Tapping is one of the coolest, most impressive-sounding techniques in guitar playing. Not surprisingly, it’s also one of the most difficult and least understood.
Tapping, unlike other styles, uses the fingertip (or fingertips) of the "picking" hand to set a fretted string into vibration. This is different from the standard technique of fretting a string with the left hand and picking with the right (or the reverse if you’re a southpaw or a Jimi Hendrix imitator). Tapping, in effect, is a hammer-on/pull-off executed with the right hand tapping the high note in a passage, then releasing the string, allowing the note held by the left hand on the neck to ring out.
Who invented tapping? The history is unclear, but we do know the original shred master himself, Niccolo Paganini, used a similar technique by striking specific notes on the neck of his violin with his bow. One hundred and fifty years later, Steve Vai employed the tapping technique as we know it to play his famous interpretation of a Paganini lick on guitar.
And while Steve, unlike Paganini, is not rumored to have sold his soul to the Devil to gain his virtuosity, he did play the Dark Lord’s guitarist in that famous guitar duel between him and Ralph Macchio in the 1986 film Crossroads.
According to Vai, the hardest part of his role was acting like he couldn’t play the Paganini lick he had transposed. Funny, I would’ve thought it was losing a rock-off to the Karate Kid. But I digress…
After Paganini, tapping resurfaced as a technique used by early 20th-century guitarists including jazz virtuoso Tal Farlow, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that it made its way into the rock pantheon. Here the credit goes to Harvey Mandel. That’s right,