Eruption transcription (2024)

“Eruption” Transcription Breakdown

I wanted to share a transcription of “Eruption” that represents what I’ve learned about the Van Halen album version of “Eruption” from all the credible sources that I could find as well as my own observations. I'm not saying in any way that everyone must play the piece the way I have it notated here. I don't know why, but some people get very angry when I post anything and they accuse me of trying to force people to play something the way I have it. I don't care how anyone CHOOSES to play it...Do whatever you want. I'm only interested in how Eddie played what he played and if anyone has any different ideas on how Eddie played something and it is supported by credible evidence and logic,then I'm SUPER excited to hear it and expand my knowledge and share it with everyone.

The idea to do the transcription in this format came from me out of my own wish to correct the inaccuracies of previous attempts. I wrote out all the observations by hand in TAB and I ultimately decided how to present the piece and what observations to include. I used the services of former Guitar World transcription editor Matt Scharfglass for music engraving…in other words, he translated my handwritten TAB cave man gibberish into what I think is a beautiful musical score in standard notation and TAB. I paid for his services completely-which was expensive, especially with my limited means-but his work was worth every penny. I have ZERO knowledge of music theory and Matt’s work is just invaluable to this project. It just plain would not exist if it weren’t for his hard work.

This project is truly a collaborative effort from my friends Bill, Mark Bonta and a special contribution from Troy Grady of the excellent ‘Cracking The Code’ guitar education website. Essentially, Bill transcribed most of the main phrases, I basically got most of what was “in-between” the main phrases on my own along with notation of the tuning offset, delay times, text notations, formatting, cross-referencing other works, etc, Troy figured out the very first repeating lick in Bar 4 with some corrections to the “A-Blues” segment at the 17th fret and Mark and myself went back and forth on trying different components and methods of recreating the final oscillating full-octave dive on our vintage Univox EC-80 A echo units until Mark finally hit the right mod.

Most of what I have learned about this piece and most of what I have learned about Eddie’s playing in general comes from my friend Bill. I have been studying “Eruption” since I first picked up the guitar at age 8 in 1981. Truth be told, I have learned more from my conversations and debates with Bill about “Eruption” and Eddie’s playing in general than I have learned in over thirty years of study by myself. These conversations began sometime in 2010 and they have had a massive impact on my playing and understanding of Eddie’s licks. I also consulted two other friends, namely Troy Grady and Mark Bonta, who have made what I consider to be major contributions. I’ll try to point out exactly what their contributions are and where they appear in the following post so you can get a clear idea of exactly who amongst the four of us contributed what and where.

I have contributed to our discussions and collaborated on this transcription but make no mistake-the majority of this is Bill’s work and I trust his considerable and knowledge, logic and expertise on transcribing and understanding Eddie Van Halen’s playing over and above anyone I have ever read about or met in life. He’s an excellent teacher. But Bill has asked to have his full name to be left from this transcription. As far as I understand, this is partly because he disagrees with some of my observations or the format I used, but from what I can gather from our discussions, he wants to eventually do his own in-depth study in text and video lessons and he’s only comfortable with putting his name on a project if he is totally in control of it-I cannot fault him at all for that.

Let me emphasize again that this transcription really represents Bill’s work to a much greater degree than my work. I would say that Bill has learned a few things from me, but really I learned the most from him. I sometimes refer to this as “my” transcription, but in truth it is the result of the help of many that fully realized the end product that I had hoped for. I sincerely hope that I have made clear how vital their contributions have been, as well as how vital the work of those who previously attempted transcribing the piece has been.

With that said, this transcription is also informed by every transcription that I have ever seen published in magazines or books and every YouTube tutorial I’ve ever seen. None are completely or even close to completely accurate, but I have learned as much as I could from them. Mostly I’ve learned what NOT to do from these sources. One person has even claimed that I COPIED this entire transcription from the Wolf Marshall transcription in the very well-known and often reprinted 1990 official transcription book. I have already disproven that, but I will further point out exactly where this transcription differs from any previous transcription attempt. I consulted all available sources and made myself as aware of the observations of others as possible to help me get as close to the truth of what Eddie actually played as possible.

There were a few of these that I referred to most often. The first of these was Steve Vai’s transcription from the July 1984 issue of Guitar World. The next was the official Cherry Lane Publishing transcription book for the Van Halen album which was transcribed by Wolf Marshall that came out in 1990 and was reprinted in 1996. The next chronologically was Jimmy Brown’s transcription called ‘Tapping Young Lad-The Definitive Guide To Playing Eruption’ from the September 2004 Van Halen compilation issue Guitar World Presents: Guitar Legends-Van Halen. I also referred to Pete Thorn’s YouTube tutorial series on the piece and I watched as many other YouTube tutorials including Mike Himmel’s attempt, Doug Steele’s, Steve Townsend’s (of Wampler Pedals) excellent attempt and even some observations from Alex Skolnick’s 2014 discussion on the piece and his recent Van Halen podcast, Chelsea Constable’s excellent attempt and many other less successful tutorial/demo attempts.

