I met Eddie Van Halen when I worked at Electro-Harmonix in the 70s. He came in to the 23rd Street offices for something that has been lost to the mists of my memory and I delivered it to him. He was, like many brilliant artists, smaller than you imagine, their talent giving them a stature in your mind that they don’t possess in real life. The encounter was brief and affable. He had already changed the face of electric guitar.
As with all geniuses, his innovations did not arrive out of nowhere. He had seen other guitarists tap on one note to extend their range, but he expanded on that in a show stopping yet musical way. He had not likely seen this guy:
He took the whammy excursions of Allan Holdsworth (of whom he was a big fan) to new levels. He also experimented with noise (at about 6:00 in the first video and 4:00 below).
Innovation spawns imitation, and, like SRV, Hendrix, and Jaco, Van Halen launched an armada of lesser lights.
Just as people speculate what Hendrix might have done had he lived, like the rumored Miles Davis collaboration, one could speculate how far Van Halen might have pushed the instrument had he left his band and worked with musicians on the level of Tony Levin and Jan Hammer (see below), who might have pushed him to new heights.
We will never know. But, Eddie Van Halen nevertheless left a legacy that inspired not just metal players but experimental ones as well.
If you are an experimental guitarist who was influenced by EVH, please chime in to the comments.