Brian May on the Queen song that inspired Eddie Van Halen’s two-handed tapping
Revisiting the origins of EVH’s most iconic technique.
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Of all his guitar innovations, Eddie Van Halen’s two-handed tapping technique remains one of his most iconic and celebrated. Though as the man himself often pointed out, the technique was not something he invented; instead, it was inspired by the works of some of his guitar peers — one of whom was Queen rocker Brian May.
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Speaking in a recent interview with Classic Rock, May recalls how Van Halen once “pointed out little bits in their arrangements which were inspired by things we’d done,” which included the tapping technique in question.
The Queen guitarist explains, “He said: ‘Well, you did that on It’s Late [from 1977’s News of the World].’ I said: ‘Yeah, I only played with the idea because I’d seen this guy in Texas doing it.’ I’d done it in the most rudimentary form, then I’d moved on to something else. Whereas Ed basically made the guitar a new instrument.”
As for where May himself picked up the technique, the rocker revealed in a 2021 interview with Guitar Player that he’d copped it from an unnamed Texan player that he saw while Queen were on tour.
“I wish I knew who it was that I saw,” May said. “I went into a bar in Texas when we were on tour, and I saw this guy playing. And he would be bending strings, like we all do, but then he’d put his right hand onto a fret and make this kind of singing sound. And I thought, Oh, that’s a beautiful thing to do; he creates a completely new dimension.”
“I went up to him after the show and I said, “I’m telling you now, I’m going to nick that from you.” He said, “Great, go for it.” I asked him, “How did you figure out how to do that?” And he told me, “I got it from Billy Gibbons.” Now, I ought to talk to Billy about it, because I can’t put my finger on the piece where Billy did it. But somewhere in the murky past, somebody thought up that technique.”