Tom's top 20 guitarists
No. 20 - Frank Dunnery
A surprise inclusion, but anyone who invents his own guitar (tapboard) has to have some merit. Originally a leading member of the uncategorized band ‘It Bites’ he has produced many solo albums which show a magnificent evolution of style. He is another one who achieves greatness within the context of his songwriting. He is the master of restraint and yet can shred with the best of them. He is astounding in his ability to play complex time signatures and sing at the same time (see live version of ‘Yellow Christian’ as a prime example). Equally amazing is that he can play any of his songs acoustically as well as plugged in.
a great example of virtuoso playing while singing
No. 19 - Mark Verney
Member of the band: ‘Slaves to Gravity’. Not a flash player but very unique and original, both acoustically and electrically. His songwriting is up there with Page, which is why I lap up everything this band produces nowadays. Great solo and riffing in drop D on their single ‘Big Red’.
How about this for some real off the wall soloing?
No. 18- Jimi Hendrix
I know he was the original but some of his songs are very pedestrian and if it wasn’t for his wailing strat some would be throwaway (controversial). I still like his playing though.
Voodoo Chile (Slight return) is probably my favourite - click here.
No. 17 Yngwie J. Malmsteen
Neoclassical, double-picking speed merchant extroadinaire. I’ve got his ‘basic’ guitar tutorial and can play about as far as half-way through the first exercise. Sometimes guilty of over-playing his style is nonetheless exciting. His best work, like Schenker, is produced in tandem with gifted song-writers e.g. Joe-Lynn Turner. Check out ‘Odyssey’ for an album of classics. The only thing which annoys me about him is his insistence on playing nylon classical guitars with a plectrum – it sets my teeth on edge! Notice the 'J' initial in the middle of his name so that you don't confuse him with all the other Yngwie Malmsteen's who are out there!
No. 16 - Vinnie Moore
Solo instrumentalist and now permanent feature of UFO. Vinnie is a worthy successor to Michael Schenker. To me he is a true virtuoso as he can play the most incredible fluid runs, but also show restraint and feeing when necessary. He is also one of those rare guitarists who manages to solo in major scales and still make it sound 'right' - never resorting to blues or pentatonic as an easy way out. I love the tones he gets from his Musicman guitar too. Some great work to be heard on UFO's 'Monkey Puzzle', 'The visitor' and 'You are here' albums.
his take on 'Light's Out'
No. 15 Brian May
Complete with re-constituted fireplace and
sixpence pick, May has an unmistakeable sound. His well constructed
solos set the hairs on end – and he’s no slouch at improvisation either!
He has the ability to produce a melodic wall of sound which perfectly
complements the other members of Queen. His playing has not stood still
over the years (although his hair style has) but his signature runs and
chord progressions are very recognizable. He was one of the first to
really take advantage of layered guitar harmonies. My favourites of his
include ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘We are the Champions’. Here's a track from his solo album 'Into the Light' called 'Resurrection'
No. 14 - Marcus Bonfanti
Not only a great guitarist - but a brilliant singer and songwriter. Nothing too flash here - just the right notes in the right places and with unctions of 'feel' . He is destined for greatness.
No. 13 - John Petrucci
with Dream theater, he can play just about anything! He is able to play
extremely fast but also plays with great restraint. What’s more, he plays with
immense feel. Watching his instructional video he makes you feel you can
accomplish what he suggests – provided you practice at least 8 hours a day!
for a good example
No. 12 - Joe Bonamassa
This guy's playing has grown on me during the last 2 years - particularly from his tenure with Black Country Communion - a truly outstanding band. He combines feel with classic songwriting and great improvisational skills. Like all true greats he has a recognisable signature sound.
No. 11 Steve Morse
Steve has now had a longer serving membership with Deep Purple than Ritchie Blackmore himself. His first album with them was 'Purpendicular' back in 1995 - I would place this in my top 5 purple albums. Before this he was with Dixie Dregs and many solo ventures. His acoustic stuff is also truly amazing - see this
for an example.
No. 10 - John Williams
If ever there was a true great of the nylon-strung then it's this guy. The tone of his guitar and the expression he puts in to everything from Bach to Spanish pieces is truly stunning.
Listen to this
No. 9 - Ted Nugent
Listening to his pre-1980's stuff in recent months has reminded me of what an awesome this guy was and still is. Another example of someone who can think up tasteful licks and runs that are relatively simple to play but sear your ears like sonic bullets. He's also got an awesome stage presence to boot.
