Between stories of alcoholism, cancer and family, a classic rock myth has finally been put to rest.
In 1980, Eddie Van Halen told Guitar Player magazine that he would rig a light-dimmer switch to his amps and "crank it up to 140 and watch the tubes melt." The result? Hundreds of guitar fans attempting the same hack, and blowing their circuits.
Now Eddie has revealed the reality behind this legend in a fascinating interview with Esquire
, explaining that the truth is quite the opposite.
It started when he bought a 100-volt Marshall amp from England, but didn't initially realise it was set for British wall sockets at 220-volts:
"So I plugged the thing in, but I'm going, 'F--king thing doesn't work. I got ripped off.' I just let it sit there. After about an hour, there's sound coming out, but it's really quiet, cause it's running on half voltage. So I go, 'Hey, wait a minute. It sounds exactly like it's supposed to all the way up, but it's really quiet.'"
Eddie realised he could play the amp with its full drive and tone, but with the volume down so his band could still play in smaller clubs, while also prolonging the life of the tubes.
So why did he tell Guitar Player the exact opposite? He says frontman David Lee Roth had encouraged him to embellish on his stories to help get more press - but the plan quickly backfired. For many fans, it literally backfired.
"I told [Guitar Player] I raised it up 140 volts. I felt so bad. I felt so f--king horrible, man. They said, 'Please don't attempt what Eddie Van Halen said in the last interview, because everyone was blowing their amps.' Everyone fried their amps 'cause of me.
"I felt so bad. I never lied again after that."
Of course, Jim Marshall first introduced the same master volume concept in the mid-1970s, so it's not clear why Eddie didn't just go for this kind of model to solve his volume issues. If you can shed light on the matter, we'd love to hear more in the comments.
In the same feature, Eddie revealed that his tongue cancer which was first diagnosed in 2000 had returned on two occasions last year. Doctors continue to check his progress, but he is now understood to be in good health.
Other remarkable tidbits from the interview include his recovery from alcoholism, which resulted in an addiction to his medication ("I must have laid on the couch for a year, just watching 'Law & Order'"), and that his son who joined Van Halen on bass at the age of 15 is pretty much in charge of the band these days.
What is is like to see a young Wolfgang Van Halen lead the band and pick all the songs for the new album?
"I trip on it all. I'm just kind of watching it," Eddie said. "To have a brother that I've been playing with since day one, and now my son. I don't think anyone else in music can actually say that.
"Wolfie, he just blows my mind. He doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, no drugs. Nothin'. I am just, I'm like in awe of him."
Meanwhile, Van Halen have announced an extension to their US tour. Check out the dates right here:
07/07 - Uncasville, CT - Mohegan Sun Arena
07/09 - Hampton, VA - Hampton Coliseum
07/11 - Philadelphia, PA - Wells Fargo Center
07/13 - E. Rutherford, NJ - IZOD Center
07/15 - Baltimore, MD - 1st Mariner Arena
07/17 - Rochester, NY - Blue Cross Arena
07/19 - Detroit, MI - Joe Louis Arena
07/21 - London, ON - John Labatt Centre
07/24 - Toledo, OH - Huntington Center
07/26 - Grand Rapids, MI - Van Andel Arena
07/28 - Cleveland, OH - Quicken Loans Arena
07/31 - Fort Wayne, IN - Allen County War Memorial Coliseum
08/02 - Columbus, OH - Schottenstein Center
08/04 - Knoxville, TN - Thompson Boling Arena
08/06 - Memphis, TN - FedExForum
08/08 - Birmingham, AL - BJCC Arena
08/10 - Greenville, SC - BI-LO Center
08/12 - Cincinnati, OH - U.S. Bank Arena