Learning to play the guitar can be extremely rewarding. There is nothing else that is quite like the feeling of satisfaction that comes from finally mastering the difficult piece that you have worked on for weeks…or sometimes months. However, learning to play can often be frustrating too. Although the guitar can offer unlimited possibilities for individual musical expression to anyone with the time and patience seek them out, it is a very complex instrument, requiring years of diligent practice to master.
Having grown up in the company of musicians, I quite naturally fell in love with the guitar. I have always been amazed by people who play well, tackling difficult melodies and complicated chord progressions with apparent ease. Being a player myself, I have studied the work of many of today’s well known players. Most of my personal favorites are in the field of rock music, but no matter what style of music one chooses to play, true talent always finds its way to the top of the mountain.
With so many talented players out there, and given the fact that I love each of my favorite players for a different reason, it would be next to impossible for me to choose one single player to be designated as the best of all time. So, with that in mind, I would like to tell you about a few of my favorite players. Below, you will find my top five choices for the greatest guitar player of all time.
As far as I am concerned, any discussion on the subject of rock guitar must begin with Jimi Hendrix. James Marshall Hendrix was born in Seattle Washington on November 27, 1942. He was a true innovator, who took the art of guitar playing to new heights. Through the use of feedback, distortion, and numerous other sound effects, he explored sonic territory that had been previously uncharted. Hendrix often had to invent new technologies to help him create the sounds he heard in his imagination. Guitarists of today owe him a vote of thanks for creating many of the sound effects that are in standard use today.
Jimi received his first electric guitar at the age of eleven, as a gift from his father. He was very much influenced by the blues players of the time, which he discovered by listening to the records in his father’s collection. He learned to play by slowly trying to copy these records. By the time he reached his teens, his skill as a guitarist had earned him quite a reputation, and he began to work as a back-up guitarist for many of the popular acts of the 1960s, such as Little Richard, The Isley Brothers, and The Ike & Tina Turner Revue.
After a brief stint in the army, Jimi returned to his music in 1965, forming his own band, called Jimmy James & The Blue Flames. He moved the band to New York’s Greenwich Village, and began playing clubs in the area. Chas Chandler, bass player for The Animals, happened to catch one of the shows, and invited Hendrix to London. This was where he formed The Jimi Hendrix Experience, who released their first single, “Hey Joe,” in December 1966. Within weeks it was in the top of the singles charts, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience was the talk of London.
Jimi’s recording career, although brief (it only spanned four years, from 1966 to 1970), was very productive. He went on to record a total of four albums: Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold As Love, Electric Ladyland, and finally, Band Of Gypsys. He also gave several electrifying performances in that brief time, including the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and Woodstock in 1969. Sadly, however, Jimi passed away in London on Thursday, September 18, 1970. The cause of death was an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.
The next major figure in my development as a guitarist was Randy Rhoads, who was born on December 6, 1956, in Santa Monica, California. He started playing at the age of seven on a Gibson classical acoustic, given to him by his grandfather. In a very short time, it became obvious that young Randy had a rare gift for the instrument. He practiced relentlessly, embracing a wide range of styles. Classical music became a particular interest to him. His goal was to combine the classical style with the rock music that he loved.
In his early teens, he formed a couple of short-lived groups before he finally formed the band through which he would become known. That band was Quiet Riot, and Randy was seventeen. Although the band was very popular in the Los Angeles area, often playing the biggest clubs of the day, such as The Starwood, and The Whiskey A Go-Go, all efforts to secure a record contract in the United States failed. They were finally signed to a Japanese record label, for which they recorded two albums.
In 1979, however, he decided to leave Quiet Riot when former Black Sabbath front man Ozzy Osbourne called him to audition for his new group. Rhoads auditioned, got the gig, and was off to write and record the music that would become the group’s first album “Blizzard Of Ozz.” He recorded only one more album before his life was tragically cut short at the age of 25. While on the road with the band, Rhoads died in a plane crash in Orlando Florida on March 19, 1982.
The next player to have a real impact on me was Yngwie J. Malmsteen. Born on June 30, 1963, in Stockholm Sweden, Malmsteen is considered by many to be the first true virtuoso in rock music. In a way, Malmsteen is connected to both of the players that I have discussed above. He was inspired to take up the guitar after seeing a news report on the death of Jimi Hendrix. In fact, he began playing at the age of seven, on the very day that Hendrix died.
Just like Randy Rhoads, Malmsteen is a classically trained guitarist, who incorporates those techniques into his music. What Randy Rhoads had begun, Yngwie Malmsteen brought to fruition. His first solo recording, released in 1983 and titled “Rising Force,” was a mostly instrumental recording. It raised the bar for guitar excellence by several impressive notches, setting the standard by which all other players of the genre were measured.
Next on my list would be Joe Satriani.The level of this man’s talent is simply staggering! I will never forget the first time I ever heard Joe; all I could do was stare at my speakers with my jaw hanging open in stunned disbelief! Yes…he’s that good. Born in New York on July 15, 1956, Joe picked up the guitar at fourteen. He began by studying jazz and music theory in 1974, and quickly became a very proficient player. By 1978 he had moved to Berkeley, California to pursue a professional career. In a very short time he was teaching guitar. Many of his students went on to become well known players themselves. Some of Joe’s famous students include: Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Steve Vai, Alex Skolnick (Testament), Kevin Cadogan (Third Eye Blind), and David Bryson (Counting Crows).
Last but not least, I must also include Mr. Sartiani’s most outstanding pupil. Steve Vai came into the world on June 6, 1960. Steve is one of those very rare players whose level of technical skill on the instrument is matched only by a small handful others. His limitless creativity has shattered all previous notions of what electric guitar playing could be, broadening the possibilities of the instrument more than any other player before or since!
After taking lessons from Joe Satriani, Vai attended The Berkeley College Of Music. He began his professional career as a music transcriptionist for Frank Zappa. By 1980, however, he had graduated to touring and recording with the music legend, remaining with him for four years. He then began his solo career in 1984, and went on to release 13 solo albums. Along the way, he has also performed with many other bands, including Alcatrazz, Whitesnake, and David Lee Roth.
For me, Vai’s masterpiece would have to be his 1990 album entitled “Passion And Warfare.” The album is filled with complex musical statements, and lush guitar harmonies. In my opinion, it is nothing short of brilliant!
Well, there they are, my picks for the greatest guitar player. I would highly recommend their music to anyone interested in the guitar.