Van Halen Amp Settings and The EVH Sound

The late Eddie Van Halen is considered to be one of the greatest guitarists of all time. He was incredibly skilled and had a sound that was unique in so many ways. His iconic gear and play style are sought by many players all around the world.

Not only do you need the perfect guitar and equipment, but also the right Eddie Van Halen amp settings.

In this article, we are going to explore the amps and gear needed to sound like EVH. We will also look at how to set the amps to get as close to his tone as possible.

van halen amp settings

What Is The Van Halen Sound?

Many things contribute to the Van Halen sound. It’s a combination of the equipment he used, his playing style, and his overall approach to music.

Eddie Van Halen’s electric guitars were all equipped with humbucker pickups. This gives them a thicker and more aggressive sound than single-coil pickups. Most of his guitars were also set up with a Floyd Rose tremolo system. This allows for dive-bombing and other extreme techniques.

Eddie’s amps were Marshall stacks for a great deal of his career. He would use 4×12 speaker cabinets with a 1959 Super lead head. Eventually, he began using the iconic 5150.

If you have a 5150, you can use these settings to get started with a Van Halen tone:

  • Gain: 6
  • Treble: 5
  • Mids: 3
  • Bass: 6.5
  • Presence: 5
  • Resonance: 4

Eddie Van Halen’s playing style was very aggressive. He would use a lot of picking and tapping techniques. His left hand was always moving around the fretboard.

He would also use a lot of vibrato and bending techniques. This added to the overall aggressiveness of his sound.

Gear Needed To Sound Like Van Halen

To get the Van Halen sound, you will need a few things.

  1. You need a good electric guitar. A large portion of Eddie’s main guitars were made by Music Man. He would later use Charvel and his iconic Frankenstein. One with humbucker pickups will be perfect, like the EVH Wolfgang found here.
  2. The right amp is crucial. Eddie’s amp was a Marshall before using the 5150. So either one of these amps will get you the sound, even something close will work. The 5150 is a great amp for metal and hard rock. It has a lot of saturated distortion, tons of sustain, and can get very loud.
  3. You will need effects! Eddie Van Halen was a master at great guitar tone, but this involved effects like flanger, chorus, echo, phaser and delay in his signal chain.

The 3 main pedals we recommend are:

  • Dunlop Echoplex Delay
  • MXR Flanger
  • MXR Phase 90

Van Halen Amp Settings

Now that we have the right gear, let’s look at how to set up our amps to get a Van Halen tone. It all starts with knowing how each control works. Some amp settings will affect others, so it’s important to know what to look for.

van halen amp setting infographic

Gain Control

The gain knob on your amp will control the amount of distortion. On a clean channel, it will introduce more overdrive and grit. Eddie Van Halen would usually have the gain set around 6 or 7 on the high-gain or lead channel.

Not only does this increase distortion and saturation, but it also affects the bass content in the sound. The higher the setting, the thicker it will be.

For Van Halen’s tone, this can be helpful, but just make sure that it isn’t too muddy.

Equalizer Controls

When starting, set your EQ controls to the halfway point or 5. This is usually best to provide a relatively flat tone response.

Then begin adjusting them to taste using the following concepts:

  1. Your treble knob will adjust the brightness and clarity. EVH typically used higher settings on the 5150, even as high as 7. Because every guitar is different, yours may be too harsh. If that is the case, use a lower setting.
  2. The mid-control is where you can add body and thickness to your tone. Eddie had his control set to 3, sometimes lower. But this amp had a good mid-response, so you may find higher settings on others to be better.
  3. The bass control is responsible for, you guessed it, the low end. This is where you can add girth and power to your tone. For Van Halen’s sound, a good setting is around 6 or 7. But this will vary depending on the amp you’re using.

Popular Van Halen Songs and Their Amp Settings

This is where it will all come together as you combine your equipment with the right amp settings to get the thick Van Halen tone and match their songs.

These settings are all simply a suggested starting point, but will need some adjustment according to your guitar and amplifier.

Hot For Teacher

This song is pure rock and roll and requires the right pickups and amplifier. Your amp will need to have a good amount of midrange and be fairly saturated.

An amplifier like a Marshall or the 5150 is perfect as they are EVH tones. But many will get you close.

Then use settings like:

  • Gain: 7
  • Treble: 7
  • Mids: 5
  • Bass: 6
  • Presence: 5

Panama

Another very popular Van Halen song that most people know inside and out. Panama isn’t quite as saturated but still has a nice, aggressive crunch. The sound is bright and thick, so an amp that is not too scooped is necessary.

Eddie used his Marshall Plexi cranked on nearly every setting, but this isn’t necessary and won’t work with most high-gain amps.

A good place to start with amp settings with this song are:

  • Gain: 6-7
  • Treble: 7
  • Mids: 4
  • Bass: 6
  • Presence: 5

Check out our Pearl Jam settings here!

Human Being

This song is a little different from the others, as the guitar parts are somewhat clean, with just a hint of distortion as it gets started.

To get this tone, you’ll need an amplifier similar to the other two songs. Most of this song is distorted, except for the beginning. To get this sound, simply set your amp for the aggressive part and then roll your volume down to get the intro.

Use these amp settings:

  • Gain: 7
  • Treble: 6
  • Mids: 3
  • Bass: 6
  • Presence: 6

Check out our Led Zeppelin amp settings here!

Trouble Shooting Sound Issues

If you run into problems, here are a few suggestions.

  • The right guitar is essential. Eddie used humbuckers with high output to push his amp harder into saturation. They cannot be too dark, otherwise, it might be hard to get this brighter tone.
  • If, on the other hand, your sound is too bright, try taking the harshness out with the treble control. You can also use the tone control on your guitar to warm things up if your amp is just too bright.
  • If your amplifier just doesn’t have the drive to get Eddies’s sound, try using a distortion pedal. There is a 5150 pedal that is made to get this tone exclusively. It might be just what you need to get into the high-gain territory.
  • Using the effects that we have suggested earlier in the article will also help a great deal. They can add depth and thickness, as well as level out any harshness. They are a necessary part of the Van Halen tone.
  • If you are having issues with muddiness or just too much bass, make sure the gain control is not maxed right out. This alone can add a ton of bass and with some amps, it can be too much.
  • Remember that thickness doesn’t always mean bass. If your sound is too bass-heavy, simply turning down the control and replacing it with midrange can usually get you a punchy tone.

Conclusion

That’s it! These are the essential elements to get that thick, Van Halen guitar tone. And while our settings are a good place to start, not every amp is the same, so experiment with your equipment and have fun!

FAQs

How did EVH get the brown sound?

Eddie Van Halen achieved the brown sound by starving his amplifier of power using a variac. This made it distort a lot earlier than it would normally. He then cranked all the settings and used it with high output pickups.

This provided him with the Brown Sound that then became iconic and a tone most guitarists desire.

Did Eddie Van Halen use tube amps?

Yes, Eddie used Marshall, Peavey as well as Fender tube amps for his tone for many years across multiple records. His 5150 signature amplifier is also a tube head that is enjoyed by many musicians worldwide.

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear.I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!