If there is one guitar technique that Eddie Van Halen will forever be remembered for, it will be tapping. Although not exactly unknown before Eddie adopted it, with Genesis’ Steve Hackett notably employing the technique on ‘Dancing with the Moonlit Knight’, Van Halen revolutionised and popularised tapping for an entirely new generation of hard rock and heavy metal disciples.
There remains some debate as to how Van Halen first took on tapping, and whether he had seen someone else do it before. In a 2009 interview, Dokken guitarist George Lynch claims that both he and Van Halen had seen Harvey Mandel utilise the tapping technique at a show in West Hollywood in the 1970s, at a club called Starwood. Hackett himself claims some credit for inspiring Van Halen, but Eddie has stated that he never saw Genesis perform live, much less heard Hackett’s version on the technique.
Instead, Van Halen points to another legendary guitarist as his inspiration: Jimmy Page. Specifically, Van Halen says it was watching Led Zeppelin play the Forum during the ’70s where he first got the idea to start tapping.
“I think I got the idea of tapping watching Jimmy Page do his ‘Heartbreaker’ solo back in 1971,” Van Halen told Guitar World in 2008. “He was doing a pull-off to an open string, and I thought, ‘Wait a minute, open string … pull off. I can do that, but what if I use my finger as the nut and move it around?’ I just kind of took it and ran with it.”
According to Van Halen, it wasn’t Page originating the technique that became Van Halen’s signature. Rather, Van Halen saw Page playing around with a similar technique and later adapted it to his own style. In this version of the story, Van Halen is the originator of his own design. Tapping had certainly existed before Eddie Van Halen, but nobody was doing it in the way that Van Halen was. For someone who built his own guitar and learned music by ear, it only makes sense that Van Halen would teach himself tapping instead of culling it from someone else.
Check out a 1973 performance of ‘Heartbreaker’ at Los Angeles’ The Forum and see if you can make the connection between Page’s solo and Van Halen’s eventual epiphany.