Ted is also one of a select group who can make a semi-acoustic Gibson sound and look
good. His Byrdland guitar is a wailing monstrosity – guaranteed to blow the
balls off a charging rhinoceros at 50 paces! Great moment here
during his solo on 'Stranglehold'
No. 8 - Bernie Marsden
Of Whitesnake, M3 and ‘Company of Snakes’ fame. One of my favourite solos of
all time is his re-working of ‘Blindman’ on ‘Ready an’Willing’. He is master of
the blues in my book. The strength of his work was in his partnership with Micky Moody and his exquisite songwriting skills on some classic Whitesnake albums from 'Snakebite' through to 'Saints and Sinners'. Try this for size from the heady 80's - Click here
No. 7 - Michael Schenker
crazy, alcoholic kraut – and he would be the first to admit it. (Who said it
was a fine line between genius and madness). He is one of the few people who
can put the flying V through it’s paces. He always excels when working together
with a good songwriter such as Mogg or Barden. He is another who emulates a
classical, almost Wagnerian style. His hammer-ons and vibrato are perfect, as
evidenced on ‘Rock Bottom’
and ‘Cry for the nations’. My favourite is a lesser-known
MSG track called ‘Looking for love’
No. 6 -Alex Lifeson
underrated. Lifeson is a guitarist who has evolved his style through the years.
Influenced by Page in the early years he quickly ploughed his own furrow with
prog-rock epics and developed a more ‘techno’ style in the eighties. His solos
are original, deceptively easy to play – and yet he thought of them first! I
love his use of alternate time signatures and avante garde approach. Favourites
include ‘Red Barchetta’ and ‘Xanadu’
the Exit Stage Left version of Xanadu
No. 5 - Steve Vai
Highness – the Prince of Darkness, master of the 7-string Ibanez and various
3-necked guitars. Famed for his right-hand hammer-ons, Vai made extensive use
of a harmonizer in his early playing to produce a sound like a guitar
orchestra. Having been a ’hired hand for the likes of Roth and Coverdale he now
concentrates on his solo work and annual jaunts with Joe Satriani in the G3
concerts. If you haven’t seen his latest G3 video I recommend it. You will not
believe his note for note perfection combined with lots of ‘feel’. Particularly
impressive is a section with his band where 3 guitarists and a bass player pick
their own guitar with their right hands and finger the frets on the adjacent
one with amazing dexterity. The only reason he is not placed higher is the fact
that much of his work is instrumental and I prefer the dynamic of a solo in the
context of a vocal sandwich. My favourites of his include ‘For the love of God’
and ‘Blue Powder’ off his ‘Passion and Warfare’ album. Here's
him performing the former with the Holland Metropole Orchestra.
No.4 - Eddie Van Halen
No top 10
would be complete without him. He re-invented guitar-playing in the late 70’s –
and it’s not just the finger-tapping which made him original. Check out his use
of harmonics (standard, false and stopped). He also has a different angle on
solos which brings across a sense of party and fun. One cannot forget his use
of the tremolo as well – earning him the name ‘Eddie Van Wang-Nasty’. Top solos
include ‘Eruption’ and ‘Hot for teacher’, but my favourite isn’t a Van Halen
song but Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat it’ (When first played on Radio 1 the DJ said
it sounded like Mark Knopfler!) Planet Zarg anyone?
No. 3 - Randy Rhoads
occupies such a high place due to his potential. His catalogue is very brief
from Quiet Riot and Ozzy, yet in that short time he carved a niche of
neoclassical playing which is just so satisfying to listen to and to play. A
shame this genius’ time was so short. My favourites include ‘Mr. Crowley’ and
‘Revelation Mother Earth’. Here
he is playing 'Mr Crowley'
No. 2 - Jimmy Page
Blackmore is the Raphael of the axe then Jimmy Page is the Monet. Listening to
his solos note for note he seems to fluff some and miss others, but stand back
and look at the whole picture and you have a masterpiece. I also rate him in
terms of his repertoire and songwriting. He covers such a wide variety of
styles and yet his signature runs stand out as classic Page every time. His use
of alternate tunings is well documented. It is hard to pick out any one song as
better than another, but one that continually forms goose bumps on the spine is
‘Since I’ve been loving you’.
No. 1 - Ritchie Blackmore
man in black tops them all in terms of impeccable technique, style, charisma.
