Guitarist Steve Vai has revealed the “snobby” first reaction he had to Van Halen after listening to their debut album.
“There was the intro sound, which in my snobby mind – I was kind of snobby back then – it was like, ‘OK, it’s an interesting creative car horn sound that’s being pitched down, OK, big deal…” he began.
He continued: “Because everybody was saying, ‘Wait till you hear this, wait till you hear this!’ So then, when the chords came in, the first thing I thought was, ‘I’ve never heard a guitar so in tune playing chords, with so much distortion.’
“I could never play a chord to be that much in-tune, where all the notes resonate and feel good when you’re playing, a triad in the middle three strings…
“It’s just very rare on the guitar because the guitar is a fickled instrument – fourths are different than thirds and… And when I hear that, I’m waiting for another chord to come along that’s not a bar chord to be out of tune, and it never happened.”
Vai went on to describe his admiration for the “radiance around the tone” of Eddie’s guitar playing.
He began: Nothing [Eddie] played was out of tune. And I don’t think he tuned with a tuner – he just used his ear. So there was an advantage there, there was a tuning there that was different than anything else.”
“But the tone – I loved the way Jimmy Page used so many different tones and he would capture these atmospheres, and how Brian May’s tone was like there was something about it that, it had a golden touch, and how Ritchie Blackmore’s was constant, consistent it didn’t change…” he continued.
“But this was a horse of another colour, this was like there was a presence around it, there was a radiance around the tone.
“There was sort of as if every note had space in between it that jived and resonated perfectly with all the surrounding notes, sort of like you’ve got the sun and then the planets as the notes, and all that space between creating this body of sound that was just phenomenal.
“And the way that they used the real estate of the stereo spectrum was such that it gave the guitar the space to be as big as it was.
“And this was really made very apparent to me when I was recording [David Lee Roth’s 1986 solo debut] ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile,’ and [VH producer] Ted Templeman came in with a cassette of the soloed track of ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love’ – Edward’s guitar.
“This was one track, one mic, and it was all there! And I said, ‘What?!’ Because we were working on my tone because I spent precious little time on tone.
“I mean, I never really knew how vital it was; I always thought that the tone was in the amp or whatever, and I could never afford a good amp, so, ‘Don’t worry about tone, just get the notes going’ That was kind of my 17-year-old mentality,” he concluded.