In a new interview with the “Behind The Vinyl” podcast, Joe Satriani was asked if he started using the technique of tapping notes on his guitar when he first heard Eddie Van Halen in 1978. He responded (hear audio below): “I’d been tapping before that. I think, just like Eddie, ’cause we were the same age and started playing pretty much at the same time, we saw other people on television doing it. So I saw the guitar players in WISHBONE ASH. There was a show in America called ‘Don Kirshner’s [Rock Concert]’, and I think WISHBONE ASH was on one night. And I think my dad was watching it. And I just walked into the room for a second, and I looked and I see the guy playing with his fingers. And I’m, like, ‘Oh my god!’ I just went right up to my room, picked up my guitar and went, ‘That’s a great idea. I’m gonna do that all over the place.’
“My group of friends, everyone was tapping, but the great brilliance of Eddie was what he did with it,” Joe continued. “And that’s what you can say about everything. We knew the same chords — there’s a million guitar players that know exactly the same 12 notes, the same chords, we buy the same strings, we’re using the same guitars, pretty much. So what makes Eddie so special? Why did that genius just say, ‘Well, I’ll take that and just do this with it.’ But he did, and all of us responded like it was godsent.
“The first time I heard Eddie was when ‘Eruption’ came to the radio, and I was sitting there with my guitar just jamming along with the radio, and, yeah, my jaw dropped. And I put my hands down and I went, ‘Oh my god. I’m in the presence of greatness. That guy knows how to use things that I know.’ It’s, like, I’ve got all the tools laid out on my table just like him, but wow, look what he’s doing with them.’ And it just made me smile. I was so happy.
“The other part that made me so happy was because he played so aggressively and so melodically — the whole song, like it was a whole Eddie Van Halen world that he would show you,” Satriani added. “But it was fun. It was rock and roll. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t pretentious. It was still, like, ‘Let’s just have fun.’ And I thought, ‘I need to get everybody that I know in this town to like this, because this is gonna be good for all of us guitar players that really wanna play.’ Cause it was that attitude at the time — I was feeling like people were telling us, ‘Slow down. Don’t play so many notes. No feedback. Try to make your guitar sound like clean guitars from the ’60s or something like that.’ We were waiting for somebody like Eddie to come along and just like reinvent it. And he did. And it was truly great.”
Eddie has said in the past that he was inspired to start doing the finger-tapping trick after watching LED ZEPPELIN at the Los Angeles Forum in the early 1970s. Jimmy Page played the solo from “Heartbreaker”, using both hands to tap out notes on the neck of the guitar, which inspired Eddie to take the technique and refine it, enabling him to play a seemingly impossible flurry of notes and pinched harmonics.
“It’s like having a sixth finger on your left hand,” he explained in 1978, according to BBC. “Instead of picking, you’re hitting a note on the fretboard.”
DEEP PURPLE‘s Ritchie Blackmore reportedly claimed that he had seen CANNED HEAT guitarist Harvey Mandel using tapping onstage as early as 1968. DOKKEN guitarist George Lynch corroborated this, mentioning that both he and Van Halen saw Mandel employ “a neo-classic tapping thing” at the Starwood in West Hollywood during the 1970s. Mandel used extensive two-handed tapping techniques on his 1973 album “Shangrenade”.
Eddie used the finger tapping technique during his legendary solo on the aforementioned “Eruption”, voted the second best solo ever by Guitar World magazine.