Two handed tapping is one of the guitar’s flashiest and most impressive techniques. When done right, it is a showcase of virtuosity that can uplift a piece of music and excite listeners. That said, it’s also a difficult technique that requires a lot of skill and coordination to get right.
In today’s article, let’s look at eight of the best two handed tappers. These guitarists (and bassists) cover a wide range of genres and styles, but they’re all experts when it comes to two handed tapping. Just don’t get frustrated when you see what some of these players are capable of!
Let’s start off with someone a little outside the box when it comes to tapping—Stanley Jordan. Jordan is a jazz guitarist who plays almost exclusively with two handed tapping. When you watch him play, it looks like he’s playing the guitar like a piano, using both hands to play complicated chords and melody lines at the same time.
What’s really impressive though is how it sounds; Jordan is able to play jazz tunes, covers, and more with an incredible amount of depth and complexity, all on his own. Even without a backing band or rhythm section, his performances sound full and complete thanks to his piano-influenced tapping technique.
One of Jordan’s most iconic performances is his cover of Eleanor Rigby. His version adds so much to the original piece while keeping the iconic melody and harmony. He makes it his own with his tapping, and it becomes something else entirely.
Keeping with the out-of-the-box theme, next up is Tony Levin. Levin is most known for his work with King Crimson and Peter Gabriel, but he’s also worked with the likes of Pink Floyd, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Warren Zevon, Buddy Rich, Paul Simon, and more.
His tapping technique is most prevalent when he’s playing the Chapman Stick, a 10-to-12-string electric instrument that is used with a two handed technique to play bass, chords, and melody at the same time. With the Stick, he plays all sorts of interesting and unique two handed tapping lines. His regular bass playing is great too, but it’s with the Stick that he really stands out.
To many, his best tapping work was with King Crimson’s 80’s lineup, which created an incredibly unique mix of prog, new wave, art rock, and world music. Levin used the Stick all over Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair. This live performance of Elephant Talk is a great example of Levin’s unique two handed tapping techniques.
Joe Satriani is a legend in the guitar world for his virtuosic skill. He’s spent countless hours honing his skills on and off the stage, resulting in his incredibly technical guitar playing. And since he’s on this list, you know that applies to two handed tapping too.
Satriani seems to be an expert at most techniques, and the same is true for tapping. His ability to use both hands to play complex and complementary tapping sections is astounding. Few players are able to get to the level of proficiency Satriani has reached.
There are tons of examples of his virtuosity, but this live performance of Midnight really shows off what he is capable of. He uses both hands to perform this classically influenced piece, and he pulls it off to near perfection. Whether you like his music or not, it’s hard to deny that he is a true talent when it comes to guitar.
Shifting to an equally virtuosic bass player, Victor Wooten is another legendary two handed tapper. Wooten, like Satriani, is known for his incredible skill and virtuosic playing. From jazz and funk to bluegrass and fusion, Wooten is one of the most talented and accomplished bassists in the world.
Wooten is known for many techniques, one of which is his tapping. He utilizes two handed tapping in many of his pieces to play very involved and complex lines/parts, and he does so in a very musical manner. In combination with his other skills, the result is nothing short of sublime.
Some of the best displays of his skill come in his bass solos. Wooten is no stranger to extended solos, and he’s not afraid to make his virtuosity known. In this live solo, Wooten pulls out all the stops and proves that he is a top tier two handed tapper.
Billy Sheehan and Paul Gilbert
We’re cheating a bit with this entry, but both of Mr. Big’s legendary tappers—Billy Sheehan and Paul Gilbert—deserve a place on this list. Both Sheehan and Gilbert are experts when it comes to two handed tapping (and just about everything else too).
Sheehan is easily one of the most impressive two handed bass tappers. His speed and accuracy are absolutely astounding, and he makes the impossible look easy. As for Gilbert, you can say much of the same. He’s one of the most respected guitar virtuosos of our time, and he’s a master of many techniques including but not limited to two handed tapping.
And best of all, you can see them both displaying their skills at the same time with Mr. Big. This live performance of Addicted to That Rush is a testament to how good both of them are, and it’s still surprising how much talent was in that one band.
When you think of two handed tapping, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Hard rock and heavy metal? Super fast neoclassical licks? Us too. However, many players utilize two handed tapping outside of rock and metal—and even outside the electric guitar.
Our next entry on this list, Andy McKee, shows that two handed tapping can be an effective technique on acoustic guitar as well. He utilizes two handed tapping along with using the guitar like a drum to create rich and lush acoustic compositions. McKee plays and sounds like no other, and his tapping technique is superb.
This performance of Drifting lets you see and hear McKee’s tapping in all its glory. Admittedly, this style of acoustic playing isn’t for everyone and many think it’s over the top. Still, it’s an incredible showcase of a two handed tapping virtuosity on acoustic guitar.
In the world of prog bassists, few have the acclaim and recognition that Dream Theater’s John Myung has. He is known as a true virtuoso, and it’s a hard claim to refute. His skills seemingly know no bounds, capable of all sorts of techniques and styles.
His tapping in particular though is legendary. Just about every prog bass player remembers a time they tried to learn a Dream Theater song, only to be stumped by an absurd tapping section in the middle of the song. His speed, accuracy, and technique are world-class.
Below is a brief section of a medley that shows off his skill. Though he only uses two handed tapping for a short bit, it’s easy to see why he’s such an iconic bassist. The ease with which he plays that two handed tap is the sign of a true master.
Eddie Van Halen
Did you really think we’d leave him off this list? Of course we can’t! No one is more synonymous with tapping than Eddie Van Halen himself, and for good reason; Eddie further developed tapping technique and inspired countless generations of guitarists, including those on this list.
Van Halen’s playing speaks for itself. We’ve all heard him before, and his skill and virtuosity are well known. Whether he was playing an upbeat rocker, a slow ballad, or a synthy dance tune, he consistently played some of the most iconic riffs, licks, and for the purposes of this list, tap-filled solos.
There are countless examples of his tapping, and most of you have probably seen/heard them before. But is there really such a thing as too much Van Halen? So check out this EVH live solo medley which utilizes two handed tapping, amongst other techniques, for a true display of virtuosity.
Two Handed Tapping At Its Best
Two handed tapping is one of the guitar’s most unique and virtuosic techniques. It’s not a technique everyone loves or wants to use, but it is an incredible show of skill. Over the years, countless players have utilized it to create show-stopping songs and solos. And with the players on this list, you get to see two handed tapping at its best.
So if you’ve got the time, give tapping a try. It’s a great way to hone your abilities, and these players prove that it’s not a one-trick-pony technique. Put on a fresh set of Stringjoys and get tapping!