Joe Satriani says he started tapping before he heard Eddie Van Halen play

He credits the guitarists of Wishbone Ash for giving him the idea.

Joe Satriani and Eddie Van Halen

Images: Angel Manzano / Jeffrey Ufberg / Getty

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Guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani has spoken about the development of the tapping technique, commenting on where his generation of shred players got the idea. The late Eddie Van Halen is widely credited with popularising the technique, but Satriani has said that he was tapping before he heard Eddie Van Halen for the first time.

Speaking on an episode of the Behind The Vinyl podcast, Satriani was asked if he started tapping in response to hearing EVH play, to which he said: “I’d been tapping before that. I think, just like Eddie, ’cause we were the same age and started playing pretty much at the same time, we saw other people on television doing it.”

One particular example of tapping inspiration Satriani gives is the ‘70s hard-rockers Wishbone Ash, as he explains: “There was a [television] show in America called Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, and I think Wishbone Ash were on one night. And I think my dad was watching it. And I just walked into the room for a second, and I looked and I see the guy playing with his fingers. And I’m, like, ‘Oh my god!’ I just went right up to my room, picked up my guitar and went, ‘That’s a great idea. I’m gonna do that all over the place.’”

Satriani noted that, while he and his contemporaries loved the technique, it was Eddie Van Halen who took it to the next level. “My group of friends, everyone was tapping, but the great brilliance of Eddie was what he did with it,” Joe said, before making a broader point about Eddie Van Halen’s virtuosity: “That’s what you can say about everything. We knew the same chords – there are a million guitar players that know exactly the same 12 notes, the same chords, we buy the same strings, we’re using the same guitars, pretty much.

“So what makes Eddie so special? Why did that genius just say, ‘Well, I’ll take that and just do this with it?’ But he did, and all of us responded like it was godsent.”

While Eddie Van Halen might well have also caught Wishbone Ash on TV as a young player – he and Satriani were born just a year apart – in the past, he has cited the live version of Jimmy Page’s Heartbreaker solo as his first experience with tapping.

As Satriani notes, however, Eddie Van Halen’s approach was incredibly transformative – while Page used tapping to accentuate a bluesy solo, pieces like Eruption break completely away from this formula – just one of the ways he changed guitar playing forever. Read more about his impact here.

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