Written by Adam Brown
he interweb tubes are stuffed with lists heralding the high fallutin’ achievements of all those “greatest of all time” type guitar players that the mainstream media throw in your face everyday. Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Kirk Hammett, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Tom Morrello, Slash…they’ve all done some pretty impressive stuff. But you know what? They aren’t the only people that play the damn guitar. In fact, there are several artists who, on any given night, can burn any given venue to the GROUND using nothing more then their guitar shredding abilities. For example…
7. John Mayer (Live)
Hey, you know what’s fun to do? Make fun of John Mayer. What a tool, right! I mean, he’s got that dorky blog that everyone likes and that killer sense of humor and he’s bedded all those hot chicks and he kicks ass on guitar and…wait. What the hell is going on here? Is John Mayer secretly awesome? While some signs point to a definitive “No” (looking at you, “Your Body Is a Wonderland”), there are even more signs that point to a solid “Maybe?”
One thing that isn’t open for debate is this… John Mayer can play the damn guitar. His songs don’t go to any great lengths to show it, but it’s the truth. YouTube is littered with videos just like the one below if you don’t believe me.
6. Kurt Cobain on “The Priest They Called Him”
Kurt Cobain did more with noise, mistakes and catastrophe than most guitarists could with years of training and flawless playing. He once said something along the lines of “I could never play like Segovia, but Segovia could never play like me either.” It’s debatable whether Segovia would have wanted to play the guitar like Kurt Cobain, really. But thank God someone wanted to. Without the noise filled intro of “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” or the perfectly-out-of-tune strumming of “Polly” and “Something In the Way,” the world would be a much lesser place.
If Kurt ever embarked on a “tour-de-force” of guitar work, it would be on “The Priest They Called Him,” a William Burroughs’ spoken word piece that featured Cobain on guitar. To hear it, check out the video below. Or, if the mood strikes, seek out a copy of the ridiculously cool 10″ picture disc release that features etchings of Burroughs’ and Cobain’s signatures. It’s cheaper than you think.
5. Jonny Greenwood on ‘Go To Sleep’ (Live)
With their penchant for experimentation, it’s easy to forget that at their most basic, Radiohead is a great guitar rock band. But where a lesser person could find themselves disappointed with their primary instrument’s diminished role in their band’s music, Greenwood rolls with the punches. And by “roll with the punches” I mean he “plays” a portable radio onstage.
But it’s not all theremins and didgeridoos for Jonny Greenwood. When it comes time to rock, he’s as good as it gets. Employing a Max/MSP patch based guitar setup, Jonny strangles enthralling guitar sounds out of a simple Telecaster every bit as well as the much more heralded Tom Morello. And his lead singer is far less annoying. Kind of. Anyway, to see Jonny Greenwood tear shit down, check the solo at the end of the video below.
4. John Frusciante with Red Hot Chili Peppers (Live)
Maybe you can chalk it up to this past history of off stage shenanigans, including once recording a solo album mainly as a means to score drug money, but for some reason John Frusciante’s name rarely comes up when the best guitar players of today are discussed.
Maybe it’s just because the Chili Pepper’s songs don’t really extend into jamtastic solo territory on record, lest they ease up on Anthony Kiedis’ “wang dang dong ding dong” stream of consciousness rambling. Whatever the case may be, John Frusciante deserves more credit than he receives.
3. Lindsey Buckingham on ‘Big Love’
How proficient is Lindsey Buckingham on guitar? Consider this. When he bolted Fleetwood Mac on the eve of a world tour, they hired TWO people to replace him. Now compare that to your current station in life. If the majority of us left our day jobs, it’s debatable whether they would even bother replacing our shiftless asses at all. But Lindsey Buckingham? It took two mortal men to carry the axe load of this one unsung rock guitar giant.
Choosing a solo acoustic version of a famous Mac song to demonstrate his unheralded guitar abilities may seem like an odd choice. But on this tune, Lindsey leaves no doubt as to why it took a village to replace him.
2. Neil Young on ‘Keep on Rockin’ The Free World’ (w/ Bruce Springsteen)
No guitar player on Earth can possibly sound exactly like Neil Young. That’s a big claim, but in his case, it’s true. You see, there are a lot of great players out there who use a certain guitar/amp/effects set up with the knobs tweaked to precise positions and, if you can find the info, you can copy them. You may not have the same rhythm or timing or luxurious crotch bulge, but you can have their tone.
Not so with Neil Young. When you see him stomp on that big ass red contraption that sleeps at his feet during every show, understand this, he built that bitch! He wired the circuits, he fashioned the metal casing, he probably sploshed the red paint on it, he did it all. And the sound he gets from it is unspeakably unique. In the video below, it takes about three minutes for Neil Young to steal the show and turn this duet with Bruce Springsteen from 2004’s “Vote For Change Tour” into a Neil Young guitar party. If you can’t wait that long for the magic to happen, the terrorists have already won.
1. Prince on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (Live George Harrison Tribute)
Prince is the greatest guitar player on Earth. There. I said it. I’ve probably shed a good six years off my lifespan arguing that point with various strangers and associates. It’s just a personal opinion, and it’s fine if you disagree. I expect that. What else am I going to do while I’m drunk if I’m not arguing about music? You may not agree that Prince is THE greatest six string assassin walking the streets today, but if you know anything about the guitar, you at least know he deserves to have his name mentioned amongst the best. Top five, top twenty, top fifty, whatever. He gets a spot.
That’s how I feel anyway. Rolling Stone, apparently, does not. And they said so when they released their list of the top 100 guitar players of all time just weeks before both Prince and Rolling Stone Magazine founder Jann Wenner were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In their opinion, Prince wasn’t even in the top 100.
Is there any proof that Prince’s molten-hot solo on that hall of fame induction night’s all-star jam performance of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” had anything to do with him being snubbed from that list? No. But come on now, this is Prince. He doesn’t just show up for no reason. Until it came time to destroy the stage with that solo, most people didn’t even know Prince was onstage at all. On this night, Prince was on a mission.