by Joe Bosso
Think Eddie Van Halen invented finger tapping on the guitar? Think again.
Seven years before Eruption created a new school of shredders, Steve Hackett [then guitarist for prop-rock godfathers Genesis] set aside his pick and applied his index finger to the fretboard of his Les Paul – and he’s not afraid to lay claim to conceiving of the technique.
“I’m the inventor of tapping on record,” he says. “We haven’t found anyone who tapped earlier than me, unless somebody did it in the 1930s, but I doubt it.”
While Hackett admits that [Eddie] Van Halen and his followers popularized and expanded on finger tapping, his place as a wholly inventive guitarist, one who also helped introduce players to techniques such as sweep-picking, is assured.
Before we get into some of the new songs, let’s address the matter of finger tapping. Eddie Van Halen does credit you as having done it first. Have the two of you ever talked about it?
“Eddie and I have never spoken about it, but yes, he has credited me with tapping. When you see old films of Genesis from 1971 on, you can see me using the technique. It’s there on many recordings, as well. Eddie is a fine player, of course, and he’s the one who named the technique. The important thing is that you play as fast as you’d like, but you do it all on one string – and you have to use a finger from your picking hand instead of the pick.”
Between 1971 and 1978, the year Van Halen’s first record came out, did you hear anybody else finger tapping?
“No, I’m not really aware of that, I must admit. All I know is that it became part of the language for heavy metal players, and it became one of the glossaries of terms that you can dip into if you’re playing electric guitar. You can play it on a nylon-string guitar, of course, or acoustic steel, but it’s really going to work best on an electric through an amp with some distortion.”
So where did you get? How did you start doing it?
“Well, I’ll tell you: I was trying to play a tiny phrase from Toccata and Fugue by Bach, and I was wondering how to do it, because you couldn’t really do it across the strings. I figured that if I could do it on one string, then I’d be using the fretboard like a keyboard. There’s a couple of techniques I took from Bach, like sweep-picking, which is akin to a violinist rocking the bow across the strings.
“I did it one day, the tapping, but I thought it was a little unwieldy at first because I couldn’t play it in time. But then I could play it in time, and I started doing it live with Genesis. This was back in 1971, an awfully long time ago. It enabled me to be the fastest gun in the west for about five minutes, until somebody else came along and did it in a whole new way.
“It’s a little bit like Bruce Lee’s technique for martial arts: just like he did things so fast that the camera couldn’t pick them all up, with tapping, the microphone can’t pick up all the notes – it’s a blur of music.”
What did you think when Eddie burst on the scene with tapping – and when everybody started copying him? Did you say, “Hey, that’s mine! I invented that”?
“No, I’m not protective of any techniques. I’ve learned from every guitarist that I’ve watched. Everybody plays slightly differently; everybody has been my guitar teacher. I guess I’ve shown a few moves to some people. A guitar can sound like anything – a harp, even.”
The title track of the new album features a very striking guitar solo. Do you plot your solos out, or do you prefer to improvise?
“I would say they’re refined improvisation. Sometimes I’ll have phrases ready – I’ll work them out on a nylon-stringed guitar. I do a lot of things on paper; I tend to write things down. When you’re holding an electric guitar and you want to be spontaneous, that’s the time to do it. The beauty is, you can always go back and correct what you play if you don’t like something.”
The song Tall Ships has a pretty jazzy feel. For something like that, do you use a different guitar than the Fernandes?
“No, it’s the same guitar. The Fernandes is quite versatile. It’s like having an onboard E-Bow, something that’ll make the strings sustain. That song is a bit like a piece of trance music.”
Has there been any new talk of a Genesis reunion, one involving you?
“I’ve been working on a version of Genesis material that I’m going to take live with some guests. I’ve always said that I’d be up for a reunion if anyone wanted to do it. They approached me some years back, but it seemed to be far too complicated. As far as I’m concerned, with some of the guys from Genesis saying they’re going to retire, I feel that nobody should hold his breath, although I won’t be the reason it won’t happen.”
*Reblog from Music Radar: Article by Joe Bosso