Oh no he di’n’t.

I put my foot into it, I guess.

Several days ago I insinuated to Laura that there may be better guitarists than Eddie Van Halen. Even though, as I told her, I agree with the article I read years ago that said that every guitarist since 1978 probably owes Eddie a royalty check. Of all the guitarists I’ve ever actually seen play with my own two eyes, EVH is the best. Without question. And he’s still right up near the top when people discuss the “best ever.”

But then Laura challenged me to explain who was better than EVH, and why.

Duh. It’s Skwisgaar Skwigelf. We all know that; just watch his “Advanced Fast Hand Finger Wizard Master Class” video and learn how to play the solo to the “Duncan Hills Coffee Jingle.” (Apologies, I think they goofed the video quality to post it online. When it focuses on his hands the video is fine, but when it pulls back to show his whole body it’s really jerky. The original video is an easter egg on Disc 1 of the Metalocalpyse: Season 1 DVD. If you’ve ever actually watched a guitar instructional video, this will have you urinating on yourself.)

Okay, seriously then. Well, “best guitarist” is completely and radically subjective. I’ll acknowledge that my own favorite guitarist changes from week to week. There are so many to choose from.

He’s not my favorite, but most discussions of “best guitarist” include Steve Vai. What I like best about Steve (aside from his phenomenal technique) is his cornball sense of humor and how he works it into his music. Very much like a young EVH, there. For the Love of God is not my favorite Vai tune, but this is an excellent performance.

Acoustic virtuoso Adrian Legg is amazing. Watch him during this video: attacking the strings, but his face remains as placid as a monk at meditation. Transcendent.

And then there are the classical guitarists like the Maestro himself, Andres Segovia, who are in an entirely different league.

But for myself, I’ve always said my (absolutely unattainable) goal would be for my own playing to be a blend of five guitarists that I dearly admire.

The first is the man that made me want to pick up a guitar: the late, great Randy Rhoads, guitarist for Ozzy’s first two solo albums. Randy and Van Halen were working the same Southern California scene at the same time, as Randy formed Quiet Riot and Eddie formed Van Halen. They are often compared to each other, but each has his own style. Personally, I love the classical elements of Randy’s work in songs like “Mr. Crowley” and “Diary of a Madman.” But here’s his best-known work, “Crazy Train.” Oh, and Ozzy? I love ya, man, but drugs are bad, mmmkay?

Next is another late great: the immortal Stevie Ray Vaughan. I’ve never seen someone attack a fretboard with such fire. The first time I ever saw a video of him playing (the El Mocambo set), I literally sat there with my mouth hanging open for at least half an hour. Astounding. Here’s one of my favorite SRV tunes, a cover of Buddy Guy’s “Leave My Little Girl Alone.”

On the other side of the coin, I’m a heavy metal guy, and I love playing heavy metal guitar. There is one guy that really inspires me above and beyond all others in that regard, and that’s the late Dimebag Darrell Abbott. His solos are great, but it’s the rhythm, technique, groove, and aggression of his rhythm parts that really blow my mind. Ignore the video, minimize the window, and listen to at least the first 1:30 of “Regular People (Conceit).”

But hey, there are a few LIVING guitarists that I admire. There’s the master himself, Joe Satriani. His technical prowess is astounding, but he can also play with feeling. Anyone who ever picks up an electric guitar should see him play “Rubina.” I can never hear this song enough.

I don’t know about “best,” but if I could pick one guitarist to sound like, it would be Eric Johnson. There’s not an angry note in any of his recorded work, but I still fall all over myself every time I hear him. I heard his song “Trademark” on the way in to work this morning and still marvel at the solo (starting at 3:23) just like I did when I first heard it in 1991. While the entire song is not as solid as “Trademark,” the solo for “Lonely in the Night” is my favorite guitar solo of all time. Ever.

So, while I don’t know “best” from a hole in the wall, I know what I like. And those five guys are tops in my list.

Let the debate begin.

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4 Responses

  1. What about Carlos Santana? Or Jimmy Page? Otherwise, all the examples you posit are very persuasive… but not persuasive enough. I still think EVH is the best. You forget, my friend, to include the “crush factor”. Yeah, EVH is not much to look at NOW, but back in the day… ::drool:: Plus, I wholeheartedly agree about the Lonely is the Night thing. A guitarist has got to get points for recognizability – when you hear the first few licks and go, “AWWW YEAH.”

  2. Or rather, Lonely IN the Night. Whatever. I know how to type good.

  3. Yep, Santana is awesome. I LOVE the tone he gets. Clapton is another one that I didn’t mention, but of all the guitarists that are NOT named Stevie Ray, he is my favorite to actually watch playing. Just watching his hands move is mesmerizing.

    Page, oh, I love me some Jimmy Page. We were actually debating LZ on one of my bulletin board hangouts not too long ago, and I said that the thing I liked most about Zep is that they played everything. An 8-song album probably contained bits of at least 3 distinct genres. Nowadays your record company would NEVER let you get away with that, unless you’re Radiohead and can basically tell your label to kiss your ass. (My favorite Zep tune is “Achilles’ Last Stand,” which at my peak axe-slinging state as an undergrad I could begin to play in bits and pieces.)

    I’ll have to give you the crush factor. I got nothin’ there. Not even Lita Ford.

  4. I’m not getting into the debate because I’m not all that knowledgeable about who plays what and how well in music. I just listen to whatever sounds good to me at the moment.

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