Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

My Favorite Guitarists

I've never made a post about my favorite guitarists before. Mostly because there are so many I love. Not necessarily just to listen to, but to learn from as well. I honestly believe that I'll never stop learning until I am dead and there are always so many people out there that are way better at I am than playing guitar. Of course, technique isn't everything but it isn't nothing either. The most skilled players on the planet can make a difficult riff sound simple or a simple riff sound difficult. The most skilled players on the planet can incorporate the thoughts and ideas from others to create a completely new idea. The most skilled players on the planet can play death metal one minute and Bob Dylan the next without missing a beat. 

But they don't just play the notes. Anyone can play notes. It's how they play it that matters. The same notes have always been on the guitar since it was made as a six string instrument. Millions of people have played them. The notes have always been there. The effects don't really matter, either. 

It's the subtle things like the actual touch and attack of the human hands that creates the music. The personality of the person creates the personality of the sound and the music. And a lot of people just don't have the magic or personality to make music or play it in a compelling fashion. Learning scales and certain techniques are important, but it doesn't mean anything if you don't know how to apply them to your own playing. 

My thing about learning guitar (or anything in life) is that there are no boundaries except for the ones you put on yourself. Each time you break a boundary then go and break another one. 

However, I am not one of the most skilled players on the planet. I've been playing since I was in the fifth grade and I still haven't come even close to the greatness of Hendrix or Vai. I wasn't born with a natural talent for the craft. I wasn't a prodigy like a lot of YouTube sensation kids are these days. Everything I learned has come with a lot of time and patience and there's a lot I can still learn from those YouTube kids as well. 

That's another one of my little things about guitar (and life). Know your betters and learn from them. If you don't you are a fool. And it doesn't just apply to learning from the guitar. If you ever hear a neat piano riff or a saxophone, why not try to learn it for the guitar? Everything is up for grabs when it comes to getting better. Change it up, mix and mash and don't get complacent. 

I freely admit I'm one of the few who probably shouldn't dish out advice about learning guitar, but that's my say so on that. Take it for what you will. 

Anyway, this is my list of my favorite guitarists. These are the guys I listen to and learn from. These are the guys who are forever enshrined on the posters on my walls. Yes, there are plenty of others out there I have listened to and learned from, but I don't have a bunch of writers and editors at my disposal to make a Guitar World-sized ranking of all 200 or so of them. I'll stick with ten. 

10. Joe Satriani - I've limited my list of strictly shred guys to three. Mostly because that genre really isn't my thing. I'd rather listen to instrumental jazz with piano and sax solos then instrumental shred guitar, but there are a few guys that can make it interesting to me. A lot of the complex stuff is a little beyond the grasp of my fingers at the moment, but my ears do enjoy some Joe Satriani. I enjoy his first album quite a bit.

09. Paul Gilbert - I'm not a big Racer X fan. I don't like Mr. Big, either. In fact, I will hate Mr. Big forever because of To Be With You. I love Paul Gilbert's solo work, though. He also seems like such a cool guy and not the douche that a lot of the "I can play more technical than you" types seem to be.

08. James Hetfield - Hetfield opened my eyes to what you can do by downpicking on rhythm guitar. Downpicking is tough to do at extremely fast tempos and it requires a ton of skill to do right or else the riff will sound like crap. A lot of players alternate pick faster tempos because it's easier although alternate picking isn't the easiest to initially learn, but I'm a student of the "downpicking is heavier" school. Metallica's records from their thrash days made me want to play fast and downpick the first time I heard them.

07. Frank Zappa - If Hetfield made me want to play fast then Zappa made me want to play weird. His arrangements have been something I approach frequently and come away with something new and different each time. While his playing wasn't always the most essential part of much of his music it is undoubtedly what gives a lot of his tunes so much bite. Zappa's playing sounds like none of his contemporaries. Not that I even think he had contemporaries for his style of music.

