Eddie Van Halen's style is still much appreciated today as it was back in the day, we'll help you emulate his famous "Brown Sound" in this Van Halen gear guide .
Eddie Van Halen was one of the most iconic guitarists from the late seventies / early eighties. In an era when guitar virtuosity wasn't on most people's agenda, first due to punk then to 80's synth-pop, Eddie was one of the few, real "Guitar Heroes". The release of MXR's latest overdrive pedal, the MXR EVH 5150, and many MXR signature pedals show once again that his popularity remains undimmed - with many players still seeking to emulate that holy grail of 80's heavy rock guitar tone: Eddie's "Brown Sound".
Over the years, Eddie left his mark as one of the most remarkable Hard Rock guitarists ever. Unlike many others, he never actually relied on distortion pedals, keeping his overdrive sound quite pure and smooth, with a very original use of modulation effects as his main "secret weapon".
Perhaps this is why his "Brown Sound" is so celebrated - it's powerful, heavy, but not too harsh. It totally rocks, but it's also very musical. His pedalboard has changed quite a bit over the years, but always keeping his two main ingredients: the MXR phaser and Flanger pedals, two effects that Eddie mastered like few other players ever did. So much so, that they gave him his own signature pedals - the aptly titled MXR EVH Eddie Van Halen Phase 90 and the (highly collectable) MXR EVH90-SE Limited Edition 35th Anniversary Phaser Pedal.
Watch Dagan's Eddie Van Halen Gear Guide & Tribute - RIP Eddie Van Halen January 26, 1955 - October 6, 2020.
THE ORIGINS OF THE "BROWN SOUND"
The guitar tone on Van Halen's first albums (Van Halen, Van Halen II and Fair Warning) is called the "Brown Sound". It was created using a very creative combination of customised guitars, creative pedalboard and the valve amp distortion. Here's a look at an early Eddie Van Halen pedalboard, amps and effects:
There are no clear pictures of this pedalboard plugged (you will notice a couple of unplugged leads above) and even after many years no-one knows for sure how Eddie used his pedals! An old Tone Bender was modded to be used as a signal splitter, with one input and 3 outputs.
However, the main ingredients of the "Brown Sound" are all there, already: MXR Flanger > MXR Phaser > Echoplex Tape Echo > Marshall amps
The MXR M109S Six Band EQ Pedal was not a specific part of his "Brown Sound". It was used simply for certain guitars that lacked the mids, to match the tone of his other guitars. Back in the day, Eddie didn't have an A/B switch, so his Flanger would have to be manually unplugged from the phaser, and plugged into the EQ, which was plugged into the "Tone Bender" splitter.
What happened then, is a matter of speculation. Maybe the phaser wouldn't be used on those occasions, with the first two Tone Bender outputs going straight to Amps / Echoplex, or maybe the third output (the short, unconnected cable from pic) would be connected to the Phase 90 again. For all we know, maybe he did both things, at different times!
Here are the main ingredients for the classic "Brown Sound":
Eddie Van Halen Pedals - What Pedals Did Eddie Van Halen Use?
In summary, the main gear Eddie Van Halen uses and main pedals Eddie used were a phaser, ideally a Phase 90 and a delay pedal, ideally an Echoplex all put through a 5150 amplifier. The rest is up to you!
MXR Phase 90 pedal
Eddie originally wanted his guitar to stand out during solos, without boosting the signal. When he discovered the MXR Phase 90, he found it perfect for what he had in mind. In a recent interview, he said:
"I thought it sounded unique. I never heard that before. It didn’t sound like the phase shifters made by other companies, where the phase sweep is more heavy and pronounced, almost more like a flanger. The Phase 90 produces a very light change of the sound. It’s not an over-the-top effect. It’s very subtle."
If you want the classic, Van halen Phase 90 sound as heard on "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" then you need the MXR CSP-101SL Script Phase 90 Phaser Pedal as it gives you a less affected signal, but still brings in the nice phase effect. This is the pedal you need to sound like Eddie Van Halen.
Listen to how he uses the MXR Phase 90 on "Eruption":
MXR EVH Eddie Van Halen Phase 90 Guitar Effects Pedal
MXR manufactures several versions of their famous phaser pedal. For Eddie Van Halen fans, owning a phaser is essential to get the Brown Sound. Of course, the MXR EVH Phase 90 pedals are the best bet. These Eddie Van Halen signature pedals are very versatile and even guitarists who don't like his band will find much to enjoy, as they are two of the best phaser pedals on the market today, thanks to the mode switch that allows the guitarist to select between vintage Phase 90 sound (as used by Van Halen) and the deeper sound of the modern, block-logo Phase 90.
Here's how you get the signature Van Halen Brown Sound setting on a Phase 90: In summary, you need to set the Phase 90 at around 9 o'clock and add a subtle delay that is only just in the mix.
In summary: set your pase 90 to 9 o'clock, and whack a touch of delay on and you've got the Van Halen sound of the first album.
MXR 117 Flanger
The 2nd important ingredient for Eddie's classic tone was a MXR Flanger. His setting was: first 3 knobs at around 11.30, last knob all the way up. It would always be the first pedal in the signal chain.
Flangers can be a very tricky fx pedals, and many guitarists don't like them... but often, because they don't know how to use flanger in a creative way! Not so with Eddie, who used it on many songs, but always sparingly. For such an "over-the-top" band, Eddie was actually a very sensible and thoughtful guitarist.
