Unchained Guitar Lesson – Van Halen

In this 3-part Unchained guitar lesson series, I will show you note-for-note how to play this classic Van Halen song.

Released in 1981 on Van Halen's fourth album Fair Warning, "Unchained" had quite a few unique features that many guitarists took note of.

One of those unique elements of the song is the guitar tone used, more specifically a MXR M-117 Flanger pedal that gives that opening riff a moving quality about it.

First things first though, we need to get into the proper tuning. Eddie Van Halen uses a Drop C# tuning for "Unchained", so you will want to tune your guitar to that in order to follow along.

Depending on whether your tuner displays accidentals as sharps of flats, the notes you will need to tune to low to high will be (for tuners that display sharps C# G# C# F# A# D#) or (for tuners that display flats Db Ab Db Gb Bb Eb). To put it more simply, tune your entire guitar down a half step, then thrown it into Drop D tuning. 🙂

In the first video I will tackle all the chords and riffs in the song. We will have 3 to contend with. The opening riff is also the chorus and is instantly recognizable by pretty much every rock guitar fan on the planet. It uses simple major and sus4 chords to create a very suspenseful yet flowing guitar riff. The flanger pedal really brings this riff alive, especially when you are chugging along on the low open string between the chords.

From there we move on to the verse, which is very rhythmic and moves around quite a bit. This kind of riff is really Eddie Van Halen's signature style to me. He is simply the best at this kind of loose yet rhythmically precise single note rhythms.

The final riff we will learn in the first video lesson is the pre-chorus. This is gonna be the most difficult part of the song for most people. It is extremely awkward to play and requires quick chord work interspersed with harmonics. I suggest knowing the sound and feel of this riff by heart before trying to memorize it on the guitar.

In the second video lesson I will demonstrate the main solo and breakdown section. This solo starts out with a bit of flash by all-in-all I think it is one of the more approachable Eddie Van Halen solos. Nothing really too difficult here.

For the breakdown section, I will demonstrate an arrangement of putting all those guitar layers together into one guitar part that sounds good on it's own.

In the last video we get our hands on the outro solo. Once again this solo is classic Van Halen through and through and an absolute blast to play once you get it under your fingers.

So I hope you guys enjoy this note-for-note lesson on one of the coolest guitar tracks of the early 80's, I really do think there is something here for everyone!


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Unchained Guitar Lesson Pt.1 - All The Riffs

Unchained Guitar Lesson Pt.2 - Main Solo & Breakdown

Unchained Guitar Lesson Pt.3 - Outro Solo


  1. Luigino Brusco on January 4, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Bravo, Carl! And from a classic song like this, why don’t you give us another great classic like “Since I’ve been loving you”? What do you think about it?

  2. Marlon Bankston on March 25, 2015 at 1:22 am

    Excellent tutorial!!!!

  3. Michael Mattsson on May 30, 2015 at 8:50 am

    definitely want to see a tone video !

    • Brendan Carroll on February 25, 2018 at 5:44 pm

      I want to see a tone video too! Last request was almost 3 years ago!!
      I struggle with getting the right tone with my Mustang I fender amp. I’m sure it is easier in more capable hands.

      • Carl Brown on February 26, 2018 at 9:46 am

        There will be a new category completely dedicated to guitar tone in the GL365 Academy. I have to get my head around a new processor I am using then will start filming them.

        I will also be doing some on YouTube as well. 🙂

  4. Adam on December 30, 2020 at 9:12 pm

    Great lesson and thank you for posting it. Really enjoyed Somebody Get Me A Doctor, as well.

    Would you also post Black and Blue off of OU812 please?

    Thanks again and really appreciate the lessons. They’ve been a huge help getting through 2020.

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