06. Stevie Ray Vaughan - Vaughan was my introduction to guys like Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Howlin' Wolf. My first blues rock guitarist discovery was probably Clapton, but I hadn't explored much of his post-Cream music aside from the classic rock radio stuff when I discovered Vaughan's music as a kid. Aside from still being popular on guitarist polls Vaughan doesn't have a lot in common with Clapton, but if it wasn't for them a lot of the blues would be lost on young guitarists. Probably me, too. I think Vaughan is the better of the two and it's a shame that he only released a handful of albums before dying.

05. Steve Vai - Vai  is much like his mentor Zappa in that he is a wacky genius. He's also insanely talented because he was taught by Joe Satriani. Add in a stint with David Lee Roth and you'll know that obviously something is off in his head. Ever heard his song Fuck Yourself? Or Bad Horsie? Whatever it is the guy channels it into playing guitar like a god.

04. Wes Montgomery - I was a late bloomer to jazz on guitar. I can't play it worth a damn, but I appreciate it now. Wes Montgomery is my go to guy for jazz. I'm not going to try and sound pretentious and say I know a shit-ton about jazz because I don't. Maybe you know guys who are much better. However, from my limited listening experience I believe that Montgomery is just a better guitarist than most other guys slinging an axe around these days.

03. Tony Iommi - The power riff at the end of War Pigs gave me chills the first time I heard it. So epic, but oh so simple. That was the first moment that Sabbath really impacted me. I remember I was listening to my dad's recorded tapes from way back in the seventies in the old Oldsmobile. It was different then Ozzy's solo work with Rhoads and company, but it just went to show me how much talent Ozzy managed to surround himself with during his career. He went from one of the greatest guitarists of all time to another without missing a beat. I think Iommi's best moment as a lead guitarist is the performance on the first Black Sabbath album and their cover of Warning. It's just ten minutes of air guitar for me because I can't follow it without... you know, actually practicing and stuff.

02. Randy Rhoads - Rhoads and his solo in Crazy Train made me want to pick up the guitar. His other songs make me want to keep playing it. Only a handful of tunes, but that's enough. Revelation (Mother Earth) and Diary of a Madman are definite high points of guitar achievements in my eyes and ears. I frequently ask myself, "How the fuck did he think of that riff?" He was playing with Ozzy, though. It was probably a contact high or something.

01. Dimebag Darrell - I suppose this list is turning into a graveyard with all of the dead guys on it, but I am not in too much of a disagreement with myself by putting Dime at the number one spot. I've learned a lot from Dimebag's tunes. Mostly how to play badass riffs while also playing insane leads. I think he is that great crossover guitarist that helps bridge the gap from the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen to Tony Iommi to Jeff Loomis. And he wasn't an asshole, either. Dime was so likeable that it made me want to like all of his music, too. I do. Whether he was complimenting David Allan Coe or Phil Anselmo, Dimebag could shine with any vocalist in almost any style. He even made Pat Lachman tolerable as a vocalist thanks to his awesome riffs. 


  1. One guy I would like to add to the list is Johnny Winter. If there was a genre called "Speed Blues," he would be the king. One problem with Johnny's catalog, however, is the lack of great albums. He has several very good ones but no real definitive string of 3 or 4 great albums that define an era of Johnny. He did covers 50-60 percent of the time and where he really shined was talking old blues songs and turning into his own brand of Texas speed blues. He seemed to like early rock and roll hits and covered them too but they were his weakest songs. He had several good originals but not ever enough of them to make himself a great album but his playing was almost always great. His cover of Dylan's Highway 61 is a great example of his ability to make a song his own. His official live recordings are mostly awesome.

  2. One of my favorites in the "still alive" category is Derek Trucks. He has several different gigs and probably makes most of his cash playing with the Allman Brothers but his solo work is very different from the Allmans. He doesn't sing (I've never seen his mouth come close to a microphone on stage) but uses different singers on his solo stuff. He also is in a band with his wife, Susan Tedeschi (she does the singing).

  3. Saw this on the RS site.

    1. That was a very good piece from Phil. For a while I really didn't like him. Especially when he and Vinnie Paul and Dime's girlfriend seemed to be having a war of words, but Phil has really turned himself around. I got a lot of respect for Phil now.