Adrian Vandenberg

Groupology

  • Teaser
  • Vandenberg
  • Whitesnake
  • Manic Eden

Jurassic

Watch Adrian Vandenberg in Action at the bottom of this page!

Famous / Infamous for

Famous for: Being Holland's second guitar hero (Jan Akkerman was first) and one of Whitesnake's longest serving guitar players. One of the best debut heavy albums of the early 80s. That leopard print jacket that he seemed to virtually live in during the Vandenberg band days. Designing two of the coolest and best sounding signature guitars of the Dino era. I still remember seeing him in those Whitesnake videos — especially Here I Go Again, drop to his knees with his Fernandes guitar, and deliver a typical Vandenberg solo, melodic, catchy, with a bit of flash at the right time. I thought Adrian was the coolest looking guitar player I had ever seen.

Infamous for: Adrian Vandenberg is an enigma. Among guitarists, he is best known for two things: Being one the two guys who replaced John Sykes in Whitesnake, and being replaced by Steve Vai in Whitesnake. Yet despite logging time in this very visible band, Adrian failed to leave a sonic mark there. Instead, his best and most original work remains largely unknown. Worse, some fans feel that Adrian never surpassed what he achieved on the first Vandenberg album.

Influences

Obvious: There's some Jimmy Page in Adrian's arranging and riff construction. Though Adrian doesn't mention Eddie Van Halen as an influence, a lot of people hear Ed in certain compositional structures he uses. Songs like Friday Night (Heading for a Storm) have that Van Halenish sound. Several Vandenberg songs like Wait, Alibi, and Waiting for the Night contain flamenco style acoustic introductions — all of which seem to borrow something from Ed's Spanish Fly. Though Adrian has established his own lead style, there's a Michael Schenker influence in it. I hear some Ritchie Blackmore influence, especially on the later Whitesnake/Manic Eden albums, which feature some of the old Blackmore snake charmer type scales. Jeff Beck for the unusual note/scale selections and phrasing, Jimi Hendrix (soloing), and Leslie West for his vibrato.

Not-so-obvious: Adrian also studied classical music and piano, which you can hear in a lot of his song structures and chord progressions. He has listed the Beatles as an influence, citing their more riff orientated rock songs like Taxman and Paperback Writer. There's a bit of fellow countryman Jan "the speed machine" Akkerman in some of Adrian's quicker playing too.

Strengths

Balanced sensibility. With the band Vandenberg, Adrian struck a very balanced mix of Euro-metal and bluesy, British riff rock ala Free or Zeppelin. There have been many great Dinos from continental Europe: Uli Roth, the Schenker brothers, Hoffmann, Jabs, Malmsteen. With the exception of John Norum, none of them have written anything as bluesy or sexy as the riff in Love in Vain, or Wait. These types of riffs and songs typically come from British or American guitarists. However Adrian was able to deliver blues rock, and Euro-metal with equal facility. What's more is that he often blended the two styles nicely, by marrying bluesy riffs with Euro style solos or intros.

Melodic Sense. Adrian is a very melodic and tasty player who's lead work compares favorably to his 80s metal peers. Adrian utilizes this strength to great effect on some of the excellent ballads such as Burning Heart, and Do Angels Die. You can also hear his melodic sense on his beautiful classical acoustic pieces such as Prelude Mortale.

Songwriting: Adrian displays a flair for songwriting many different styles. As stated, he comes up with riffy blues songs, like Back on My Feet. Galloping Euro metal on Too Late and This is War. Burning Heart is one of the prototypical, metal power ballads of the 80s, and still one of the best.

Taste: Adrian has always maintained that the song is the all important product and thus has always played for the song. He never over plays or shows off for the sake of it.

Weaknesses

Being a versatile songwriter can get you in trouble if you lose the path or follow the money or the current trends too closely. After Vandenberg — a debut album that remains strong to this day, the next two albums, Heading for the Storm and particularly Alibi, are more cliched, pop-metal offerings which haven't aged as well as the debut album. The songs on these albums seem more labored and you can almost feel the pressure the band must have been under from the record company to produce pop-metal gold. How Long is a sappy pop song that sounds like Journey. Once in a Lifetime has a feel like Every Breath you Take by the Police. Whether these songs are your cup of tea or not, it should be stated that Adrian's guitar work and solos on these Vandenberg albums are uniformly excellent.

