by M A N
For most of us, the first thing that probably comes to mind when someone mentions two-handed tapping are the words "soulless wanking." Tapping was the technique du jour during the heady days of 80s shred and came to represent the pyrotechnic vapidity of guitar playing. Fortunately, the technique can be used in some very creative and musically poignant ways.
Before we go any further, let's talk about what finger tapping actually is. It's basically a variation of the hammer/pull-off technique, a techinque used by every guitar player on the planet (except, maybe, Al DiMeola who picks every. single. note.). Hammering is simply fretting a note with your finger without plucking it with your pick hand. For example, if I have the index finger of my left hand on the third fret of the high E string, I use my ring finger of my left hand to "hammer" the fifth fret on the high E string. As you can easily guess, the pull-off then is just pulling off the finger from the fifth fret to play the note on the third fret.
If you still can't quite visualize what I mean, a fun example of hammers and pulls used to the extreme is the opening to AC/Dc's "Thunderstruck." Though, to me, it sounds like he picked the non-drone notes when he recorded the song, he clearly uses nothing but hammers and pulls in the video.
So, two-handed tapping is the same thing, except now the player is using her pick hand to fret notes as well. This allows for a far wider range of notes to be played in succession than with only one hand.
No one is quite sure who the first player was to use this technique. I've read before that there's footage of Jimi Hendrix using his pick hand to tap a note or two and there's a rumor that Django Reinhardt did so as well (how awesome was Django? Cat could play circles around anyone and he did it with just two fingers on his fret hand). But the player that brought the technique to prominance and doomed an entire decade to devoting itself to fingerstyle gymnastics was Eddie Van Halen.
When Van Halen was still playing smaller clubs, Eddie used to keep his back to the audience when he would tap so that no one would steal his technique. It was really quite revolutionary. His song "Eruption" had turned the guitar-playing world on its ear (hell, that whole album did--from Eddie's playing to his signature "Brown" sound, Van Halen was a seminal piece of work) and everyone wanted to sound just like him. Even to this day there are young players who insist that the first thing they learn how to play is "Eruption."
Sadly, that technique became bastardized and so overused that it became the punchline for 80s guitar excess. But it isn't the technique that deserved the scorn, rather the players who abused it. There are some fine examples of players using tapping in interesting and innovative ways beyond solos that scream, "Look at me!" Here are some of my favorites:
Eddie Van Halen -- "Eruption" What started it all.
Joe Satriani -- "Midnight" This is from his Grammy winning album Surfing with the Alien (Which has the Silver Surfer on the cover. W00T!)
Zack Kim -- "Simpsons Theme " Mark sent this along to me and I was simply blown away.
Stanley Jordan -- "Stairway to Heaven - Live" Stanley is one of my favorite players. He never got the fame or name recognition as a lot of the wankers of the 80s did, but his playing put them all to shame.