Eddie Van Halen’s two-handed tapping technique is probably the most pervasive of all his innovations, tonal tweaks and inventive approaches to the six-string. In this clip from 2015, the late rock icon takes up his electric guitar to explain how he began to figure it out after watching Jimmy Page play live.
The footage dates back to 2015, specifically to an in-depth interview Van Halen did as part of The Smithsonian’s What It Means To Be American series.
In the clip, host and interviewer Denise Quan comments that Van Halen is known for playing with “both your right hand and your left hand on the fretboard… Can you demonstrate?”
Thankfully, the amiable Van Halen is ready and willing, donning his guitar to talk Quan and the audience through the thought process that led him to evolve his playing in the late-’70s. But first, he pauses to clarify an important point.
“You know, [this was] before the internet,” says Van Halen. “Nobody could search things and whatever. Lately everyone’s been going, ‘Oh, Eddie Van Halen didn’t invent tapping!’ Or hammer-ons and pull-offs and things like that. I never claimed that I did.
“But I do know how and when I figured out how to do it and, on top of that, I never really heard anybody do with it what I did, which is actual pieces of music.”
Fortunately, the guitarist resists the urge to descend into a rant on armchair shred critics and instead gets back to his lesson on the personal origins of his tapping.
“I’ll never forget,” recalls Van Halen. “Alex [Van Halen] and I used to go to every concert at The Forum in LA. [One night] Led Zeppelin's playing and Jimmy Page is going like this [playing a one-handed hammer-on/pull-off] and he’s got his hand up in the air.”
Van Halen explains how he then copied the move at home and figured out that he could add his picking hand to the mix to bar across the neck – effectively, he says, “I just moved the nut.”
Soon he started experimenting with swapping hand positions and fingers. “My point being,” explains Van Halen, “that this finger or hand [from my picking hand] is just an extension of this [fretting] hand.”
What then follows is a short descent into virtuoso melodic shred technique, including a demo of one of the “little pieces” he used it on – namely, the game-changing composition that was Eruption.
Watch the full video of Eddie Van Halen’s in-depth interview at The Smithsonian, for more brilliant insights from the man himself. Or, if you’re feeling inspired to give it a go, check out our lesson on how to two-hand tap like Eddie Van Halen.