If you are learning the guitar and have recently discovered tapping, you might be in awe of some of the incredible artists who use the technique. However, where did it start, and who invented tapping on guitar?
Tapping got popularized by Eddie van Halen, but he didn’t invent it. It has been around (in various forms) for centuries and likely doesn’t have a credited inventor. Tapping is a growing phenomenon with a fascinating history.
Although it’s unclear who originated tapping on the guitar, there are a few theories. Here is a quick history of tapping, from other instruments to the guitar, and how it became as popular as it is today.
What Is Tapping?
First, let’s discuss the technique itself. Tapping, or the “touch-style” method as it was called back in the day, is when a guitar player taps the strings with their fingers instead of strumming or picking them, using either their middle finger or index finger. This can be applied to chords as well as scales, however when playing through scales players add hammer-ons and pull-offs with their fretting hand.
So for the most part we’re talking about a two-handed technique, but there is also single-handed tapping where only the fretting hand is used to produce all notes, tapped ones as well as hammer-ons and pull-offs.
With tapping, the musical options for a guitar become much wider. Techniques such as hammer-ons and pull-offs are elongated, bringing out more sustained legato notes from the instrument. Tapping has been used for years, but much more widely since the 1960s.
The Early History Of Tapping
Tapping has been around as long as stringed instruments. Likely, someone was the first to think of tapping the strings instead of strumming or bowing them, but that person is lost to history. Instead, we have some famous classical musicians who performed with multiple styles.
Possibly the first recorded artist to use tapping widely, Niccolo Paganini broke convention with his violin in the 1700s. He was also a guitarist and wrote and performed more guitar pieces than the violin, using the tapping technique throughout both sets of works. But was he the one who invented tapping on guitar?
Paginini’s “style” of tapping the strings, either with his fingers or with his violin bow, might not have been original. He could have taken musical influence from an earlier artist or from traditional Turkish music, which uses a similar technique called selpe.
Although Paginini’s tapping didn’t catch on, various musical movements used similar techniques throughout the following centuries. Early jazz musicians used tapping and hammer-on techniques to produce unique sounds in the early 20th century. Banjo and folk artists throughout the 19th and 20th centuries used a good deal of tapping as well.
However, tapping on the guitar didn’t become popular in America until the 1960s. Several artists claim to have “invented” the technique for the guitar, but no one made it as popular as the guitar legend Eddie Van Halen.
Before he brought it to international fame, however, an Italian artist named Vittorio Camardese demonstrated two-handed tapping on Italian television. The invention of the two-handed technique is widely attributed to him, though it was simultaneously developed by Emmett Chapman in the United States.
Eddie Van Halen And The Popularity Of Tapping
Although he certainly didn’t invent tapping, Eddie Van Halen brought national attention to the method. He built off the momentum of artists such as Camardese and Chapman and began using the two-handed tapping method after seeing tapping sometime in the 1970s. From there, the technique exploded.
Before Van Halen brought tapping to the main stage, artists such as Jimmy Page (from Led Zeppelin), Steve Hackett (Genesis), and Harvey Mandel (Canned Heat) were using varieties of techniques. However, it was Van Halen who began using it extensively and making it a part of his guitar’s voice.
With solos like the famous “Eruption,” Eddie Van Halen’s tapping blew the world away. Suddenly, guitarists all over were emulating the famous rocker, incorporating tapping into their solos and guitar pieces.
Although he didn’t invent it, Van Halen’s consistent and innovative use of the technique gives him a remarkable part in the history of two-handed tapping. Without Van Halen and the 1970s rock culture, tapping might not be as impressive or popular today.
Who are the best tapping guitarists?
If you are looking for tapping inspiration, here is a brief list of some of the most famous guitarists who tap. These artists from all genres have honed their skills with some of the most technically impressive songs on guitar.
Here are some of the best guitarists who utilize tapping:
- Eddie Van Halen
- Steve Hackett
- Stanley Jordan
- Vittorio Camardese
- Emmett Chapman
- Jimmy Page
- Harvey Mandel
- Steve Lynch
- Jennifer Batten
- Steve Vai
- Andres Segovia
- Christopher Parkening
Although this list is incomplete, it includes artists from multiple genres and several generations. Tapping is utilized worldwide and can be found anywhere from rock to classical music.
Tapping is still a growing method of guitar playing and becoming more popular among players worldwide. It features heavily in movies like August Rush and other pop culture phenomena, showing that the technique is part of our cultural idea of guitar playing.
Beginning guitar players can take lessons in tapping or see tutorials on how Eddie Van Halen mastered the art with some of his most famous guitar solos. However, most beginners must learn the basics of guitar before learning to tap, either with one or both hands.
Whether you’re a beginner or an expert guitarist, the challenge of tapping is one of the paragons of learning guitar. By following in the footsteps of these incredible jazz, rock, and bluegrass guitarists, you can discover a new style of guitar playing and find a new skill level.
Although no one in particular can be credited with the invention of tapping on the guitar, there are a few important names to remember. Paganini brought tapping to the mainstream music world with this violin, Camardese showed the world two-handed tapping for the first time, and of course, Eddie Van Halen made it one of the most popular techniques of the last fifty years. If you want to indulge in some more cool guitar facts, check out our article 41 Surprising Statistics And Facts About Guitar That Will Blow Your Mind.