Legendary metal guitarist Eddie Van Halen took his work seriously. It’s no surprise that he held his employees to impossibly high standards as well.
Tom Weber, a guitar technician who worked for Van Halen from 2007 until 2020, shared his experience interviewing for the high-pressure gig. According to Weber, it began with a blind guitar-tuning test administered by Eddie’s employee Matt Bruck.
As the story goes, Bruck handed Weber a guitar with simple instructions. ‘Tune it how you think Eddie would want it.’
Here is Weber in his own words: “Matt Bruck takes a guitar out of a gig bag and hands it to me, and he said, ‘You’re to set this up the way you think Ed would like it, and I’m to give you absolutely no information to go by.’ And I’m thinking ‘Okay. If this was easy, I wouldn’t be here.’
Weber continues: “And I know that they’re on at least their third guy in production rehearsal. So, things aren’t going well at this point. So, I have to think how far outside the box do I have to make this for it to work for Eddie.”
Turns out, though, that Weber possessed some inside information that made the task easier.
Weber Had Met Van Halen Years Before
“I remember Ed and I met for the first time in 1987, when I was the house audio engineer at Starwood Amphitheater in Nashville,” Weber recalled. “I remember shaking hands with him in 1993. He had a really strong grip. You press the string on the fingerboard, it meets the fret, you get the note. If you press really hard, the string meets the fingerboard, and the note that you just had is really sharp.
“So I figure, Ed’s got a hell of a left hand,” Weber remembered. “I’m going to have to set the intonation flat enough so that when he grabs the neck the notes are right. Well, when you strike a note on a guitar to tune it, the note starts out going sharp, and then it settles into the pitch. Ed Van Halen’s not going to stay in one place long enough for a note to settle into a pitch. So as you pick the string, I figure that’s got to be the note.”
In other words, Weber needed to tune the guitar different from a traditional playing style in order to accommodate Van Halen’s wild virtuoso. The decision was a big risk, because if it was wrong, it was severely wrong.
“The high D# [open string] is literally 14 cents flat, which means that if I played one of Ed’s guitars the way that I play my own guitars, I’d sound like a blithering idiot,” Weber said. “I’d be so out of tune it would be ridiculous. But I thought, ‘Okay, this is as far off-center as I can make it, and if it’s wrong, I’ve had a chance at working with arguably the greatest guitar player of our time.’”
As you may have guessed, the risk paid off. Eddie Van Halen told Weber he was the closest any tech had ever come to tuning a guitar just right. Van Halen even asked Weber to tune another right there on the spot, just to make sure. Weber obliged, knocked it out of the park again, and the rest is history.