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Van Halen's amp tinkering nearly killed him

Eddie looks back on lifetime of customising equipment that was nearly cut short at early age

Eddie Van Halen has recalled how his passion for tinkering with equipment nearly got him killed when he was young.

He once electrocuted himself while exploring the interior of a guitar amp, and the resulting shock threw him several feet.

But he’s never stopped customising his gear – a trait he inherited from his dad.

Van Halen tells Popular Mechanics: “If it was movable, or turnable, or anything that resembled something that could go up or down, I would mess with it to make the amp run hotter.

“I opened the amp up and saw this thing. I found out later it was a bias control, which controls the power to the output tubes. I'm poking around, and all of a sudden I touch this huge blue thing.

“My God – it was like being punched in the chest by Mike Tyson. My whole body flexed stiff, and it must have thrown me five feet. I'd touched a capacitor. I didn't know they held voltage.”

The accident took place after Van Halen’s father, who played clarinet and sax, lost a finger and had to customise his own instrument.

The guitarist says: “The neighbour behind us had a U-Haul trailer up on car jacks and loaded with cinder block. My dad came home from a gig at three in the morning. He'd had a few drinks, so he says, ‘This thing is blocking me from getting in again.’

“He tried to move it. As soon as he lifted the trailer, the jack fell over, and it chopped his finger off. This was a problem. On a sax, you don't need to seal the hole with your finger – a valve closes over it. But with a clarinet, you have to seal the hole, so he took a saxophone valve cover and adapted it to work on his clarinet.”

Van Halen remembers another creative trick his pulled later in life as he started to lose his teeth. “You need your bottom teeth to play a reed instrument,” he says. “Instead of going to the dentist, he made himself a perfectly-shaped prosthesis out of white Teflon and slipped that in when he had to play.

“Watching him do that kind of stuff instilled a curiosity in me – if something doesn't do what you want it to, there's always a way to fix it.”

Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth is currently engaged in a new war of words with former singer Sammy Hagar. The band, who recently launched their first live album with Roth, launch a North American tour in July.

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