With the debut of “Eruption” in 1978, Eddie Van Halen took a step in evolving two-hand tapping on guitar to a new level. Before Eddie’s showcase, no one had heard tapping used in this way. Tapping is a technique used in guitar where you use both the fretting hand (the hand that holds the neck) and the picking hand (the hand that plucks the strings) to create vibrations from the strings. While Eddie did not invent tapping, he certainly redefined two-hand tapping for the many guitar heroes to come.
In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2008, Eddie told the story of when, after a Led Zeppelin concert, he was inspired to transform Jimmy Page’s technique from his song, Heartbreaker. In this song, Jimmy Page used a technique where he was able to play the guitar with one hand, and from here, Eddie figured out how to use his free hand to bar notes up and down the guitar. Barring is a term in guitar that refers to the ability to move the nut of the guitar up and down the fretboard. The nut refers to the hard material at the top of the guitar that supports all of the strings. By mastering this technique you can achieve what the guitar players call a tasty lick.
Among others, Eddie’s main influences included Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, who were both bandmates in the Yardbirds but also led individual careers. People always wondered how Eddie could have been influenced by Clapton, heavily inspired by the blues, and still unleash his distinctive hard rock solos.
In an early interview that was not published until 2011, he told reporters that if you listen to how Clapton’s style transformed after he left Cream, an earlier band of Clapton’s, his technique changed and had lots of smooth riffs that you can remember. And we saw this when Eddie performed songs like “Eruption” that contain licks that naturally get stuck in your head.
Along with creating his own style, Eddie was able to completely transform the guitar. Eddie said he didn’t have the money for all of the expensive guitars or equipment when he started out. He created the Franken-strat, a guitar built from a $50 body and $80 neck, that had the same shape as a Stratocaster, a very famous guitar made popular by Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, to name a few. This demonstrates that creativity is more important than dollars when creating your own sound.
The whole concept of tapping, popularized by Eddie, has certainly been embraced by many guitarists. As a guitar player myself, I can attest that he has inspired many of us to create our own styles and modify sounds with your skillset. For instance, I was motivated to assemble my own pedalboard which includes many different effects wired together in such a way that you can create whatever sounds you think flow together well. I feel in a very small way, by experimenting with the different sounds in creating my board, I appreciated, even more, the legacy that Eddie left all of us guitar players when two-hand tapping occurred to him during a Led Zeppelin concert.