Players employed two-handed tapping before Eddie Van Halen came along (and legend has it that Eddie got the idea from watching Jimmy Page playing the open-string pull-off licks in the “Heartbreaker” solo). But in much the same way that Frank Gambale developed, refined and popularized sweep picking, Van Halen explored the creative possibilities of what tapping could offer more thoroughly and idiosyncratically than any other player before him.
The key there is “creative possibilities.” Unlike the players who followed him, Eddie didn’t just use tapping as a statement in and of itself. If you listen to his work on tracks like “Push Comes to Shove,” “Pleasure Dome” and “Hot for Teacher,” Eddie used tapping in service of the song and the solo, not his own ego. So in this lesson we’re going to look at some tapping techniques by Van Halen, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai which diverge a little from the standard tapping patterns, and which can be used to outline melodic ideas in a more colorful way that typical three-note tapping patterns.
One of Van Halen’s seemingly favorite tapping tricks isn’t a lick you’ll hear in “Eruption,” or even the over-the-neck tapping shredfest of “Pleasure Dome.” It’s a simple lick that uses a tapped note in place of picking, while a shifting melodic idea signals the end of a phrase. Figure 1 is a variation on this idea, in the key of E.
The lick pedals between a left-hand fretted note and a right-hand tapped E note at the twelfth fret. Note that at the end of the lick you’ll bend the G note on the third fret up a quarter step, then release for an open E note, completing the lick by tapping the twelfth fret. There’s some vibrato included on the last note, but don’t let your instincts trick you into performing the vibrato with the note holding down the fret. Instead, use the left hand to perform the vibrato. You’ll get a much more consistent result this way.
Joe Satriani has a similar approach to pedaling between a melodic motif and a root note, which you can hear during the dramatic solo section of “Surfing with the Alien.” Satriani achieves this by turning his pick edge-on, tensing up his right hand and using the pick to repeatedly strike a note.
Figure 2 is an idea that builds on this concept, shifting it around the neck a little more and allowing the tapped note to roam around.
Steve Vai has given the world many guitar innovations, including popularizing the idea of routing behind a Floyd Rose for increased upward range; H-S-H pickup configurations with split coil settings in the second and fourth positions; and, of course, the seven-string guitar in a rock context. His approach to tapping is almost exclusively in service of outlining chord changes rather than just flailing away. Vai often taps with his middle finger so he can continue to hold the pick as normal, often actually switching between picked, slurred, “hammered-on-from-nowhere” left-hand taps and right-hand tapped notes within a single phrase. Here’s one such idea. Although not copying any particular Vai solo, it combines ideas explored in the Billy Sheehan-penned David Lee Roth classic “Shy Boy” and Vai’s own “The Audience is Listening.” This lick is pretty complex, switching between groupings of three and four notes per phrase. This creates an audio illusion that makes it sound faster than it is, and it can be a great way of adding some spark to your solos, whether tapped or played conventionally.
As always, try to apply these ideas to your own melodic motifs and see just how far out you can take it!