Eddie Van Halen‘s “Eruption” solo popularized the tapping style of guitar playing, revolutionizing the sound of rock in the process. Not bad for a song that wasn’t even meant to be released.
“I showed up at the recording studio early one day and started warming up because I had a gig this weekend and I wanted to practice my solo guitar spot,” Eddie recalled during a 1996 interview with Guitar world.
The guitarist had mixed his signature solo – which would become “Eruption” – into Van Halen’s live show. Yet he had never considered recording it for their album. When he practiced the instrumental piece in the studio, the sound attracted attention.
“Our producer, Ted Templeman, happened to be passing by and he asked, ‘What’s that? Let’s put it on tape!’” remarked the guitarist. “So I took it one time and they put it on record. I didn’t even really play it. There’s a mistake on the top end of it.”
Templeman thought so highly of “Eruption” that he put it on as number two Van Halen track list, between future hits “Runnin’ with the Devil” and “You Really Got Me”. Such placement would normally be unheard of for a solo instrumental track, but “Eruption” was different.
In just one minute and 42 seconds, Van Halen changed what a guitar solo could do. His revolutionary two-handed tapping technique produced sounds unlike anything fans had ever heard before.
Listen to ‘Eruption’ from ‘Van Halen’
“It’s like having a sixth finger on your left hand,” the guitarist once said explained of the approach. “Instead of plucking, you strike a note on the fretboard.”
Van Halen had invented the technique inadvertently.
“I was just sitting in my room by the pillow at home drinking a beer and I remembered seeing people stretching a note and hitting a note once,” he explained Classic rock in 1978. “They were smacking their finger there to hit a note. I said, Well, damn, nobody’s really taking advantage of it.
“No one was really doing more than just a stretch and a note really fast. So I started fiddling around and said, fuck! This is a whole different technique that nobody’s really doing. Which it is. I haven’t really seen anyone come in on it as much as they could, because it’s a completely different sound. A lot of people listen to it and they don’t even think it’s a guitar. Is it a synthesizer? And the piano? What is it?'”
Watch Eddie Van Halen perform ‘Eruption’ in concert
“Eruption” ushered in the sound of ’80s rock. After Van Halen became a monumental success, every rocker wanted to sound like the world’s newest guitar god. Eddie later admitted that he thought copycats were “kind of funny”.
“With me, [the tapping technique] was a form of expression – part of my style,” he explained. “When I used the things I invented, I was telling a story, while I felt like the people imitating me were telling a joke. I felt that other players tended to use taps and false harmonics as a trick , rather than incorporating them into their vocabulary.”
“Eruption” remains one of the most famous guitar solos in history and has taken on a kind of mythological status since Van Halen’s death in 2019. But for all its glory, the guitar icon always believed it could have been more.
“To this day,” he said in ’96, “when I hear that, I always think, ‘man, I could have played that better’.”
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