According to original Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley, there’s a chance that Eddie Van Halen was at least partially inspired to start doing two-hand tapping by watching him play live back in the 1970s.
Even to this day, there’s this neverending discussion of who actually started implementing the technique. While we’re certain that there were many guitar players doing it way before Eddie, it’s no secret that he improved and popularized tapping.
And during the recent chat with Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett, Frehley admits that he couldn’t ever play remotely like Eddie. But, on the other hand, he recalls the young Van Halen watching him do some tapping live with Kiss.
“Before Van Halen became famous, Gene [Simmons] discovered them,” Ace said (transcript via Ultimate Guitar). “But all I can tell you is when I was doing my guitar solo at Madison Square Garden before they became famous, Eddie was down in the pit watching every f***ing move I made.”
However, as opposed to what we’re used to seeing, Ace’s tapping technique was a little different and significantly limited compared to what we got to see with Van Halen.
“I did it with the pick,” the Kiss legend said. “I didn’t go with my finger. Eddie probably got some ideas from me, just like I got ideas from other guitar players.”
You can see some of Ace’s pick tapping in the embedded video below. The footage of his solo is supposedly from early 1975 from Kiss performance in San Francisco, California.
Of course, Frehley acknowledges Eddie’s game-changing musicianship and technical skills and admits that he doesn’t even come close, adding:
“But he perfected it. There’s no way I could play some of the solos that he pulled off.”
And when asked how he started doing his form of tapping, Frehley replied:
“As far as I can remember, I think I just came up with it. I don’t know.”
As mentioned above, there are plenty of guitar players who implemented the tapping technique way before Van Halen broke into the scene back in the late 1970s. Steve Hackett, who played with Genesis while they were still deep into progressive rock, did it to a certain extent and is considered one of the progenitors of the practice.
However, the actual origins go way back and are a little difficult to trace. For instance, there’s video evidence of jazz musician Roy Smeck tapping on a ukulele way back in the mid-1920s. You can check that out below. Apart from him, Italian musician Vittorio Camardese used the technique on a classical guitar back in the 1960s.
We could also go all the way back to violinist Niccolò Paganini or even Turkish folk music on their traditional instruments. However, when it comes to modern electric guitar, it’s Eddie Van Halen who’s credited for the form of tapping that we see today.
Of course, being one of the earlier examples, Steve Hackett played a huge role as well. In an interview from 2023, Hackett reflected on his first attempts at tapping at a young age, saying:
“I was just messing around, and one day, I realized then when you’re hammering on and off with your right hand – which became an important technique because it enables you to play incredibly fast – I remember thinking about it and coming to the idea that I could do something on one string without necessarily having to move to another.”
“And then, when I applied that to the whole of the fretboard, I found that I could do some incredible things.”
“It’s an extraordinary technique,” he said, “becoming the mainstay of many heavy metal players. I suppose I’m thrilled to have been the granddaddy of that.”
Going more into the matter, Hackett recalled how the earliest examples of him actually using the tapping technique on a recording was for Genesis’ third album:
“Thinking about it, I first recall doing it in ’71 on ‘Nursery Cryme.’ I recall that I struggled to play it in time, but I practiced it live during some solos with Genesis, and that’s when other people picked up on it.”
“I didn’t realize its significance in the universal sense back then. At the time, I thought it was personal to me and that I was the only person doing that.”