The moment in Greensboro, N.C., is one of the few occasions when the legendary guitarist was seen to truly mess up onstage, and speculation has circulated for years that it was actually a problem with the keyboard backing track being played at the wrong pitch.
One person who always knew the true story – Van Halen’s guitar tech, Tom Weber – said he’s kept quiet about it because it was a “sore point” with his late boss. But in a recent podcast co-interview with Jeremy White and Mitch Lafon, Weber finally recounted his memory of the moment.
“It had nothing to do with the keyboards,” he said. “Ed loves to make noises with the guitar; we all know that … you’re liable to hear any unearthly sound that Ed can make with a guitar. … So, at one point, he took the guitar and literally jammed the headstock of the neck into the stage several times. … My job is to be ready for him with another guitar, which I was.”
Despite lifting the spare instrument over his head to indicate it was available, Van Halen waved Weber away and appeared satisfied with adjusting the tuning of the one he had. The tech said it was “passable” but not perfectly tuned, so bassist Wolfgang Van Halen adjusted his own instrument to match. “So they’re in tune – you have guitar and bass in tune,” the roadie noted.
You can watch the interview below.
That worked fine for the closing songs of the main set. Usually the band came offstage before returning for the encore of “Jump,” but that night in Greensboro, the members remained on the platform, so Weber wasn’t able to swap Van Halen’s guitar as usual.
“So now you have Wolfgang on his bass and Ed with his out-of-tune guitar on a keyboard song that is in tune,” he said. “Ed didn’t have keyboards in his monitor mix, so he didn’t hear that he was out of tune. So that’s where all that went.”
He went on to say that the guitarist was oblivious to what had happened until several weeks later, when he was shown a video of the performance before another show.
“So I got called to the dressing room full of people, and he said, ‘You handed me an out-of-tune guitar.’ I said, ‘No, I didn’t.’ I said, ‘If you’ll recall, you banged the headstock of the guitar into the stage that night several times and then you didn’t come off the stage to get the guitar at the end of the show for the encore.”
You can watch the incident below.
Van Halen claimed the headstock trick “wouldn’t make any difference” to the tuning and “proceeded to jam it into the dressing room floor,” Weber explained. “And in front of a room full of people it comes back up – and it’s way out of tune. I said, ‘Just sayin’ … .’ And that’s the last I ever heard about it.”
As well as losing out on a fee from the Van Halen “kitchen sink” tour that was abandoned because of the guitarist’s ailing health, Weber noted he’s also lost out on a “banner year” of income when the live-music industry shut down over the coronavirus. He’s now fighting to keep his home. You can help by making a donation of any size at GoFundMe.