For the latest in an occasional series on I Heart Guitar I’ve asked super-talented San Francisco luthier Kate Hunter to list her five favourite guitarists. If you happen to follow Kate on Twitter you’ll know she has rather varied tastes in guitarists as well as in guitar design, and her list certainly reflects that! So without further ado, here’s Kate’s list. Enjoy!
So, When Peter suggested I do this list I responded with “Oh, I am ALL over it!” and then proceeded to spend the rest of my day and following night fretting my guts out. All the people I was going to have to leave off the list! It suddenly felt as if Yngwie Malmsteen was going to furiously barge in, shriek “How DARE you!” and crack a scallop-necked rain of tonal pain over me for my insolence, then float off on an angry neoclassical hairspray cloud back to Sweden.
I know everyone else has already whined about this in their lists but picking a top five is unfathomably hard. My top five changes on a whim from week to week because of the sheer amount of incredible choice one has as a guitar fan. I have old favorites that would never stand up to others on a technical level. But in a lot of cases, being the best guitar player in the room sometimes isn’t just about sheer technical skill. My best-of list is comprised of musicians who have a lot of personality, they’re on it for the feelings they inspire in others, and, of course, how they play that guitar.
Obviously these five are all deserving but I’m thinking there must be a way of subliminally Robert Fripp-ing the intro so no one will even Jeff Beck what I’ve Tosin Abasi?
Anyway, here’s my list. I hope you guys Guthrie Govan it. Oh, and Steve Vai.
1. Paco De Lucia
Paco is the king. I remember in my mid teens I had the opportunity to go build a guitar at this master Luthier’s shop and there were about six other people all working to a tight schedule. The whole shop stopped for a second when one of the other builders found a picture of Paco from the 70’s in a guitar book. I remember us all crowding around looking and finally one guy saying “That’s the coolest guy ever” and it’s true. I mean, if you’re not stupid-impressed with the man’s technique and speed of transition between picados and rasgueos then you’re just lying to yourself and everyone around you and get off our Paco cloud, bro.
Entre Dos Aguas
2. Brian May
It’s easy to get caught up in the Freddie Mercury-ness of Queen, and rightly so. Freddie was a consummate showman, talented composer and you know, he’s Freddie! But look a little further down the line and you’ll realize just how talented Dr. May is. Rocket Scientist (no, really) and savior of badgers everywhere, May has the kind of quiet genius that made Queen’s music come alive. His grandiose guitar orchestrations were essential to Queen’s sound and brought a lot of the pomp and drama musically which Freddie could play off of. On a personal note, he’s one of the big reasons I became interested in building guitars. As a youngster I didn’t realize it was possible to do it yourself until I heard about the Red Special. A guitar made for
on-purpose feedback. . . and the body came from a fireplace. It’s pretty impressive. May’s influence spreads far, and and there’s not many guitarists I see that haven’t taken a little something from Brian. (Oh yeah Brendon Small, I am looking directly at you.)
Love of my Life
3. Django Reinhardt
I’m sure I don’t need to go into depth about how incredible this guy was. The Roma Gypsy Jazz man is without a doubt one of the most important guitarists of all time, but the reason he’s on my list is because I am always amazed at how he overcame physical problems to be the musician he was. Django lost the use of the third and fourth fingers on his left hand when they got paralyzed after an injury in a fire at the age of eighteen. Instead of giving up, he created a completely new technique for playing Jazz guitar. That’s right, Django takes everyone to school in the “quit bitching and just do it” category. Every time you feel like getting frustrated with your own playing just remember: Django did it and he only had three working fingers so you keep at it, Sunshine! Bonus points for Reinhardt’s version of “La Mer” (or “Beyond the Sea” as all you Bobby Darrin fans call it, I think) being one of the main songs used for the Aquatic dystopian nightmare that was the original Bioshock videogame.
4. Devin Townsend
“I am the greatest guitar player ever to have lived!” cries Ziltoid the Omniscient, and there is a grain of truth in there. Ok, maybe not EVER but Ziltoid’s puppet master Devin is a fantastic musician. I could wax fan-girl creepy poetical about Hevy Devy. But to say you’re a Devin Townsend fan only for his prowess on guitar would be missing the bigger picture. Devin is just a talented guy. From the heavy, heavy Strapping Young Lad days to Ziltoid, to Epicloud and beyond he manages to create music that is complex and meaningful.His solos fit with the work so well it’s never “whoa that’s a big solo” it’s always “why am I crying rainbows and riding a unicorn of sonic happiness?” and he does it all whilst singing like a goddamn angel. I mean, the guy is unbelievable. And he’s right, everyone rips off Meshuggah.
Ziltoid VS Devin Guitar duel
5. Paul Gilbert
Were you a young aspiring guitarist in the flurry of guitar instructional videos of the early 90’s? Then you know why Paul Gilbert is on this list. He’s an unbelievable guitarist and a fantastic teacher. That’s a big deal; there are people that can play like God in a Jimi Hendrix cover band but in a guitar lesson setting have the personality that probably makes small children cry. (I hear Yngwie at the door again…) Don’t make kids cry, guys. Not cool. He also wore a sombrero/poncho combo complete with fringed guitar for the first minutes of the intensive rock volume 2 tape, so. . . There’s that. Gilbert is one of the technical brilliants on my list because he couples it with amazing attitude and humor.
Got My Mojo Workin’
Down to Mexico