This is not necessarily a definitive list, but consists of those guitar players and pioneers who most inspired me to want to get into guitar playing and attain some small part of their virtuosity. There are several pioneers of the guitar electronic dark arts here, but also some more traditional players whose sum experience is distilled down to a quite wonderful tone and dynamic and fluid playing style. This is far from a 10 best ever kind of list, these are simply the guys who make me want to pick up a guitar time and time again ...
Key Guitars - The Red Special | 1967 Fender Esquire (out of production)
Responsible for the most sold Greatest Hits compilation of all time (Volume 1) certainly in the UK. Brian May should be applauded also for making his own guitar at such an early stage / age - the Red Special - featuring some ingenious phase switching too. The fact that this same home-made guitar has been essential to the Queen sound all these years is testament to the man’s genius. Everyone knows the solos on Bohemian Rhapsody and Killer Queen - beautiful ringing, singing harmonics - a sound and playing style which will forever live in the rock’n’roll hall of fame.
Carlos has drifted in and out of my consciousness for the best part of 30 years - from his early classics Samba Pa Ti and Black Magic Woman to his renaissance in the late 90’s - including another long-time favourite - Maria Maria. He’s carried his buttery smooth sound with him across from earlier Les Pauls, to now mainstay Classic PRS guitar. For all those naysayers who say PRS does not have its own sound - well this is it! - the last 30 or so years of Santana. All this was also instrumental in my choosing a PRS as my comeback guitar!
A mainstay of the 80’s - fast fluid legato playing - Jump, Dreams, Eruption and of course Beat It - all featured amazing EVH solos. One of the early linchpins of the shred movement, Eddie was capable of a lot more varied playing. Another one of those pioneers of electronics - logging several patents along the way - including the ingenious D-Tuna device for quick switching to drop-d tuning. After Ian Crichton’s legato solos, Beat It was next in line for the kind of thing I wanted to be able to master.
Saga’s ’In Transit’ live album was the first album I had on almost constant rotation for more than a year (near enough 2 solid years I think). This 1982 album is still one of my favourites to date, and easily one of the most played throughout my lifetime. It collects the best off Saga’s first 4 albums - every track is killer here - there are only 9. In particular Humble Stance, Wind Him Up and On The Loose - which all feature Ian’s amazingly fast and fluid legato playing. This is what originally got me into guitar - what actually motivated me to go out and want to learn so I could try to do the same. This is one of the most underrated live bands of all time, a shame that so many people don’t know of their existence. Even more amazing is that Ian’s tone is achieved without any pedals or effects - it’s all guitar and amp! (Diezel Herbert Amp)
Key Guitars - 1964 White Fender Stratocaster (Rosewood fretboard) (out of production) | 1968 Cream Fender Stratocaster (Maple fretboard)
Any modern guitarist owes a debt to one Johnny Allen Hendrix (AKA James Marshall Hendrix) - the pioneer of modern guitar stagecraft. You can see the parallels with Prince, and with pretty much anyone who rocks an attitude on stage. Jimi kind of laid down the marker on what was possible - combining exceptional virtuosity with killer stage-craft. It’s the reason why Stratocasters are still so popular - you have two Jimmy’s in effect as the figureheads of Rock - Hendrix for Fender, and Page for Gibson. Jimi set the bar for on-stage swagger which I guess only Prince has managed to equal - although even Prince could not play guitar with quite so many different body parts as Jimi. Purple Haze, Foxy Lady, All Along the Watchtower, Crosstown Traffic and Voodoo Child all seminal rock guitar classics. You can certainly see quite a significant Jimi influence in how Prince performs:
Key Guitars - 1961 Fender Stratocaster (out of production) | 1983 Gibson Les Paul Standard
I remember when older brother Petur first acquired the ’Love Over Gold’ album and how we would blast it down the bedroom corridor of the house - it sounded amazing - punchy and atmospheric. Mark Knopfler is often somewhat unfairly sidelined when people discuss the all-time guitar greats - but anyone who has watched the Alchemy Live performance of Sultans of Swing (below) cannot help but be swayed. For all those who decry the band as somewhat pedestrian - just check out this performance, how tight it is, and how amazing all the band members are - everyone of them at the top of their game, amazing drums (Terry Williams), bass, keys, rhythm and lead guitar; superb dynamics too - this really is the benchmark for drive-time rock!:
I was most definitely not one of those overly opinionated souls who wrote Muse off as Radiohead copyists - let’s face it - everyone riffs off everyone - that’s often the catalyst to song-writing. Muse now straddles all manner of influences including prog rock and even Queen. The dynamic threesome are all virtuosos in their own right, none more so than frontman Matt Bellamy - whose experimental futurism is up there with the best of them, and who is probably the best-known purveyor of enhanced midi-electronics - for instance the Kaos Pad on the seminal MB-1. Like many of his peers and forebears, Matt is classically trained and you can hear classic scale structures in the mechanics of many Muse Songs - of course I love the super dynamic and riffy ones - Plug In Baby, New Born, Butterflies and Hurricanes etc.
Prince has been a huge musical influence on my life, none stronger in the 80’s and early 90’s. His very untimely passing this year was the final catalyst and motivation to get back into guitar. Prince was ever the pioneer and sound-sculptor, experimenting with new tones and textures, and quite the pedals and fx aficionado. He created many a fantastic soundscape and the guitar was his main virtuoso instrument, over all the other 26 he played. The clip on this occasion is his amazing solo at the George Harrison Hall of Fame In Memoriam Event - it is doubly special as he plays his all-time favourite guitar, the soaring T-style H.S. Anderson Mad Cat, which was with him for most of his career (Prince solo starts at around 3:25):
A classically-inflected virtuoso guitarist whose influence was immense considering how short his professional career lasted before he was taken out in a ridiculously untimely never-supposed-to-happen plane crash. Every metal player of note owes a debt to the amazingly precise, fast, fluid riffs and legato playing. There are lots of fast shredders out there, but although many have superb technique, very few match the musicality of Randy. All you need to hear is two songs - Crazy Train and Mr Crowley - and RR totally overshadows the whole band including legendary figurehead Ozzy Osbourne. This definitely put Ozzy back on the map following his exile from Sabbath, and it was largely to do with this young player from Santa Monica - Ozzy seems to have a knack of ending up with amazing guitar players in his various bands.
Another key teenage obsession - messrs William Broad and Steven Schneider - White Wedding, Rebel Yell, Flesh for Fantasy, Eyes without a Face, Don’t Need a Gun etc. some amazing riffs along the way and Steve is far more adept and versatile than most give him credit for - he is such an essential part of the Billy Idol sound, and he makes sounds you would never credit him for had you not seen this video! I’ve selected a Rig Rundown video as it’s really quite rare for such a well-known artist to take you through their whole setup - the really interesting bits start just before the 23 minute mark - where Steve shows how he creates some of those signature sounds with his pedal board and no less than 12 guitars which make up the rig - as well as a toy ray-gun. The first couple of albums in particular were inspired and contained some truly classic pop-rock moments.