The Eddie Van Halen Prism: Tracing His Impact Through His Influences and Disciples

The Eddie Van Halen Prism: Tracing His Impact Through His Influences and Disciples

By Chris Steffen

Oct. 15, 2020

With the passing of Eddie Van Halen last week, amid the outpouring of love and condolences there began to emerge a clear picture of his place within the lineage of music. Though he often bristled at questions about his influences, his formative years were filled with a variety of styles that gave him the foundation upon which to build his incredible arsenal of techniques and sounds. And as soon as "Eruption" made it to wax, the other top-tier players of his generation rushed to discover his secrets, and the guitarists who followed in the subsequent decades rarely shied away from citing his impact.

The history of the two-handed tapping technique that he popularized has been well-explored, from Billy Gibbons to Steve Hackett to Canned Heat's Harvey Mandel, as well as the flair and classical influence of guitarists like Ritchie Blackmore, the strutting shuffle of Cactus, and the huge sound of Montrose (fronted by Sammy Hagar) all worked their way into Van Halen's overall package. We've collected a handful of the most crucial influences, contemporaries, and disciples who helped inspire and perpetuate the visionary ideas of one of the electric guitar's indisputable Mount Rushmore figures.


The Dave Clark Five
Early in Eddie Van Halen’s musical career, while he and his brother Alex were both playing the drums, both were drawn to the relatively bombastic sound of the Dave Clark Five. While the guitar playing of Lenny Davidson was proficient and tuneful, the Van Halen brothers locked into the driving drum beat of Dave Clark and the propulsive overall sound of their British Invasion hit “Glad All Over,” which Eddie claimed was the first record he ever purchased. “To this day I listen to some of those old recordings, and they have a magic to them," he told Rolling Stone in 1995. "They were badass. Every kid goes through the phase of building model cars and stuff. I would take boxes and paper and make something like a snare drum, and I’d play along with the Dave Clark Five stuff.” An oddly auspicious reasoning for the first purchase by one of the most celebrated guitarists in rock history, but that same desire for a powerhouse sound would continue throughout his musical career. (Zac Johnson)

Allan Holdsworth
Eddie is on record as appreciating Allan Holdsworth’s fluid and innovative guitar playing as early as 1979, at one point calling the English guitar legend “so damned good that I can’t cop anything.” Holdsworth had played in English bands Tempest and Soft Machine, and appeared on albums by Tony Williams, Gong, and violinist Jean Luc Ponty, offering his liquid and exacting guitar fusion to a variety of different musical styles. Discussing the intro to “And the Cradle Will Rock” in Guitar World, Eddie said, “The solo on that song is unusual. I do one short lick that’s very spontaneous. It came out because I had been listening to Allan Holdsworth, who I think is the baddest.” Eddie believed so strongly in Holdsworth’s musical vision that he connected Holdsworth with Van Halen producer and A&R man Ted Templeman and helped to broker a record deal for him with Warner Bros in 1983. (Zac Johnson)

Ludwig van Beethoven
Any story of Eddie's musical upbringing begins with his studies of the piano, which started at a young age and were rekindled in his later teenage years. Eddie would rarely declare direct influences from any century, but would readily admit to the sensibility of his guitar solos coming from a mentality of classical music titans like Beethoven (his parents gave him the middle name Lodewijk, the Dutch version of Ludwig, in honor of the composer), particularly due to their ability to tell a story purely instrumentally, without vocals. The way the piano trained him to use his left and right hands to play different but complementary parts simultaneously would be something he learned to duplicate on the neck of the guitar, and his riff-writing regularly displayed that level of intricacy and interplay. But he also acknowledged the piano's limitations: "You can't bend notes on a piano." (Chris Steffen)

Eric Clapton and Cream
The one influence Eddie would readily cite was Eric Clapton, particularly during his years in Cream. It seems that he was possibly just as intrigued by the trio's gift for improvisation and interplay than Clapton on his own, and claimed they were the only band that he followed seriously. He often offered a more holistic description of his Cream appreciation, and noted how Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce were crucial in holding the unit together while Clapton went off on his soloing adventures, which was echoed in Van Halen's formidable rhythm section. In a 2008 interview with Rolling Stone, Eddie noted that "Everything starts with the blues, anyways," which is certainly a statement that Clapton could get behind. (Chris Steffen)