Luck: It's like the old lyric: if it wasn't for bad luck, Adrian wouldn't have no luck at all. Adrian was actually David Coverdale's first choice for the lead guitar slot when he revamped the Whitesnake lineup around the time of Slide it In. Adrian turned the gig down because the debut Vandenberg album was doing fairly well at the time. Coverdale then turned to John Sykes and the rest is history. Had Adrian taken the gig, Whitesnake's follow up to Slide it In would have sounded totally different than the famous 87 album. Whether a Vandenberg-penned Whitesnake album would have been as successful is debatable. Regardless, Vandenberg eventually signed on with Coverdale. But despite being in Whitesnake for a considerable time, he failed to achieve much of lasting value with the band.

He toured for over a year supporting an album on which he only recorded one solo (Here I Go Again). Following that tour, Vandenberg and Coverdale began writing the album that became Slip of the Tongue. In preparation for the recording sessions, Adrian began trying to get his hands in shape and decided to try some isometric hand exercises. These exercises theoretically promoted blood flow around the thin muscular tissue of the wrist, thereby increasing suppleness and stretch ability of the hand. Unfortunately for Adrian, the exercises backfired. He damaged his muscular tissue and the resultant swelling in his wrists actually restricted his circulation. To top it off, he had a bout of tendonitis which compounded the problem and locked up both wrists. His left wrist healed within a couple of weeks, however, the right wrist took six months.

With Adrian sidelined and Geffen frothing for the follow up to 87, Coverdale was forced to find someone else to record the album. He hired Steve Vai to record the album and do the subsequent tour for a rumored $1 million. Vandenberg had to endure Vai playing his riffs and songs while Adrian was relegated to the backup guitarist role on the subsequent tour.

Years later, Coverdale came knocking on Vandenberg's door again. This time — perhaps reluctant to make the same mistake twice — Adrian did pull the plug on his then current band. He probably shouldn't have. Manic Eden could have gone on to become a first class heavy rock outfit. Instead, Adrian played on Whitesnake's Restless Heart, an album that gets mixed reviews and wasn't even released in the U.S.

Dual guitar lineups. Adrian has stated that having another guitarist in the band has a restricting effect on him. He is much more comfortable in a situation where he is the only guitarist, which leaves him free to play at will. From a more objective viewpoint, one could contend that Vandenberg virtually disappears when he's paired up with a second guitarist. In these situations, Vandenberg seemed to lose his gunslinger Dino attitude. Take the two Whitesnake tours where he was paired with Viv Campbell and Steve Vai respectively. On both occasions, Adrian elected to play a more supportive role, and the other guys definitely took advantage of it. The Adrian Vandenberg from Wait and Welcome to the Club was MIA. He must've missed the bus! Back then, Vivian Campbell still played with balls and was going for it every night. And of course, Steve Vai's middle name is overplay. So laying back in those situations was a good way to get buried. And for whatever reason, Adrian rolled over and played right into it.

Adrian's tone also worked against him in the two guitar setting. In the late 80s, most guys were trying to fill up as much space as possible, and using huge rack setups with a lot of preamp gain. Adrian's signature tone was more of the vintage Les Paul through a Plexi sound. On his own albums, where he is the only guitarist, this wasn't a problem. But in Whitesnake, Adrian was unable to come up with a sound that could compete in the mix with the other guitarists sounds. So in a two guitar lineup, Vandenberg's personality and sound faded into the background.

Tone

In Vandenberg, Adrian's tone was the classic sound of a Les Paul through a Marshall. His main guitar was a nice, tiger striped Les Paul Heritage, on which he continually modified the pickups to increase the attack on the notes. These modifications also gave him a nice crunchy rhythm tone and a thicker variation on Jimmy Page's Les Paul - Marshall lead tone. Typically, Adrian would increase the gain to get a hotter lead sound. At this time, he also used a self-modified left-handed, heavily flamed cedar/maple Schecter strat with a shaved neck, a tremolo, and Bill Lawrence humbuckers, or sometimes a single coil depending on the experimentation stage. This guitar is featured in the Burning Heart video.