Bill and I have used the Guitar Hero isolated track and the original album version for our primary reference. We sometimes slowed down these tracks, often to half-speed in order to catch as many nuances as possible. We also compared what we learned from Eddie’s other solos in the catalog to what he plays in “Eruption”. Bill, Troy and I also learned or confirmed a tremendous amount of what we know about Eddie’s playing and “Eruption” by listening to Steven Rosen’s 1979 audio interview in which Eddie reveals exactly how he played many riffs.

Bill transcribed several examples in this interview and they corroborate what he discovered about the link between Eric Clapton’s live Cream licks and what Eddie does in “Eruption” and indeed in the entire Van Halen catalog in general. Troy also used this to confirm his observations. This was especially helpful to understand Eddie’s picking direction choices (“Up or “Down” pickstrokes) which we believe come from both straight alternate picking and Eric Clapton’s picking directions which Eddie copied or slightly modified. As Bill taught me, many of these picking directions come directly from Eric Clapton’s short unaccompanied solo at the end of the live version of “Sitting On Top Of The World” from Cream’s Goodbye album.

I have notated the tuning from the album as I usually do-this part of the transcription came completely from me. If anyone reading this is unfamiliar with the process I use to determine Eddie’s tuning offsets, please check out the sticky thread on tuning:

This transcription is also informed by my use of the standard, non-locking, vintage style Fender tremolo unit as I played through every note. Eddie used a Fender tremolo system on the original Frankenstein guitar which was almost certainly used to record the album version of “Eruption”. There are certain pitches (especially during bar dives) which are achievable only on a vintage style Fender tremolo and the overall tone of the recording is clearly from the vintage Fender tremolo. You can of course play the song on a guitar equipped with the Floyd Rose tremolo system, but the sound is completely different and some pitches may not translate exactly.

I’ll break each phrase down and explain the logic that Bill and I used to come up with the fingerings, articulations and picking directions that I have written in this transcription along with a reference for how Troy caught the first repeating lick in Bar 4 (which escaped Bill and me and every other person I’ve ever seen attempt it) and his logic for how parts of the A-Blues section at the 17th fret was played.
The isolated track opens with some feedback and echo noise that can help you set the tempo for the main delay.

I used the same Dunlop/MXR Echoplex delay pedal and I compared it's setting to my H9 to get a digital readout of the exact timing. This is where I came up with the “500 ms” notation. Obviously, the track has reverb as well. I’m not going into that here because recreating the reverb from the album is a whole topic unto itself. But remember that the reverb and delay are combined to give the great atmosphere that we all know and love. Brian Kehew’s EXCELLENT discussions on the Sunset Sound YouTube channel can provide more insight into this. I also highly recommend Pete Thorn and Dave Friedman’s excellent breakdown of the tones from the first album, but that is a different discussion altogether.

The more commonly known opening of the song from the album version begins with a power slide that leads to the open A5 power chord at the second fret. From listening to the isolated track and the album version slowed down, here is how we believe it was played.

Eruption transcription (1)
This opening power slide has been incorrectly or unclearly transcribed in every transcription and YouTube tutorial that I’ve ever seen.

For examples of how Eddie most likely didn't do it:

Steve Vai in Guitar Player 07-1984:
Eruption transcription (2)
This simply notates a slide of some sort, but no attempt is made to actually transcribe the sequence. To be fair to Steve, as he mentioned in a recent interview with Dweezil Zappa, he did not actually play through any of “Eruption” on guitar when he transcribed it…he simply listened and then wrote it out. He also did it quickly on a publishing deadline and without the benefit of decades to constantly examine the piece.
Wolf Marshall/Cherry Lane Publishing-1990:
Eruption transcription (3)
This shows an unknown muted noise as the beginning of the sequence and shows the slide down starting at the 14th fret which is incorrect.
Jimmy Brown in Guitar World 09/20/2004:
Eruption transcription (4)
This is closer, but it notates the sequence as a slide on the D and G strings up to the 13th fret and back down to the open A5 power chord. This is wrong for several reasons.
The first and most obvious is that the beginning point of the slide up the neck is omitted entirely. We have notated the sequence beginning on the 7th fret of the A and D strings and sliding up to the 13th fret on both of those strings concluding with sounding the G note at the 15th fret of the low E with a slide down to the low G note at the 3rd fret of the low E.

Eruption transcription (2024)


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