Now, before you read the list below, consider the following title. “Favorite Guitarists,” not some Rolling Stone-style worshiping of Rock’s greats (I’m looking at you, Jimmy Page), but a group of people I feel connected to. This is a personal favorite list, something fun to kick off Reviews From the Other Side and to create some discussion between hipsters and metalheads like myself. Funny thought, imagine a room full of those assholes. Don McLean would have to write a new verse to “American Pie.” I can hear everyone groaning just thinking about it.
1. Chuck Schuldiner
I remember first hearing this guy. I was driving — dozing — through Southern Missouri, and if you’d ever driven through that part of hell, you’d understand why I was starting to say “fuck it.” Sick of Ludovico Einaudi’s haunting piano, I decided to spin a new record I recently received, Symbolic, by Death. When I reached the solo of “Empty Words” I had my one and only, out-loud, “God Damn” moment — the only artist to ever make me say that out loud — where every hair on my arms stood up. My eyes widened with sudden catharsis, ignoring the fact that I just ran over a coyote. The blood was a nice touch, I guess. Known for complex song writing, brutal riffs, and basically the creation of Death Metal itself, Schuldiner’s influence reaches into every juncture of progressive heights, sans-wankery. R.I.P. Chuck.
2. David Gilmour
There is a certain emotional pull to Gilmour’s playing style, a grace that both flabbergasts and amazes. Perhaps it’s his minimalistic approach. Perhaps he just plays what the music calls for: a lack of indulgence, something to work towards rather than something to work for. For instance, put on them ear phones and listen to “Echoes,” the epic, highlight track of Meddle. During an instrumental break, Gilmour explores his Strat’s fret board, throwing blues chords, harmonics, and licks towards the listener. The sounds he creates are unique and never detract from the actual piece – which, on another note, displays some of Water’s best work, but that’s beside the point – and shows not only his talent, but his musical awareness. Other Gilmour highlights include: “Comfortably Numb” (obviously), “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Dogs,” “Astronomy Domine,” “Money,” and “High Hopes.”
3. Tony Iommi
Try listening to “Sweet Leaf” by Black Sabbath and not bang your head. It’s amazing to think that metal started by accident, an ironic set of circumstances revolving around the infamous tritone. Iommi’s blues-heavy riffs are iconic and time tested, reaching levels stoner and doom outfits only dream of in their bongs. That’s not to detract either subgenre, of course, but the power of “Sign of the Southern Cross[‘]” main riff alone matches the heaviness of Dopethrone or the plodding of Dopesmoker. After struggling through “Smoke on the Water,” what does every beginner guitar player resort to? That’s right. “Iron man.” Surviving multiple lineups, drug inhibitions, and cancer, Iommi continues to tour with Black Sabbath, shaking the world with licks pulled straight from the pits of hell. Highlights: “Black Sabbath,” “War Pigs,” “Children of the Sea,” “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” “Into the Void.”
4. Jimi Hendrix
Okay, so I didn’t keep my word regarding “not so conventional.” This is now the third well-known, well-documented guitarists spammed across every best-of guitar list on the internet. But, as you’ll witness on future RFTOS posts, I don’t actually give a shit about obscurity, popularity, or any of that Hollywood nonsense. Jimi Hendrix was and is, hands down, the classic definition of the rock n’ roll axeman: master of weird, innovative, powerful guitar licks, unabashed sex appeal, substance aficionado. His fret board sings on “Little Wing,” while “Purple Haze” pulls smoke from young and old lungs with its punchy lead, all the while holding onto that sixties vibe we all know and love. Hell, Jimi produced enough Wah Wah to make Hammett blush. Other lists, however, seem to forget that Hendrix was also an extremely talented songwriter, composing short, but sweet tunes like “Bold As Love” and bombastic blues monsters like “Voodoo Chile” — no, not the one on the radio — with precision and feeling. There wasn’t a lot of wankery from this guy, but when he let loose — wink wink, “National Anthem” — jaws crushed the floor. Highlights: Are You Experienced (whole album), “Spanish Castle Magic,” “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” “All Along the Watchtower.”
5. Dave Mustaine
Guitar, yes! Voice, hell no. Heed these words, ye faithful headbanger, because that’s the case with 80% of heavy music (I’m even looking at you, Power Metal). One more useless opinion before the comments light up, neither Metallica or Megadeth outdo each other musically, and thrash metal is not the pinnacle of heavy music. That aside, Mustaine has one of the fastest hands in metaldom, playing off perfectly with Marty Friedman’s more calculated approach. “Holy Wars,” with its frantic intro, blistering solos, and galloping speed stands as one of the greatest thrashers ever composed. Those first notes are enough to drive the most casual of listeners into a brutal, headbanging, bloodlusting frenzy. Oh wait, that’s a Slayer song, sorry. Also, the main riff of “Tornado of Souls.” Need I say more? Through his first 5 LP’s Killing, Peace Sells, So Far, Rust in Peace, and Countdown to Extinction, Mustaine successfully blended talent, composition, and politics to push the metallic boundaries into thinking territory without abandoning his edge. He’s the biggest, baddest “Fuck You” in show biz. Take that however you want. Highlights: guitar track to every Megadeth song.