His fat strat riffs and widdles are unmistakable – try out Child in time (Made
in Japan version) and Gates of Babylon just for
tasters. There are times when he plays crap – but you know it is deliberate –
usually because he is in a mood (See his Smoke on the Water solo on ‘California jam’ – he plays most of it on one
note!) Often copied but never equaled. His playing is so fluid and his use of
the tremolo in earlier work is so much better than the fascile downward
wang-work of modern players. His renaissance guitar of the last few years is
not to be dismissed either. As Roger Glover once said of him – ‘When Ritchie
was born, God pointed his finger at him and said -‘You’
he is performing 'Mistreated' with the greatest vocalist of all time - Ronnie James Dio.
Also-rans (in no particular order)
A new addition. Saw him at the Rheged
guitar show 2 years ago. Quite a unique style. He has a piezo pickup but
also another internal microphone which allows his slapping technique to
resonate. Hearing him play is like listening to a one man band. He
alternates intricate playing with rhythmic slapping and tapping of the
guitar. Alternative tunings abound. Check out this video on:
There are many left habded guitarists, but only one who keeps the
strings in the same order as the right-handed version i.e. he plays it
upside down! He also plays within the context of a killer metal group
for a prime example
and briefly ....
He looks weird but he's a great virtuoso and a brilliant tutor. Playing two guitars at once anyone? Click here
and be amazed!
Vinnie Vincent, Bruce Kulick and Ace Frehely - all have had tenures with KISS
Micky Moody – Also of Whitesnake fame. I love his slide work. Check
out live version of ‘Love hunter’
Nuno Bettencourt – Of the now defunct ‘Extreme’. Where is he now? My
favourite is his intro to ‘He-man woman hater’
Dave Gilmour – Self – effacing guitarist. His solos on ‘Another Brick
in the wall’ and ‘Money’ often play through my head when I wake up in the early
hours of the morning.
Billy Gibbons – I thought he was a very ordinary blues player until I
tried to play some of his stuff. I can play the notes alright but to get his
phrasing is nigh-on impossible.
Joe Perry – from Aerosmith. I like the fact that he uses so many
guitars and creates the right sound for each song. The perfect foil for Steven
The Edge – Not necessarily a virtuoso but highly original. I
prefer his early material when he played an explorer through an echo box.
Jake E. Lee – One of Randy Rhoads successors. Much underrated. He
was able to produce nose-dives by bending the neck of his strat rather than use
Joe Walsh – Has to be included due to his 50% contribution to
Guitarist’s No. 1 solo of all time – ‘Hotel California’.
Andy Summers – More into jazz now, he was able to produce a big
sound but not an intrusive one through his chorused telecaster. He was able to
fill the space in the 3-piece which was The Police.
Neil Geraldo – Not well known but he did some very original guitar
work with Pat Benatar
Scott Gorham, Snowy White and John Sykes – I preferred these partnerships
to the ones with Robbo Robertson. Dual lead never sounded so good!
Mark Knopfler – He has 2 very distinctive styles. One he uses with the
strat and the other with his Gibsons. Both are very different but very
original. A guitarist friend of mine at university tried to encourage me to
throw away my pick and adopt Knopfler’s thumb and 2 finger picking style. I can
do it but it doesn’t come naturally.
Bernie Torme - best stuff done when with Gillan in the late 70's and 80's. His playing has been likened to a snakecharmer, conjuring feedback and nosedives out of his white strat.
Nancy Wilson - love her acoustic stuff especially, from the Seattle group 'Heart'
Joanne Shaw-Taylor - New blues artist onto the scene; she has great feel and tone playing a telecaster through a Fender twin.
‘I’m not hearing it’ section (or what’s the fuss all about?)
Eric Clapton – Is it just me or is his playing boring. I liked
‘Layla’ but how he became the influence for so many guitarists I’ll never know.
Carlos Santana – Mr. repetitive. He has a way of extending the middle
and endings of some tedious songs so that you wish some one would unplug his
BB King – What’s he playing? A Hondo starter guitar from
Woolworths through a practice amp? My cat could play more original licks.
Noel Gallagher – Brian May summed it up: “(Of Gallagher) I don’t find
myself sitting and thinking at home ‘I wonder how he did that?’
Pete Townsend – OK so he invented the windmill rotating arm technique
but his SG sounds like he’s playing a cheese-grater through a microphone.
George Harrison – Great songwriter, shame about the playing.
Agree/disagree? - Why not drop me a line and tell me who your favourite players are.