"Everyone thinks my dad woke me up and went 'practice your scales!' but I taught myself": Wolfgang Van Halen on going his own way when it came to learning the guitar

Wolfgang Van Halen and Eddie Van Halen in 2015
(Image credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Given that he’s an excellent guitarist who had one of rock’s best ever guitarists for a dad, you would assume that Wolfgang Van Halen learned everything he knew about playing the six-string from his father. In a recent interview on Chris Jericho's podcast Talk Is Jericho, however, Van Halen Jr revealed that it wasn’t the case. Instead, he taught himself.

“Everybody thinks my dad woke up me up and strictly went, ‘practice your scales!’,” he told host Chris Jericho. “But no, the only thing he directly taught me was how to play drums. He had magazines on the table and was like, ‘do this and do this’. The second he saw I could do that he bought me a V drumkit and for my birthday the next year got me an acoustic kit. That’s where I started.”

All of his tuition on the guitar, he continued, came from himself, trying to learn the guitar parts to some of his favourite songs. “I taught myself, looking at guitar tabs for System Of A Down and stuff like that, teaching myself. I think that’s important because I was able to develop my own voice and flavour of playing stuff rather than just being a copy of dad.”

Asked by Jericho if there was any particular guitar players that he tried to emulate, Van Halen said there wasn’t, his influence more band and song-based. “ “There wasn’t any specific, shreddy guitar players that I was directly following,” he said. “It was more a bunch of bands… Tool was a big band for me, expanding my musical knowledge. I noticed I became a better drummer when I learned how to play Tool songs.”

He obviously did a good job of learning, and it wasn’t the only stringed instrument he taught himself to master – in 2007, he joined Van Halen as their new bassist.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.