Joe Satriani says he was two-hand tapping before he ever heard Eddie Van Halen

Joe Satriani performs for G3 project at Castello Sforzesco on July 22, 2012 in Vigevano, Italy
(Image credit: Sergione Infuso/Corbis via Getty Images)

It’s widely accepted that while Eddie Van Halen didn’t invent the concept of two-handed tapping (there were Canned Heat’s Harvey Mandel and Larry Carlton with Steely Dan, for just two antecedents), he was the one that brought it full steam into the rock guitar lexicon.

But in a new interview with the Behind The Vinyl podcast, Joe Satriani said he was also tapping on electric guitar prior to first hearing Eddie Van Halen in 1978.

“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,” he said in the interview (via Blabbermouth).

“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.'

Satch continued, "My group of friends, everyone was tapping, but the great brilliance of Eddie was what he did with it. 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.”

Indeed, Satch said, "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.

He continued, "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. 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."

You can check out Wishbone Ash’s performance on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert above – the tapping moment that Satch is likely referring to comes at roughly 15:30 in the set.

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.