Queen’s Brian May has revealed exactly what went down when he swapped guitars with the late, great Eddie Van Halen.
“I sounded like me on his guitar and he sounded like him on my guitar, which reassured us that it’s basically all in the fingers at the end of the day,” he said.
“No matter what guitar Eddie picked up, it sounded like him. And I saw him pick up Phil Chen’s bass, and he sounded like Eddie Van Halen on Phil Chen’s bass! So, yes, it’s in the fingers.”
May went on to say that the pair bonded over the technical aspects of guitars, attributing Van Halen’s unique tone to his placement of pickups.
“We talked about what he called ‘the brown sound’, he said he’d been very influenced by the way my guitar sounded, the breadth of it and the way it spoke. And he wanted that. He said, ‘I wanted that brown sound.’ And it’s a question of where you put the pickup, at what point under the strings – it’s technical talk,” he said.
“He said none of the guitars he’d used had it in quite the right place, so he moved his pickup,” he continued.
“His guitar looks very individual, but the thing that really made it so individual in sound is because he tuned where that pickup was – to like a hundredth of an inch – to get the right harmonics to make the brown sound. And he had to have the right amp, of course. So we talked a little bit about that. But to be honest, it was more about, ‘What shall we play?'” he concluded.