by Martin Graw [Guest blogger]
Check out my picks for some of the most gifted guitarists to ever shred the six string. Keep in mind this isn't necessarily an endorsement of their bands, lyrical content, any life choices good or bad - it's simply an appreciation for their raw musical gift and God-given talent on their instruments that have enriched guitar history.
Joe (Satch) Satriani
With his first two solo albums entitled “Not of this Earth” & “Surfing with the Alien” - and then add in his shiny bald head, dark sunglasses, and a solid chrome guitar - this guy is either from the future or another galaxy for sure!
While the guitarists on our list are in no special ranked order, we've got Joe in the unofficial first spot simply because he has attained an amazing feat: he has more than one Top-40 hit song that is entirely instrumental! It's one thing to write a hit song, to do it without a singer or lyrics is a feat not of this earth.
Legend has it that Joe walked off the football field mid-practice, after hearing from a teammate that Jimi Hendrix had just died. He told his coach that he had to quit the team so he could learn to play the guitar.
Joe was formally trained as a jazz musician and can perfectly transcribe almost any song even if he has just heard it for the first time. For most of his early career he made a living from teaching the guitar and session work.
His ability to transform almost anyone into a successful recording artist is unrivaled, and would have likely made even King Midas jealous. Even stranger is the fact that out of the dozen plus professional guitarists that he taught, each one pretty much has their own sound and playing style instead of being clones of one another.
Often compared to Eddie Van Halen, Vito had a sound and a style that nobody could ever quite replicate! He wandered onto the stage from Staten Island, recorded four albums with his band “White Lion”, and then just completely walked away from the music business.
Vito is like a time traveler that slipped through a wormhole, but was then drawn back across the event-horizon less than a decade later. Virtually nothing is honestly known about his life before or after his stint with “White Lion”.
A masterful composer, his guitar solos in the songs “Wait” and “Little Fighter” are maybe the two most perfectly written and executed burst of notes ever put to vinyl. Vito's usual guitar of choice was an (other worldly looking) Newburgh pre-Gibson Steinberger with a headless stock. The futuristic whammy bar doubled as a tuning key-shifter from D to F#. Coincidentally, this technology disappeared into the same blackhole as Vito's virtuosity.
Most famous for his time in the power-ballad band Dokken, he became known as “Mr. Scary”, and recorded a song by the same title on "Back for the Attack".
Because he is virtually self-taught, his sound and style is never mistaken for anyone else. Not knowing most of the “rules” of music, George ended up re-writing them! Blending scales and altering standard chords just came naturally.
Probably the best example I can offer, is when he got paid to make a professional instructional guitar video: They had to bring in a musical theory specialist to explain what the hell you just watched, after he played it! His ability to play far exceeded his knowledge of what he was actually doing.
From the land of schnitzengrubens & sauerkraut, we find (likely) the purest guitarist of them all. 100% completely self-taught, he never learned a single thing about playing the guitar from anyone else! He (even to this day) rarely listens to any music that he didn’t write or wasn’t involved in recording.
He would sneak into Rudolf’s room (his brother, not the reindeer)… after he left for work and play around with his guitar. Rudi ended up paying his little brother Michael to teach him how to play better! Just for the record, Rudolf went on to become a founding member of the band the Scorpions.
Playing his signature Black & White Flying “V” Guitar in his band “UFO”, along with his alien-like ability to master the guitar by osmosis, he has clearly earned his spot on my list.
His guitar playing on the LIVE double album “Strangers in the Night” is often considered to be some of the best Rock Guitar playing ever captured during a live performance. I know that it’s my personal favorite “LIVE” album of all time!
Edward (Eddie) Van Halen
Forced to learn Classical Piano as a child, he performed surprisingly well, even though he couldn’t read a note of the complex music he was being taught. After realizing that his brother Alex could play Eddie’s drum set better than he could, they decided to swap instruments for good. Perfect serendipity!
With his inhuman ability to just learn how to play on his own, he developed a rarely used finger-tapping technique and made it famous! He also customized his guitar and found ways to overdrive his amplifier to create a guitar sound that this planet had never known before!
His red and white striped guitars are arguably some of the most recognized by guitar fans everywhere, and have been coined "the Frankenstrat"or Frankenstein. There is even one of these guitars cataloged at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History!
Eddie single-handedly changed the way people would play the guitar ever again. He raised the bar to a level unknown before him, and put a ton of pressure on every guitarist that wanted to make the cut to join a band.
Top-5 (or Top Anything) Lists are and will always be subjective! Except mine of course? So please don’t be angered by my choices … but instead, take some time and go back and listen to my otherworldly candidates. It will be time well spent! MG
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