How to get the Van Halen Flanger sound
Here's how Eddie got his Flanger sound: "I might fine-tune the speed a little to match it to the tempo of the song, like on “Unchained” where the sweep goes perfectly with the riff. I was just goofing off and experimenting. It wouldn’t have sounded good to use the flanger all the way through. The riff just needed a little bit here and there. It’s a cool, tasty little tidbit that I threw in there to draw attention to the riff."
Listen to how he uses the MXR Flanger on "Unchained":
The MXR EVH-117 Signature Flanger, as well as the 35 year anniversary pedal, are ideal options for Eddie fans, though, like the Phase 90, even players not into Van Halen might enjoy their sounds!
Dunlop Echoplex Delay
Eddie used the Echoplex a lot - many of his guitar solos feature a subtle, short tape echo. Therefore, this effect is essential for anyone who wants to sound similar to Eddie. The best option is the Dunlop Echoplex Delay, which will easily do the job and get that background delay you need!
MXR EVH 5150 Chorus Limited Edition Pedal
The classic stereo chorus sound as heard on that first self-titled 1978 album release, through to 2012's A Different Kind of Truth is essential if you want to sound like Van Halen.
Some of the most recent pics of Eddie's pedalboard shows that he still uses the classic "Brown Sound" mainstays MXR Phase 90 and MXR 117 Flanger (his signature models, of course!) with the addition of a few extras.
The "Brown Sound" was created on stock Marshall Plexi amps. However, Eddie - always the "tone seeker" - wouldn't settle and soon moved on to a Peavey 5150, made to his own specifications, which became a classic. The 5150 amps now live on as part of his own branded range, the EVH GuitarAmps.
Of course, today EVH amps is Eddie's first choice and perfect for guitarists who want a similar tone. The EVH guitar amps offer a mix of Fender-style cleans and Marshall-style crunch. They're perfect for players who, like Eddie, prefer to rely only on the natural distortion of a guitar amp. One of the best options is the "lunch box"-sized EVH 5150III 15W LBXII Amplifier Head which packs incredible tone & power at a very affordable price! Just check our exclusive demo to hear it for yourself...
EVH 5150 III 2X12 Tube Combo Amp in Black
If you need the soundof Eddie Van Halen in a combo amplifier then the EVH 5150 III 2X12 Tube Combo Amp in Black is ideal. This amplifier features three channels (clean, crunch and lead) so you have a variety of sounds and you can also drop the wattage rom 50 watts down to 1 watt so you can practice at home.
MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive Pedal
If you can't afford an amp like Eddie's, fear not - there are a couple of great fx pedals that nail the 5150 tone perfectly, and getting one of those is ideal if you fancy getting an authentic "Brown Sound" on the cheap: The new MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive Pedal, which was designed with the help of Eddie himself!
EDDIE VAN HALEN ELECTRIC GUITARS
Always chasing the perfect tone, Eddie has used several guitars over the years, in the studio and on stage. Some of his choices may even surprise some: he's used an ES-335 for recordings, and played a Gibson Les Paul Junior live.
However, what most people associate with Eddie are his custom-built guitars, with the paint job featuring stripes, done by Eddie himself. At the beginning, he would simply build them himself: cheap Strat copies, with replaced necks and humbuckers. Eddie would fit thicker, Gibson-style frets on the fretboard, and install Gibson PAF humbuckers taken from ES-335 guitars, with the coil rewound for his specifications. The completed model became known as his "Frankenstein" guitar, or "Frankenstrat". It was the final, and very important ingredient of his "Brown Sound".
However, should you want the ACTUAL Brown Sound - you need this Frankie Strat - otherwise known as the EVH Striped Series Frankie Electric Guitar.
EVH Striped Series Frankie Electric Guitar
This is the guitar you need if you want to sound like Van Halen. The EVH Striped Series Frankie Electric Guitar has been meticulously designed to emulate every part of the original Frankenstrat designed by Eddie Van Halen, right down to custom paint job and the dummy neck pickup. At just over £1,000 its not going to break the bank, but you might just break some faces with the tones you can get out of this guitar!
EVH Wolfgang Special Ebony Fretboard Red/black/white Stripe
But Eddie got a taste for customised guitars and the Frankenstrat wouldn't be his last, of course.
After of years of experimentation, he developed (originally with Peavey) the Wolfgang guitar, which can be considered the ultimate Eddie Van Halen guitar.
"Everything that I've built, destroyed, stumbled onto, learned and experienced is in this guitar," Eddie Van Halen said. "Every aspect and component of this guitar has been examined and upgraded to the highest standards possible: stainless steel frets, double-potted custom-wound pickups, five-piece binding on the matching body and headstock, custom-made signature tuning machines and Floyd Rose bridge, new low-friction pots, and the list keeps going. We left no stone unturned."
For the ultimate Van Halen fan, the EVH '79 Bumblebee is a faithful recreation of Eddie Van Halen's own iconic Strat style electric guitar complete with the iconic black and yellow stripes which featured on the cover of Van Halen II way back in 1979. It's also signed by Eddie Van Halen himself!
At just under £16,000 it's one of the most expensive guitars we've seen here at PMT. But it's totally worth it if you're a big fan of Van Halen and captures the exact sound you need.
This is 1 of 50 in the world and has been hand-signed by Eddie Van Halen. Unfortunately, we've now sold it, but hey - you never know if this iconic guitar might show up again!
Today, like with his signature amps, Eddie Van Halen's EVH Electric Guitars are released under his own brand, and are better than ever! PMT Online has some of the best models in stock now including: