Van Halen distortion


Hero Member
Okay - my band wants to do some EVH, and we play mostly classic rock (overdrive pedal is plenty).  I need more distortion for our Van Halen songs, and he has a great tone that I have never tried to copy.  ANYWAY, I did some research and they talk about annentuators, Marshalls, etc.  I have none of that.  I play through an Epiphone Valve Junior Head (which I like and sounds awesome with some comp) and Cab, and I do have an MXR Phase 90 script and a MXR dyna comp.  I need a little more gain - what is a good distortion pedal to get close to that Van Halen tone?  I want it at relatively low volume as well - I CANNOT GO BUY A 5150 head!!!

Anyway, any suggestions?  I've never had a "distortion" pedal, so I'm not sure if EVH is Metal or Boss DS-1 or what.  Doesn't need to be exact, just close.  I do have a humbucker mahogany warmoth strat with a Duncan 59 in the bridge and neck.



A BSIAB II (brown sound in a box) is the closest to the VH sound I've heard, and is a very versatile pedal beyond that.
Visit for project files, they also have kits there iirc.

*Edit* I just checked out the site I linked to, they do have a kit available, and a sound clip. The sound clip is horrible, and does no justice to this circuit.
Maybe you are using the term distortion in a generic way, eddie didn't have a lot of distortion, his pickups were actually on the cleaner side of the humbucker crunchy sound, his most used effects are flanger, delay and chorus (phase90) I have chased the VanHalen sound for a long time, and you know what, I only use a delay and flanger pedals now, because I have learned to play my fingers like eddie, I didn't believe it myself at first. but the sound really does start with the fingers. I can play and sound like all of the DLR erra VanHallen, using only a delay and flanger pedals for effects. The pickup is important too, you wanna good clean bright pickup The seymour duncan TB-11 is a good start.

Good vids
I realize his sound doesn't have a LOT of "distortion," but I still generally play a lot cleaner.  I guess I am just asking for a good distortion pedal suggestion that I can step on and get somewhat close.  I know I will not sound like him since I don't play like that very much, although I am a huge fan of DLR era VH.  Just a simple suggestion like the Brown OSund in a Box idea, although I really don't want to hassle with a kit.
You have an overdrive pedal driving the amp? That would probably be about all the distortion you need. I mean it might not sound like Eddie's marshall  super lead but it would be close enough if you play it with some attitude.
I agree, to me classic VH isn't really "distortion" it's more of a overdrive type of thing. 

I've been getting a "VHish" sound out of a Maxon OD-808 with a Mesa Single Recto combo in the vintage setting. (between the Boogie and the EMG 81 there is a LOT of natural gain though) the MXR Phaser and Flanger are a BIG reason though.....

a "nice" not to $$ distortion pedal is the Boss DS-1.  it's been around forever for a reason.

As with Blackmore and SRV, the one thing everyone seems to forget when trying to catch EVH's sound is volume. Massive, bone-crushing, ear-raping, trouser-legs-flapping-in-the-breeze volume.
AGREED!  I take my 100 watt Mesa monster from my practice space to my house in between every practice, and at home, I have to play low, really low.  I cannot get anything that resembles the "practice space at three in the morning, amp cranked" sound.  Clean tones sound like clean tones to me regardless of volume (granted they are better louder),  but overdriven tones at low volumes are just not even the same species as a cranked up tube amp being pushed way too hard. 

Oh, and a big +1 on the good ole Boss DS1.  Despite it being the cheapest pedal I have ever bought, it is really quite wonderful for those ever-elusive crunchy, but not over the top, distotion tones....I never go anywhere without mine.
I have an original 5150 head, and still.... can't get the VH sound.  :)

That is of course unless I turn it up to ear-spliting, neighbors calling the police, levels.

It's all about volume, lots of high end, turn the presence control allll the way up, and turn the distortion wayyy back, further than you think.

I will say... the DS-1 works really well with the 5150 head to give a nice mild overdrive through the clean channel, and on the distorted side, works amazingly well as a gain boost very reminisnt of Steve Vai.  With the right tweaking it could be a good VH sound pedal.

perhaps this discussion is leaidng us toward the reason that there are three different 5150 amps--eddie was fussing around trying to get the right sound, just like everybody does. I too have tried many things to get certain tone that i hear in my head. I must admit that there is no "quick and easy fix" for any tone chasing event--you just have to try our loads of gear until you fing the things that work. that's all...
Dude anyone can get EVH's sound... it's very simple, see:


If you're strapped for cash you guys should do some AC/DC instead:


oh, yeah, i forgot about good 'ol that's the best way to fing the gear you need lol... if that is, you have unlimited ca$h the ds-1 is a great pedal especially for the $$
I figured it out, and it gets damn close:

Script Phase 90 all the way slow
Behringer Vintage Tube Overdrive Pedal maxed (tube screamer knockoff, great pedal by the way)
MXR Dyna Comp on 80% level and middle comp
5 watt valve junior head into matching cab

Pretty damn close - the comp was key to getting the "feel" at lower volumes

I didn't even need a distortion pedal!

Yes the compressor does help you get the sustain you need with less distortion. That's the direction I've been going lately. Turning the gain down a bit more and adding some compression. I like the sound a lot better.
Alfang said:
...I have chased the VanHalen sound for a long time...

Someone told me some time ago that Eddie around the Best Of Both Worlds' time used some different wiring in his guitar or a device (?) built into the guitar that gave him this kinda 'strange' clean tone. Was wondering if you've ever heard of that ? I doubted it but this guy I was talking to seemed quite convinced....
I don't know about built-in guitar effects, but I know a lot of that late 80's, Van Hagar, "Finish what you started", super clean tones are due to his use of recording directly with a speaker simulator, instead of micing.

Mostly using the original versions of one of these...

taez555 said:
I don't know about built-in guitar effects, but I know a lot of that late 80's, Van Hagar, "Finish what you started", super clean tones are due to his use of recording directly with a speaker simulator, instead of micing.

Mostly using the original versions of one of these...


Ah yeah, the good old Palmer. No, I actually meant like a pick up switching device apparently a company called Rockinger had build. Basically more options for the pick ups. Like I said, I doubted it but that's what I was told....
MXR Phaser
and Flanger
added to your rig.

Otherwise you gotta spend bucks.