My Favorite Guitarists

notice: This list does not egotistically refer to these gentlemen as "the world's best guitarists." It is a list of those that I feel have taken the guitar in different directions or provided a base upon which others might be able to progress in their own right. My main drive is challenging the assumed role of the guitar and the guitarist. As such, I have a great bias against blues and blues guitar. It is a static style that has not grown much at all in the past twenty years. This is something that many among you may find either puzzling or even alarming in that it is blues rock heroes such as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and David Gilmour that are idolized predominantly by most guitarists and fans. I'm not saying I don't respect them or care for what they do (although there is some truth to this matter,) only that I do not find much in their playing that I care to be a part of or try to figure out.

Robert Fripp

Probably the most revered of the progressive guitarists, Fripp has played a strong part in making guitarists see the possibilities of their instruments. He has said numerous times that he is not a rock guitarist, nor is he a jazz or fusion guitarist; rather, he says, he sees room in all music for inspiration to the guitar player. His primary role has been as the guitarist in the legendary and ever changing King Crimson, although he has released solo albums and collaborations with Brian Eno, Andy Summers (of the Police), and David Sylvian (of Japan). His sessions have included David Bowie (albums Heroes, Scary Monsters), Peter Gabriel (Peter Gabriels 1977, 1978, 1980), the Talking Heads (the song I Zimbra), Van Der Graaf Generator (Pawn Hearts, H to He (Who Am the Only One), Brian Eno (albums Here Come the Warm Jets, Another Green World, Before and After Science, Nerve Net), and Daryl Hall (Sacred Songs).

Best known for searing solos that burn and tear the egos of lesser guitarists to shreds, Fripp has the tendency to be able to pull new tricks from his sleeve whenever he sees fit. He abandoned electric guitar for a time to concentrate on the practice and development of his technique with his New Standard Tuning (C G D A E G) on the acoustic: this was developed fairly quickly before he began teaching it at the Guitar Craft program at Claymont Court in Charlestown, West VA. He continues to use this tuning exclusively today, both on acoustic and electric guitars. Another Fripp original twist came from his earliest collaborations with Eno. Frippertronics came about from Eno's developing tape loop principles and were first displayed on (No Pussyfooting). They developed over the years into his present form of use which has progressed into an all digital format and a new name - Soundscapes. He still stages tours of these performances.

Another Frippian tendency is to "withdraw from the marketplace to allow the future to present itself." He did this is 1974 when he disbanded King Crimson for the first time and again in 1984 when he disbanded the group the second time. Each time he has done this, he has taken a slight vacation and then eventually gone into a furious schedule of session work and career redefinition. This has allowed him to experience a variety of roles in the music industry, ranging from producer to journalist in addition to being a musician.

It is not only for Fripp's brilliant and visionary playing that I respect him, but also for the fact that he refuses to wear a single suit in his role and for his primarily anti-industry stand on music matters. Any guitarist who does not at least listen to Fripp is a fool to think that they have seen or heard it all.

fine examples: King Crimson - Red, Discipline, Thrak; Bowie - Scary Monsters; Robert Fripp - Exposure

notable solos: King Crimson - A Sailor's Tale; Eno -Baby's on Fire

Johnny Marr

For years I denied the worth of the Smiths, primarily for Morrissey's whining and drab voice. It took the persistence and good will of the great Tim Michael to get me to listen to them. Although I'd always liked How Soon is Now?, it took me nearly two years to listen to an old tape containing the first two albums given to me by Tim. I put it on while re-painting the walls one day. The first half of the album was all right. I got more used to Morrissey's voice, but I saw that the true key to it all was in the music. Then This Charming Man came on... I was hooked. Incredible. Catchy. Fast. I couldn't believe the dexterity going on within a pop song's structure! The rest of the afternoon was soaked into my brain as I finished the Smiths and moved on to the sheer brilliance of Meat is Murder. I realized that How Soon is Now? was not even close to being their best song. The counterpoints between Andy Rourke's bass and Mike Joyces's drums all brought out the best of Marr's guitar. I realized how utterly talented this band was. I also got used to Morrissey's voice and actually grew to like it.

Within the space of less than a year, I am a Marr convert. He is second only to Fripp in my idea of the ideal guitarist. In many ways he rivals Fripp in being able to combine art and pop music. He refuses to be ruled by one style and incorporates folk, flamenco, and classical styles into his brilliant playing. His use and execution of chords is unique and far in advance of most of the trappings of guitarists operating within the confines of pop and rock music. His sounds are predominantly clean and sweet, the tones which do not mask the mistakes and quirks in playing of most guitarists. Through this, you find how truly talented Marr is by the revelation that despite his speed, he very rarely misses. His playing is never stale and never dull. Like Fripp, he refuses to wear the same suit and often changes roles.