Steve Vai
Following David Lee Roth’s exit from Van Halen in 1985, Diamond Dave sagely knew that he would need to assemble a band of hotshot musicians if he didn’t want to take a step backwards with his new solo project, so he snagged Frank Zappa’s “Stunt Guitarist” Steve Vai. The presence of a dark-haired, fleet fingered guitarist looked extremely comforting next to DLR in the videos, and as it turns out, Vai had a reverence for Eddie Van Halen. In an interview published on, Vai said “You can never deny the immense talent, rock credibility, and iconic historical contribution that Van Halen made. And Edward Van Halen is a guitar god of the highest order. I have immense respect and love for Edward, you know? I would probably be playing the guitar very differently if he never came along. He’s a totally inspired person.” (Zac Johnson)

Randy Rhoads
While it might seem like Eddie and the Quiet Riot-turned-Ozzy Osbourne shredder could be simpatico figures, accounts indicate that Eddie actually wasn't all that impressed with Rhoads' objectively enviable talents, or perhaps he had begun to chafe at comparisons between the two. They crossed paths several times in the Los Angeles club scene, and Eddie bristled when Randy started using some of Eddie's signature moves onstage, and is said to have refused to share details about his gear with a curious Rhoads. But there's no denying that Rhoads shared Eddie's classically-minded approach to the electric guitar, crafting hummable and intricate leads that continue to stand the test of time, and his polka-dot guitars have earned a place alongside Eddie's famously striped creations. (Chris Steffen)


Dimebag Darrell
The comparisons are myriad, and the bond is eternal: Pantera's "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott and Vinnie Paul formed their own guitar and drums brother duo that took over heavy metal in the '90s. Dimebag kept the divebombs falling when no one else seemed interested, was a vicious double threat at both soloing and riff-writing, and displayed an endless exuberance that was akin to Eddie's wide grin. The closest he came to his own "Eruption" moment was likely the outro to "Floods," which bewitched a generation of would-be shredders. When Dimebag was murdered onstage in 2004, Eddie spoke at his public memorial and played an enthusiastic voicemail that Dimebag had left him. Earlier that day, at Dimebag's private funeral, Eddie placed the guitar from the Van Halen II jacket alongside Abbott in his Kiss Kasket. (Chris Steffen)

Tom Morello
After Eddie's coming-out party with "Eruption," it felt like a long time until another rock guitarist came along who made people ask, "How in the hell is he doing that?" Tom Morello's guitar breaks were rarely solos in the traditional sense, but rather stuttering rhythmic attacks created by scraping the strings and manipulating the electronics of the guitar, often in an attempt to serve simultaneously as guitarist and DJ. Eddie was also deeply curious about the inner workings of the electric guitar, earning a few patents along the way, and even wrote about his innovations in Popular Mechanics. (Chris Steffen)

John 5
One of the more outright worshipful players of the subsequent generation of guitarists was John Lowery, who took on the name John 5 as the guitarist with Marilyn Manson and later Rob Zombie. A regular around the Hollywood clubs, even underage, John 5 also managed to land a gig with David Lee Roth, where he was able to fully show off his reverence for Eddie Van Halen. An incredibly faithful live version of "You Really Got Me" (featuring Michael Anthony and Corey Taylor) shows just how seriously Lowery took his studies of Eddie's guitar playing, consciously incorporating the subtleties and details that those who have cranked the song a thousand times expect to hear. (Chris Steffen)

Lzzy Hale
Sometimes it's not always the outright shredding that captures another artist's imagination, but rather the range of their musicality. Halestorm's Lzzy Hale found herself particularly inspired as youth by Eddie's ambidextrous approach to music as both a guitarist and a keyboardist, which helped her feel less self-conscious about her own background as a pianist and unashamedly incorporating keyboards into Halestorm's hard rock sound. It also helped that "Panama" was her parents' favorite song. (Chris Steffen)