With Whitesnake (87-88), Fernandes made Adrian a signature superstrat which featured active pickups. By the end of 1988, Adrian had developed a relationship with Peavey, and this union produced the Peavey Vandenberg signature guitar — a uniquely modified superstrat shape with fiddle cuts in the body. Adrian favored the mahogany bodied, neck-through customs, sometimes with a radical puzzle pattern graphic on it, or a striped arch top. The guitars could be equipped with either Floyd Rose or Kahler locking tremolo systems. Pickups consisted of either a Peavey single coil-humbucker combination or a humbucker-humbucker combination.

With Vandenberg and Whitesnake later, Adrian used modified Marshall 100 and 50 watt amps. Two Marshall JCM800 2240s, two 50 watt Super Leads and some Mesa Boogie amps were favorites. These went through 4x12s loaded with Celestions. He occasionally used a 70s cry-baby wah as a parametric EQ ala Schenker and some light chorus to fill things out. There is a very distinctive, kazoo-like notched wah sound in his tone on the debut, self-titled Vandenberg album. Around the Restless Heart and Manic Eden period, Adrian used a more Plexi-like tone. He also used a nice, clean tone (Dark Shade of Grey) at this time as well. During his association with Peavey he used some Peavey derived VTM-65 amplifiers, and Peavey effects units for a touch of delay and chorus.

Guitar Style

Adrian Vandenberg is an interesting player to analyze. He didn't really burst on to the 80s metal scene the way, say, Randy Rhoads did. He and his band's first album were more of a well-kept secret. His closest stylistic peers are players like Michael Schenker, Matthias Jabs, and John Norum. Of those, he's most like Norum — in that he's a continental European guitarist who doesn't always sound like one. Like his native Holland's geographical location between Great Britain and Germany, Adrian's guitar style sits squarely between British blues-based riff rock and the European lead style we're used to hearing from German and Swedish guitarists. As stated, Vandenberg is more bluesy than most continental European guitarists. Without that foundation, Coverdale would have never been interested in him for Whitesnake. In general, he's blusier than Schenker and Hoffmann, but less bluesy than Blackmore and not as Neo-classical as Uli or Yngwie.

Rhythmically, Adrian offers a bit more than the standard rock metal fare of root 5 and root 6 bar and power chords plus open string pedal tones. He is fond of triads built around major or minor 7ths and 9ths, along with slightly obscure phrasing and timing of some chords and riffs as well. The sharp 7th (Pushing Me) tends to feature a lot on the Manic Eden album as do single note grooves and riffs (Gimme a Shot) in the style of Jimmy Page. Vandenberg is also an excellent acoustic player who's style leans more toward the classical than folk.

With his band, Vandenberg, Adrian developed a lead style that encompassed speed and attitude combined with impressive use of classical scales. As with Blackmore in the 70s, Vandenberg commonly mixed blues based compositional riffs with aeolian minor solos, arpeggios and other Neo-classical devices. He excels in playing extremely melodic lines in the dorian and aeolian modes — somewhat reminiscent of Michael Schenker in flavor, but with a more 80s flash sensibility. For example, when Vandenberg became part of the all-stars version of Whitesnake, he added a modern metal tricks to his style. Adrian added pick scrapes, pinch harmonics, rapid-fire pull-offs, two-handed tapping, and the occasional whammy work — usually a dive or a slur. Staccato palm muting on the low strings is a characteristic Vandenberg trademark.

Vandenberg's solos are usually compositional and well-thought out. He knows how to use the blues scale to add that sexual element into a guitar solo and likes to start slow and work towards a crescendo. Many of his best solos are the classic "song within a song." Good examples include Burning Heart and Don't Fade Away.

Vandenberg's lead style changed when he injured his wrists. He was still a fast player, retaining some of his earlier lead traits, but he adopted a slightly mellower lead tone and became a lot more expressive and emotive after his injury. He also incorporated more of a Hendrixy groove to his playing.

Vibrato:

As is common for many players who begin on Les Pauls, Adrian developed a very nice, wide, controlled, expressive vibrato. Like Michael Schenker, Adrian was influenced by Leslie West's vibrato. He also knows how to milk the vibrato for effect, especially when adding that little extra touch to intense bends, ala Jeff Beck.

Adrian Vandenberg in Action

Recommended listening

Vandenberg

Manic Eden

Profile by Andrew G. Biggs. Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved.

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