Hearing Eddie Van Halen was "like, 'OK, the adult has entered the room'" says Paul Gilbert

Paul Gilbert
(Image credit: C Brandon / Getty)

Paul Gilbert is an inspiration - literally. The Mr. Big star is a trailblazing technican, a bonafide virtuoso whose mastery of the instrument makes his a name that often comes up when we ask guitarists who their own heroes are. Now, his own rundown of the players that have shaped his sound, which he shared with Guitar World this week, includes the name that, alongside Hendrix and Page, is probably most often cited by the 6-string great and good. 

"His level of virtuosity was like what you'd hear from a great violinist or a classical piano player"

Gilbert on Eddie Van Halen

"Anybody who plays guitar and is around my age has got to have Eddie's name on their list, right?", begins Gilbert. "I mean, when Eddie came out, it was otherworldly."

And while Eddie is the focus, Gilbert is a confirmed acolyte of the whole band. When we spoke to him 2019, he also singled out drummer Alex Van Halen as the key to EVH's own stellar performances: "To me, the secret of Eddie Van Halen was Alex Van Halen, because the way Alex played was so loose and the way the two of them locked together. Those two are connected so thoroughly they might as well be one person."


Eddie Van Halen in 1983 (Image credit: Paul Natkin / Getty)

On Van Halen's unique appeal, Gilbert is crystal clear. "Other arena rock acts like Kiss, Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent, and Aerosmith would be produced and cleaned up, and while that was nice, the cleaning up of their sound sucked the energy out of the music," he told Guitar World, "but Van Halen sounded like their live show – it wasn't too careful-sounding. They had this energy when they came on the radio, and their music stood out so much from everything else."


But there's no doubt about the group's jewel in the crown: "And then, of course, you get down to what Eddie was playing on guitar, which was totally different." 

"I liken hearing his version of You Really Got Me (below) to him taking a charming picture of a dinosaur and then turning it into a da Vinci painting. I heard him play – it's like, 'Okay, the adult has entered the room.' 

"Eddie was just in total command of his instrument. There were no rough edges, and everything was played with intention. His level of virtuosity was like what you'd hear from a great violinist or a classical piano player. He had that level of control with his guitar playing."

Back in 2019, Gilbert also told us, “I was fortunate enough to see him live on their first headlining tour, which was 1979. I saw them every tour they did with David Lee Roth. They were so... What’s the name of this article? Mind-blowing?

"They were exactly that! I’d just come out of there like my world had been opened up in every way.”

You can read the full, all-new run-down of Paul Gilbert's playing heroes at Guitar World now. For a snapshot of where he was at in 2019, check out our own Paul Gilbert's 10 guitarist who blew my mind.

Paul Gilbert's The Dio Album is out now.

Will Groves

I'm lucky enough to be MusicRadar's Editor-in-chief while being, by some considerable distance, the least proficient musician on the editorial team. An undeniably ropey but occasionally enthusiastic drummer, I've worked on the world's greatest music making website in one capacity or another since its launch in 2007. I hope you enjoy the site - we do.