eddie Van Halen.
This was his thing. Fast and precise, this is one of his most well-respected solos.
Taken from the band’s 1983 record Driver Down, the instrumental ‘Cathedral’ is one of their most underrated delights. Aptly named given Van Halen‘s guitar sounds like a church organ, his fx drenched guitar is one of the most experimental sounds that the band ever achieved.
More in keeping with something that Kraftwerk or New Order might produce, Driver Down saw the band at one of their darkest moments, and Van Halen’s soloing on ‘Cathedral’ is one of the standouts.
Of the song, the guitar hero said: “On that cut, I use the volume knob a lot. If you turn it up and down too fast, it heats up and freezes. I did two takes of that song, and right at the end of the second take, the volume knob just froze, just stopped.”
This might shock Van Halen purists, but ‘Jump’ is one of the best Eddie Van Halen solos of all time, whether you like it or not. The band’s most anthemic song was augmented by one of Van Halen’s best examples of his soloing.
It breaks the song up perfectly, sharply bringing it out of the synth-drenched main body before dovetailing with the synth arpeggio again at the end of the section.
Featuring all the classic hallmarks of Van Halen, pinched harmonics, arpeggios and tapping, this short burst, oozing with technique is his most memorable within the confines of Van Halen.