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Guitar gods, part two

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Dave von Falkenstein
June 28, 2012

This is the second of a three-part series between Shawn Sensiba, Dave von Falkenstein and Andy Beaumont on their favorite guitarists and what makes them great.

Click here to read part one.

Click here to read part three.

What makes a rock guitarist great? If you had asked me that question 15 years ago, I would have said speed. Now that I'm a little older (and maybe a little wiser) I don't think that is necessarily true. What makes a rock guitarist great in my opinion is the ability to play what a song calls for. If that happens to be 35 notes in two measures, so be it. If it happens to be 2 notes in 35 measures, let it ride.

I can certainly appreciate guitarists with speed metal agility, but I've spent more time in the last few years listening to guitarists who subscribe to the "less is more" philosophy. It's the "notes are expensive" frame of mind, and you don't want to spend too many of them. Maybe that's because in my nearly 20 years of playing guitar, I was just never that good at playing fast.

In any case, here are my top 10 guitarists:

    10. Eric Clapton—Although I find most of Clapton's music to be kind of dull, nobody can argue that Slowhand doesn't have that "feel" that any good guitarist pines for. And any guitarist who can transition so easily from rock to blues needs to be recognized. He also has played some of the most recognizable guitar riffs in history with "White Room," "Sunshine of Your Love" and "Layla."
    9. Kirk Hammett—Some of the first songs my friend Steve taught me to play on guitar were Metallica songs. I've always loved the way that Hammett and lead singer James Hetfield played their guitar parts off one another in such songs as "The Four Horsemen" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls." Hammett's solo in "The Unforgiven" might be one of the most perfect rock/metal guitar solos ever recorded.
    8. Eddie Van Halen—I first saw Van Halen live when I was 16, and my head just about exploded. Sure, I'd heard Van Halen songs and knew all about Eddie, but after seeing them live, I made it a point to buy every Van Halen tablature book I could and try to learn every lick. I even had Eddie's trademark 120-watt Peavey 5150 half-stack amplifier as well as a watermelon green replica of his mid-'90s Ernie Ball Music Man guitar. My favorite song guitar-wise was always "Mean Street," which just has a killer riff.
    7. Dan Auerbach—The Black Keys lead singer/guitarist is a new addition for me. After seeing them in Milwaukee last month, I've been trying to learn some of their songs on guitar. With a heavy blues influence, it's all about sounding effortless, and Auerbach does that perfectly. It's just fun music to listen to and play. "Little Black Submarines" is my favorite at the moment. Starting out on acoustic guitar and then kicking in with a heavily distorted riff in the middle of the song, it's just about perfect.
    6. Jack White—Simple. That's the best way to sum up the guitar in just about all Jack White's music, especially in The White Stripes. But simplicity is sometimes all you need, especially with only two people in the band. I believe White is at his best when he plays the ass-kicking rock music The White Stripes did so well, but you can't ignore his contributions to bands like The Raconteurs or The Dead Weather, among others. Still, the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" is a good example of simplicity that works.
    5. David Gilmour—Certainly an example of a "less is more" guitarist. One of the reasons I bought a Fender Stratocaster was to try and emulate Gilmour's sound. In just about every Pink Floyd song, his guitar playing makes the song whole. It also helps you overlook Roger Waters' usual less-than-stellar vocal performances. My favorite is the solo in "Comfortably Numb" which just begs to played at high volume.
    4. Stevie Ray Vaughan—What you can say about Stevie Ray? If he hadn't died in that Alpine Valley helicopter crash in 1990, it's amazing to think where he would have gone from where he was. Certainly one of the best guitarists of all time, the guy just made it look so incredibly easy. "Pride & Joy" is a great example of how to play a really difficult riff and make it look so easy. What a tremendous talent.
    3. Jimi Hendrix—As I type Hendrix's name, I hear the opening notes of "Purple Haze" in my head. It seems that just about every rock guitarist that has come up since Hendrix's debut in the mid-'60s lists him as an influence. And just try to play a guitar upside down and left handed! To me, it doesn't get any better than the wah-wah intro of "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)."
    2. The Edge—Again, less is more. I've always loved the way U2's The Edge bases a lot of his parts on the sounds he hears in his head. He's a true scientist of the guitar. I remember first hearing "Where the Streets Have No Name" and trying to figure out how in the hell he was playing all of those notes. Then somebody pointed out he was using something called delay, so naturally I had to go get a delay pedal and become a student. The Edge is the reason I started playing guitar when I was 14 and I've gotten pretty good at emulating his sound. The live version of "Bullet the Blue Sky" is still my favorite solo, both to listen to and play.
    1. Jimmy Page—I don't think anyone would argue that Led Zeppelin had innumerable great songs encompassing great guitar solos. Who else has a song like "Stairway to Heaven" that is basically a rite of passage for everybody who ever picks up a guitar? I've always said that when it comes to that song, you can learn how to play it, but you'll never be able to play it. Page just has that "feel" and the guitar solo in Stairway is the best example of that. More importantly, the opening riffs in "Rock & Roll" and "Whole Lotta Love" are, to me, the reason people play guitar.

Click here to read part one.

Click here to read part three.



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