6. Jonny Greenwood
Rock fans, are you still with me? I’ll try to write this one without saying ‘metal,’ ‘headbang,’ or ‘metalhead.’
But then Paranoid Android happened, and the coffee shops around the world headbanged like metalheads listening to glorious metal. Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Johnny Greenwood is the mastermind composer behind Radiohead classics such as “Street Spirit (fade out),” “Fake Plastic Trees,” “Karma Police,” “Idioteque,” all tracks driven by emotional guitar chords and climaxing solos. Nineties guitar never witnessed a more chaotic sound. With hints of the Kevin Shields drone and angst surpassing the grunge movement, Greenwood’s command of the fretboard and use of atmosphere placed his name at 48 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. I didn’t want to go there, but Johnny is, by all regards, an underrated artist. Guitar aside, his talents, as exemplified through the 2000’s record, Kid A, revolutionized electronica and rock, and solidified himself as one of the most ambitious musicians to come out of England. Spin The Bends or OK Computer and you’ll, as the hipsters say, “get it.” Highlights: “Let Down,” “The Tourist,” “The Bends,” “Black Star,” “Kid A,” “National Anthem.”
7. Robert Fripp
Progressive rock, what a fickle beast thou are. On one hand, there’s the wankers, which can be separated into two sub genres, so to speak: tasteful and tasteless. Yes, Genesis, Dream Theater, Jethro Tull, Focus, Pain of Salvation, Animals As Leaders. I’ll let you pick and choose which group these bands fall into. Gotta love ambiguity. Back on topic, then there’s just epic prog rock, revolutionary prog rock. And that, my friends, is where Robert Fripp’s King Crimson rests. Like every other prog fan, I remember spinning “20th Century Schizoid Man” for the first time. So much weirdness and unforgettable fretting . I couldn’t stop hitting repeat, never mind moving to the rest of the fantastic Court of the Crimson King. The guitar work alone was euphoric and, accompanied with an atmosphere which — you guessed it — induced paranoia, I was finally attached to progressive music. Then, “Epitaph[‘s]” mellotron struck my soul and I was hitched. Sometimes heavy, other times beautiful, and often sad as hell, Fripp, through the 70’s, assaulted and still assaults listeners with jazz infused glory, adopting substance over abundance. That is rare in prog. Highlights: “Larks” 1 and 2, “Red”, “In the Court of the Crimson King,” “Starless,” any live recording.
8. Michael Akerfeldt
Dynamic playing is a fading art. These days, guitar players are either heavy as hell or, well, not. Michael Akerfeldt — I’ll say took instead of takes because the dynamic side of Opeth changed with the Heritage shift — took the angel/demon approach to Opeth’s compositions. Acoustic passages frequented his barrage of brutal riffage, providing a breath of fresh air when needed most. Take Black Water Park’s title track, for instance. The song perfectly adopts the rage and calm binary and ends with one of the most cathartic climaxes in metaldom. That’s graduate level metal, ladies and gentlemen. Although not virtuostic, as is most progressive metal guitarists claim to fame, Michael Akerfeldt’s axe pummels listeners with creative riffs taken directly from the school of Iommi and Schuldiner, with allusions to Robert Fripp. See what I did there? Highlights: “Bleak,” “The Moor,” “Godhead’s Lament,” “Burden,” “Ghost of Perdition.”
9. Frank Zappa
Perhaps the most under appreciated artist on this list, Zappa added a humorous twist to jazz fused progressive rock during the heyday of the 70’s. Sound wise, think Steely Dan on cocaine. Now, I’m going to go ahead and admit than I’m pretty new to Zappa’s extensive discography, but it only takes a couple listens to acknowledge his command over guitar and genre bending. Jazz heavy…hell, I can’t exactly describe the style of his guitar because it stretches across so many genres: somewhat bluesy, especially weird, spacey licks that make you question the universe. Okay, maybe that was a stretch, but it is an understatement to say he dominated the golden age of progressive rock. Not only a guitar aficionado, Zappa influenced hundreds of artists, from The Beatles (holy shit) to Black Sabbath (unholy shit). Make sure you avoid that yellow snow, folks. Highlights: too many to single out.
10. Devin Townsend
Another comedian/musical genius hybrid. Hailing from the school of Zappa, Devin Townsend is the polar creation of the muse, making listeners scream with the heaviest of heavy in Strapping Young Lad, weep to the epic soundscapes of Devin Townsend, and smile foolishly with the pop metal explorations of The Devin Townsend Band and Devin Townsend Project. The production of 25 albums earned him the title, “metal’s hardest working man.” Townsend’s guitar, although simple, explodes with walls of sound, and I’ve never heard such duality in style. So, call him a great producer — which, he undoubtedly is — but I hold him as one of my favorite guitarists, just for his sound alone. For Technicality, pop in City; for atmosphere, Terria. Either way, you’re in for a treat. Highlights: “All Hail The New Flesh,” “Earth Day,” “Deadhead,” “Deep Peace.”