Mammoth II, the upcoming effort from Wolfgang Van Halen’s Mammoth WVH, is already shaping up to be one of 2023’s best guitar albums.
Not only have the first few singles from Wolfgang’s sophomore album demonstrated his evolving songwriting chops, but they’ve also hinted at a record that will see him totally let loose on his lead work.
That’s clear from Take a Bow. Mammoth WVH’s longest recorded song to date and an “evolution” of the guitarist’s musicality, the single stole headlines for featuring a two-hand tap-heavy guitar solo performed using Eddie Van Halen’s iconic Frankenstein and original Marshall amp rig.
But Wolfgang’s approach to two-hand tapping is unlike most other guitarists – and that’s because of a technique quirk he inherited from his father.
The quirk is concerned with Wolfgang’s tapping hand: whereas many guitarists opt to use the middle finger to tap, owing to guitar pick-holding logistics, Van Halen instead uses his index finger to do the job, just as Eddie used to do.
Though difficult to decipher on the studio version, Mammoth WVH gave the song its live debut earlier this week, which showcased this particular approach to the technique that is most commonly associated with his father.
Speaking in the new issue of Total Guitar, Wolfgang explained how it was never a conscious decision to tap this way – it was something he naturally absorbed through watching his father play guitar.
“I guess my approach just came from growing up and watching Dad do it. I’ve been around tapping my whole life,” he explains. “What I often do is grip the neck with the thumb on my right hand, which frees up the index finger to tap. That’s just how I’ve always done it.”
And, according to Wolfgang, we’ll be seeing this EVH-centric approach to two-hand taps all over the rest of Mammoth II: “I was trying to find out who I was on the last record but I came into this one with a lot more confidence,” he says. “I feel like every song, or at least every solo, has a tapping lick at some point.”
This particular index finger-lead approach to the technique, while still favored by many players, goes against the popular trend, and sets Wolfgang apart from many of his contemporaries.
Steve Vai, for example, leads with his middle and ring fingers, while his index finger and thumb look after the guitar pick: “A lot of people [use their index finger]. I just don’t like that,” Vai said in an online lesson. “For some reason it never felt right. And then you’ve got to fool with the pick.”
Yngwie Malmsteen, likewise, uses his middle finger when he taps, as evidenced in his own video lesson.
In his Total Guitar interview, Wolfgang goes on to give his top tip for tapping, citing the importance of pulling down on the string when you release your tap hand and, of course, starting slowly “until you can manage it”.
“You should be more in-line and parallel with the neck,” Van Halen says. “Just watch videos of Dad doing it and you’ll see how he got that sound.
“I guess it just comes down to practising, like with anything,” he continues. “Play at one speed until you’re good enough and also getting sick of it and then you bump it up five or 10 BPM to see if you can still nail it at a faster speed.
“The more time you put in, the better you get. It’s like that 10,000 hour rule. You definitely don’t just wake up being able to do fast stuff on guitar. You gotta keep at it because it’s a result of all those thousands of hours learning.”
Head over to Magazines Direct to pick up the latest issue of Total Guitar, which features the full interview with Wolfgang Van Halen.