ne pioneer of two-handed tapping is Dave Bunker. On his website, which can be found at http://www.bunker-guitars.com, he describes how two-handed tapping began. Since he was there, and saw it with his own eyes, this is probably the most accurate report we have.
Here’s what he says:
“Lots of controversy exists over who did what and when on the Touch Method of play. Well, here it is. And this is right:
“Actually Merle Travis was one of the first artists to play using two hands [tapping] on the fingerboard. The first artist to really bring it out and do something with it was Jimmy Webster, who wrote the first Touch System method book for a single neck type electric guitar played with two hand tapping.
“I was the first to build and patent [a specialty tapping instrument] that you could tap on two necks, and also wrote and copyrighted the first double neck method book.
“One of the earlier great contributors has been Emmet Chapman and the StickÂ® design, which is probably the best known of the touch type instruments. Some great artists followed such as Eddie Van Halen and Stanley Jordan.”
There you have it, straight from the source. Perhaps this will clear up some misunderstandings about the origin of touch-style and two-handed tapping! And now let’s visit these pioneers of touch-style —
According to the website of the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, which can be found at http://songs.org/~nsf/frame-hof.html, Merle Travis (1917-1983) is generally credited with designing the first solid-body electric guitar (electric Fender). He brought a banjo-style fingerpicking to guitar, using thumb to play accompaniment while the forefinger plays the melody on the higher-pitched strings. Seven gold records and 12 BMI awards for top songs, including “Sixteen Tons” and “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette!”
According to Dave Bunker, Travis was the first to employ two-handed tapping on guitar.
And as Bunker describes, in the â€˜50s, a pioneer named Jimmy Webster also noticed that, with an amplifier, you could turn up the volume and play notes just by tapping the string to a fret. It was no longer necessary to strum or pick a string. (Strumming or picking on acoustic guitars is necessary in order to vibrate the string strongly enough to set up sympathetic resonance within the sound-box, which then results in a sound loud enough to be heard by an audience.)
Webster developed and taught a complete system of two-handed tapping, and in 1952 he wrote a book about his technique, called â€œThe Illustrated Touch Method.â€
In 1960, he obtained U.S. Patent # 2,964,985 on a pick-up design which separated out the â€œbassâ€ and the â€œmelodyâ€ strings. Both sets of strings were on one neck, but the magnetic pickup fed the bass strings out to one amplifier and the melody strings out to a separate amplifier. This patent was assigned to Gretsch guitars.
Webster had a sponsorship from Gretsch Guitars. He toured and visited music stores, selling the Gretsch line, and even had a signature instrument named after him. However, specialty guitars with his pickup and his new method only attracted a few visible players, and did not survive into the age of Rock & Roll.
Guitarist Chet Atkins produced some of Webster’s recordings, which can still be occasionally found in specialty shops.
This musician was also popular, around the same time as Webster, and Laughlin also played with a two-handed tapping technique, but I have so far not located any information about Laughlin and his technique or recordings. I would welcome any information.
In the 50’s guitarist and luthier Dave Bunker first began to experiment with the design of an instrument designed especially for the two-handed tapping technique. Unlike Webster’s approach, which was to play with two hands on the neck of a single instrument, Bunker’s designs led to his double-necked instrument “The Touch Guitar.” â„¢
The first Touch Guitar was called the ‘Duo-Lectar’ â„¢ and was built by Dave and his father Joe Bunker in 1955, later receiving a U.S. Patent # 2,989,884 in 1961. On Bunker’s website he describes how they lacked money to buy proper fret wire so they had to make the frets out of an old chain saw blade!
The Duo-Lectar was the first touch-style instrument to use a manual mute on the strings, such as a strip of felt or other soft and spongy material under the strings between the nut and the first fret. Most tapping instruments ever since have used the manual mute, although Bunker has gone on to engineer an electronic mute (U.S. Patent # 5,162,603) which improves upon the manual mute, providing equal muting for all strings.
Bunker has received several other patents for his Touch Guitar and other guitar models, including U.S. Patents # 5,431,079 (Improved Tremolo Guitar Mechanism), # 5,018,423 (Anti-Torque Neck Adjustment Device), and # 4,201,108 (The Wedge, an electric guitar design with removable body parts), and others! He designed the first headless guitars (with tuners at base of instrument), the first bodiless instruments (built in the 1950’s), the first individual-string through-the-body bridge, the reflection shield (a metal connector transmitting highs from the bridge to the neck), early individual-string pickups, early fine-tuners applied to guitar, and more!
The Touch Guitar has an upper neck with a standard guitar scale of about 24 inches but with a super-wide neck so that the strings can be played with the fingers parallel or perpendicular to the strings, and in Bunker’s method of two-handed tapping the guitar hand can be used in either orientation.
The upper neck (melody) can be played as a two-handed instrument, though the instrument has a second, lower neck normally used for bass, which is tuned as a standard 4-string bass. The bass neck is a 32-inch scale bass neck, played in a traditional position, but by tapping with the left hand. Bunker’s ‘Touch Guitar’ method book shows much more detail about the method of playing the instrument.
Bunker’s Touch Guitar contains his patented “Electro-Mute” electronic system that silences the sound from open (unfretted) strings during tapping play. The Touch Guitar contains a large number of pickups and electronic filtering, so that it can emulate almost any known guitar sound.
Bunker resides in Washington state and still builds some of the finest guitars in the world.