In a recent interview with “The Mistress Carrie Podcast”, John 5 agreed with the often-repeated claim that the vast majority of a guitarist’s tone comes from his or her playing technique, not their gear.
“I believe that the tone really comes from your hands and just how your hands hit those strings and how they press down on those strings and strike that guitar,” the former MARILYN MANSON and current ROB ZOMBIE guitarist said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
“Eddie Van Halen was saying, he was, like, ‘If [I] pick up an acoustic guitar and I play it, it’s gonna sound like Eddie Van Halen,’ and then if I pick it up, it’ll sound like myself. It’s just in your hands, in your DNA.
“I picked up Eddie‘s guitar at rehearsal and played through his rig, but it just sounded like me playing through a different guitar rig,” John 5 said. “So it’s just in somebody’s hands. I would talk to Eddie about that, and he says, ‘[It’s] just in your hands.’ And he would always say that. And just thought that was so interesting. And it’s true, because you can go play on anybody’s rig but it’ll still sound like you.
“It’s funny because they sell the Eddie Van Halen amps and pedals and all that stuff, but you’re still gonna sound like you. I mean, his products are incredible — that’s why they sell ’em, because they’re great, great amps and pedals — but you’re not gonna sound like Eddie Van Halen. It’s your DNA. It’s how you play.”
John 5 went to detail the differences between Eddie Van Halen‘s playing technique and his own, saying: “Eddie would play and he would press down so hard, hit so hard that… His guitar tech was my guitar tech; my guitar tech was his guitar tech for a little while. And he said he would have to tune it a little out of tune because he would press down so hard. But with me, it’s different ’cause I hit so light. It’s like if you ever see a violinist, they’re just doing it so light. And that’s how I play; I just play it at such a light touch. And one time on this last tour I broke a string, and it was, like, ‘Oh my God. I can’t believe this guy broke a string.’ It was a jaw-dropping moment because I play so light.”
John 5 previously discussed his friendship with Eddie Van Halen during an appearance on SiriusXM‘s “Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk” one day after the legendary guitarist’s passing. At the time, he said: “We all knew that Eddie was not well, but he’s like our Superman. [We all thought] ‘Eddie‘s gonna be fine. We saw him at the TOOL concert. He’s gonna beat this. Everything’s gonna be fine. He’s our Superman.’ And when that news hit, I was talking to Fred Coury [CINDERELLA], and I said, ‘I’ve gotta go.’ I just hung up and I had to pull over on the freeway. I just couldn’t believe it. I was just shocked. It’s just the worst news — the worst. Because we listened to him every day; we saw his picture every day; he’s been a part of our lives since the late ’70s, and now he’s gone. But he changed the world forever, that’s for sure.”
John 5, who got his first big break playing on David Lee Roth‘s solo album, “DLR Band”, before landing stints with Manson and now Zombie, said that he first learned of Eddie‘s declining health from the VAN HALEN singer.
“I talked to Roth a while ago, and he was, like, ‘Yeah, Eddie‘s not doing well,'” John 5 recalled. “And I remember I’m sitting there at his place, and I started to well up, I was starting to tear up. I was, like, ‘Okay, get ahold of yourself.’ Because that’s you hearing it from someone that’s close to Ed. I was, like, ‘All right. Keep it together.’ Because I was shocked. I was, like, ‘Oh my God. This can’t be.'”
John 5 confirmed that he knew Eddie personally after first meeting the VAN HALEN guitarist nearly three decades ago.
“I didn’t really talk about it that much,” he said. “But I talked to Ed on the phone quite a bit. We would just sit on the phone for a long time. I don’t really talk about this, but we’d sit on the phone and chit-chat for a long time, and tell stories and talk about guitars and talk about bands, and it was always positive.”
“I think I met him the first time in ’93 through Robert Knight, the photographer. It was kind of nice contact — ‘Hello, how are you?’ — at events and stuff. But then it got a little closer when I started playing with Dave and Manson and everything. But yeah, he gave me a guitar; I gave him one of mine. We were pretty close — not super, super close like I am with Dave or Mike [Anthony] or something like that. But he knew — I would just always tell him how much he meant to me and how much he meant to a zillion other guitar players.”
Elaborating on what made Eddie‘s guitar playing so special, John said: “The thing about Ed is — which people that don’t play guitar don’t understand this — he looked at the instrument different, just like [Apple co-founder] Steve Jobs would look at a computer different or anything else; [American inventor Thomas] Edison would look at something different. And that’s what was so special, and that’s why we have lost such a giant, such an important figure in music.
“I would go down to the VAN HALEN rehearsal and I would pick up his guitar and play through his rig, and I would sound nothing like Eddie Van Halen even if I played a VAN HALEN song,” he explained. “And that’s the difference, because it’s what’s inside you. It’s those hands; it’s that feel. It’s like trying to describe the color blue. It’s a feeling, and it’s something you have. And I don’t know if we’ll ever have that again — ever.”
A previously unreleased video of John 5 performing a cover of VAN HALEN‘s version of “You Really Got Me”, featuring VAN HALEN‘s Michael Anthony on bass, SLIPKNOT‘s Corey Taylor on vocals and CINDERELLA‘s Fred Coury on drums, can be seen below.
Eddie died in October 2020 at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California.
The iconic VAN HALEN axeman died from complications due to cancer, his son confirmed.
Eddie and Alex formed VAN HALEN in 1972 in Pasadena, California, with Roth on lead vocals and Anthony on bass.
VAN HALEN was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2007.
Rolling Stone magazine ranked Eddie Van Halen No. 8 in its list of the 100 greatest guitarists.