Joe Satriani: You Can Play Eddie Van Halen Note-for-Note, but It Won’t Sound the Same

According to Joe Satriani, a random guitar player could perform Eddie Van Halen’s guitar parts note-for-note, but it still wouldn’t sound the same the way he performed it.

In honor of Eddie Van Halen’s work, Joe will also be joining Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony and Jason Bonham for a tour dubber Best of All Worlds. And it’s exactly this band where Joe will be doing a lot of Eddie’s parts. This is, no doubt, a daunting task, even for someone of Joe’s caliber.

And as Satch himself explained in a recent appearance on the Border City Rock Talk podcast, copying someone’s works as a guitar player may not be that simple. Discussing the matter, he said (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“What surprises me about guitar playing — and a couple of times, it’s come up in my career — has to do with trying to copy somebody or learn something note-for-note. Every once in a while, you come up against these players who it doesn’t matter if you learn it note for note, it’s still not even close.”

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Going into more detail, Joe said that this is particularly the case with Eddie’s music.

“Certainly with Eddie Van Halen,” Satch continued. “It’s the truth because he had this magic. He was just magical. And every time he played something, he played it differently, and he just added to the magic that he already created.”

As he further added, even some of the youngest guitar players can learn “Eruption,” the legendary instrumental from Van Halen’s self-titled debut album. Although it can be technically perfect, there will always be some of the nuances that a guitar player won’t be able to fully replicate. And it’s exactly that aspect that makes Eddie’s music so challenging to perform. Joe explained:

“And part of what I think makes it really unique and difficult to copy is that, when you think about, let’s say, Eddie Van Halen’s ‘Eruption’ — every little eight-year-old can play that thing now. They’ve studied it to death, and you can see them play it on YouTube, but it never sounds as good.”

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“Now, it’s because everyone studies the one version that’s on the album because it’s so brilliant. It’s beautiful.”

The issue here is that Eddie always tried to do something different with his own music. This is what gave both studio recordings and live performances a unique stamp.

“Eddie, of course, knew how to play that 10,000 different ways,” Joe added. “And every time that he played it, that amount of variety that was right there, just milliseconds away from him, changed direction added to that energy, that life, that spontaneity to it.”

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“When we play it, all we’re doing is memorizing — ‘Do this, and then you do this’. [Laughs] And then we’re just thinking about the one way, but he’s just going, ‘I could play this a million different ways. It’s still my thing.'”

To explain this further, Joe also recalled hearing other guitar players perform his pieces. Although he was blown away at how great all they were, the guitar legend adds that there was still something missing in there.

“And I notice that a lot,” Satch explains. “I remember when I was doing this contest with Guitar Center, and guitar players — really great guitar players from around the world — were doing my songs, and we had supplied them with the backing tracks, and I was totally blown away by how good all of them were.”

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“But what was missing, of course, was that they were only doing the one version. They only had one version to refer to.”

And this came with its set of challenges for guitarists performing these songs:

“So anytime that they didn’t quite get what they had memorized, things would suddenly sound awkward.”

“And of course, and I realized, boy, if I ever have to copy somebody — which now I do, right [laughs] next summer, we’re gonna have to copy a bunch of Eddie stuff — I better learn like as many versions of every Eddie Van Halen song as possible so that I don’t fall into that trap of either doing it perfectly or suddenly becoming awkward.”

And the point that Joe also wanted to make is that, although incredibly impressive, Eddie’s technical skills were there to serve their purpose. Above all, he sees Van Halen as an incredible writer.

“That was Eddie’s thing,” Joe said. “He was a brilliant songwriter. He used all of his massive technique always to move the song forward. That’s why we loved him so much. He did both. He wasn’t just a showman.”

Photos: Joe Satriani/ Eduardo Peña Dolhun, Carl Lender (Eddie Van Halen at the New Haven Coliseum 2)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.