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As musicians we all have different players that shape who we are musically and stylistically; some may have inspired us to keep going when we were struggling whilst others may have inspired us to pick up the instrument in the first place. These players deserve as much appreciation as we can give them after all, they gave us their amazing music and influenced us to pick our instruments. So without further ado here are my top 10 guitar players and why!
10. Joe Pass
I believed the guitar to have many things going for it, it has attitude, it is expressive, it can be bright and hopeful or dark and sombre, I even believed it could sound beautiful but I never believed that it could sound as beautiful as instruments like the piano, harp and harpsichord, until I heard Joe Pass play ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’. Hearing that piece was a life changing moment for me and made me decide to explore a completely different style of playing that I had had little awareness of beforehand. I also like to listen to him when I am sad so I guess, that at bare minimum, he has to make it to the number 10 spot on this list.
9. Eddie Van Halen
There are many guitar players that have drastically changed how people play the instrument and whilst players like Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix are arguable more influential, none of them can claim to have triggered an arms race in the way that Eddie Van Halen did. Eddie made players get out their metronomes with the aim of mastering complicated techniques like alternative picking, legato and of course tapping. Without Eddie we wouldn’t have Randy Rhoads, Steve Vai, Steve Lukather, Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen (amongst others). He also single-handily made Guitar Manufacturers completely rethink Guitars, Amps and Pedals triggering the creation and rise in popularity of Super-strats and High gain Amplifiers. But why do I love this player? Well it is quite simple, I love speed, I love Van Halen and I love players who owe so much to Eddie and with that, there was no way I was leaving him off this list.
8. Robert Johnson
I enjoy playing blues, I even enjoying listening to Blues on occasion, but Blues can and always has been able to bore me very quickly. Despite its beautiful expressiveness I can find it quite repetitive and as such I cannot really enjoy much more than 3 or 4 blues songs in any one given time. There are only two guitarists who have defied this distaste for the blues, the first to do this was the amazing Robert Johnson. He made the Blues sound anything but repetitive and made it feel so fun and exciting. I also see him as much of a kindred spirit due to one of the many legends surrounding the man. The story goes that he was an awful guitar player before disappearing for a year and wowing everyone on his return with his new found ability. Though I am not sure if I have ever wowed anyone with my playing, I can certainly say that I to went through a dramatic transformation and as such he makes it to number 8 on my list.
7. David Gilmour
As a young player I was absolutely obsessed with speed. I wanted to shred as fast as Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Synyster Gates and Steve Vai. Gilmour showed me that speed was not everything and that in fact slow, well thought out, beautiful, expressive melodies could be more powerful than lightning fast fingers. He also showed me that just because playing these pieces was technically easier it did not mean that coming up with such ideas and expressing them with the right touch and feel was easier. Because of this Gilmour makes it to 7 on my list.
6. Jimmy Page
There are a number of words I like to use to describe myself…
One of the most recognisable and distinctive guitar players on the planet, Slash (born Saul Hudson) is nothing special when it comes to his playing. His playing relies on many simple blues licks, pentatonic scales, simple chords and the occasional use of harmonic minor, he has not even had a dramatic impact on how people approached or played the guitar. So why is so he high on my list? For me Slash demonstrated that a Guitar player can have a unique voice. He is the first player to have a sound that stood out to me and as such he made me want to do that myself. Without this realisation I doubt I would be playing today and as such Slash makes in to number 5 on my list.
4. Pat Metheny
I honestly did not get Jazz in the slightest for many years. It seemed way too dissonant, way too disorganised, way too all over the place. Pat Metheny’s album Bright Size Life single completely changed my entire perspective on Jazz; not only did it make me love Jazz music in its many forms, it made me want to play it. A player who can influence how you play is one thing, but a player who influences what you listen to, now that is special and that is why Pat makes it onto the top half of the list.
3. Randy Rhoads
Randy Rhoads is, in my honest opinion, one of the most underrated guitar players of all time. Eddie Van Halen may have started the shred guitar revolution but I honestly feel that Randy was one of the players who really set the bar for where it could go. Tragically his life was cut short in a plane crash in 1982 and as such he never got to show the world his true potential. He makes it to number 3 of my list but I really believe that if he had not passed on, he would be number 1 today.
2. Chuck Berry
Now I cannot say I am hugely influenced by this player, I have learnt a few of his songs and enjoy putting his records on every now and again, but I am neither crazy about his music or his playing style. So how did someone I have so little interest in end up at number 2 on my list. Simple, this was the man that made me want to pick up guitar. More specifically it was Marty McFly playing Johnny B. Goode in Back to the Future that made me want to play guitar and for that reason Chuck Berry makes it to number 2 on my list.
I could wax lyrical forever on the amazing guitar players that influenced me so I am going to mention a few that did not make this list but definitely deserve a shout out…
-Stevie Ray Vaughan
1. Jimi Hendrix
Now, of course, it seems that no guitarists’ list is complete without this man somewhere on it. It is so common to the point of cliché but you can see why. This man changed how guitar was played forever, no individual has had as much impact of how guitarists approach the instrument as him and that alone will get him on any list. But this list is not about technical influence or historical impact, this list is about my favourite players, so why does Jimi deserve to be at the top of it? Simple! Much of my playing style and approach is rooted in Jimi’s approach to the guitar, he has allowed me to begin to merge lead and rhythmic lines together in a way I had not before and it is the favourite part of my playing and for this reason alone, Jimi tops the list!
So that is that! Who are your favourite guitar players and why? Let me know in the comments.