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Tolinski and Gill are both veteran guitar-magazine journalists, so, inevitably, they consider their subject through a gearhead’s lens. Casual fans might drowse at Van Halen’s longueurs about Marshall amp voltage, and a late chapter is dedicated to his name-brand guitar and amp company, implying it was his final triumph before his death from a brain tumor. Still, the conversations make a reasonable case that Van Halen is perhaps best understood as an inveterate tinkerer. Beneath the band’s hard-partying reputation, the guitarist was obsessed with guitar modifications, innovative playing techniques (most notably, finger-tapping), and tweaking his home studio to his perfectionistic standards, all of which he discusses in depth here. In that light, it’s also easier to understand why his band was so often in disarray. His insecurities, he explains here, drove wedges between him and frontmen David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar and led to serious substance-abuse issues. While working on Fair Warning (1981), “he kept himself awake and inspired by ingesting copious amounts of alcohol and cocaine but barely any food.” The negative critical reaction to Van Halen III, the band’s 1998 album with frontman Gary Cherone (of Extreme fame), prompted a 20-plus-year self-exile from recording. Van Halen could be blunt about band mates (he dismisses Michael Anthony’s bass playing) and a touch arrogant about his legacy (competitors “don’t play like me—they just try to”). However, it’s clear the band’s success (and failure) was largely dependent on the guitarist’s vision and focus. The book is filled out with sidebars on some of his quirkier guitars and interviews with others in Van Halen’s orbit, including Anthony and Van Halen’s son (later VH bassist), Wolfgang. Conspicuously absent, though, are Roth and Hagar, whose input might’ve given the book a less hagiographic feel.

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