Probably more important about Marr is his writing ability. He has always listened to diverse selections of music and has found influences in Motown, glam rock, California rock, and funk. Throughout the life of the Smiths, Marr maintained a level of quality that was never stagnant and continued to progress. Each album has a unique "sound" to it, but not one that could be immediately pinned down, mainly thanks to the composition and production skills of Johnny Marr.

After leaving the Smiths, he went on to play sessions with the Talking Heads (album Naked), Bryan Ferry (album Bete Noire), the Pretenders (song Windows of the World), and Kirsty MacColl (albums Kite, Electric Landlady). He also joined the The for three albums and formed Electronic with Bernard Sumner of New Order. He is extremely adept in the studio and has adopted Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" approach to recording. Oftentimes he will lay down in excess of ten layers of guitar, including repetition and harmonies, to expand and tailor the sound. His manner of doing this is done so eloquently that you can only really recognize one or two guitars in most cases: he is not providing an assault (as done by Jimmy Page on the amazing Achille's Last Stand,) but rather painting a canvas.

fine examples: the Smiths - Meat is Murder, the Queen is Dead, Louder than Bombs

notable songs: the Smiths - This Charming Man, the Headmaster Ritual, Some Girls are Bigger than Others, London

Greg Ginn

By most standards upon first hearing, Ginn would be considered nothing more than a chaotic and amateurish player at best. But upon further listening and consideration, the true talent of this noise merchant creeps out. His sound is raw and laden with distortion while his playing is nothing short of furious; however, after attempting the full lines from Slip It In, I Can See You, and Account for What?, the true brilliance and ability of Ginn shows through. The punk ethic is definitely solid within his playing (primarily major barre chords), but his single note playing and solos are unique and sound very similar to Fripp at times in their apparent chaos but underlying direction.

Though not as well versed as either Marr or Fripp in studio technique, Ginn must be respected for other reasons. Along with Chuck Dukowski (Black Flag's original bass player) he formed SST, one of the oldest and best known indepent labels established to release punk and hard core music. He also refused to rest on his laurels and formed the punk jazz instrumental group Gone while heading up Black Flag. Black Flag's final tour had both acts billed.

fine examples: Black Flag - the First Four Years, Slip It In, the Process of Weeding Out; Gone - Let's Get Real, Real Gone for a Change

notable songs: Black Flag - Slip It In, Your Last Affront, Drinking and Driving

Bob Mould

The guitarist behind the brilliance that was Husker Du and Sugar, Mould has a unique style rooted within the deep ethics of punk, but that spans folk and rock into a form that is perfectly capable of pop. He seems equally comfortable spraying out uncompromising and violent solos as he does sitting playing acoustic guitar and singing about the injustices of relationships. Very under-recognized for his abilities, Mould has shifted into solo recording after the break up of Sugar as he did after Husker Du parted ways as a unit. Mould should also be respected for his decision to manage as well as perform in Sugar, as well as manage his own solo career. Both his playing and sound have matured from the humble beginnings of Hüsker Düu. He's also a wicked good lyricist and vocalist if that makes any difference.

fine examples: Husker Du - New Day Rising, Warehouse; Sugar - F.U.E.L.

notable songs: Husker Du - Real World, Hardly Getting Over It; solo - Black Sheets of Rain

Reeves Gabrels

With the release of the first Tin Machine album, Gabrels has become Bowie's sideman of choice for nearly a decade. His playing ranges from complex Frippian lines to the brutal savagery of punk to sheer noise. He is a combination of many of the guitarists that had worked with Bowie, including characteristics of Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Mick Ronson, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Gabrels is an experimentalist and constantly finds new ways to draw forth new sounds from the guitar, be it by vibrator, eletric drill, or trem bar abuse.

fine examples: Tin Machine - II; Bowie - Outside

notable songs: Tin Machine - I Can't Read, Baby Universal; Bowie, Hallo Spaceboy, the Hearts Filthy Lesson

Steve Howe

Howe is best known for his work with Yes, and it is in Yes that he has displayed most of his talent. Uneducated and unable to read sheet music, Howe constantly shows his self learned abilities and knowledge of music to a degree that renders most educated musicians impotent. Both his solos and rhythmic playing are adept and fully able to match the brilliance of whatever musicians he happens to work with. He is amazing live and is constantly changing guitars even during the same song to re-create the vast sounds for which Yes is known in the studio.

fine examples: Yes - Fragile, Tales from Topographic Oceans, Yessongs

notable songs: the Clap, South Side of the Sky

Alex Lifeson

He is the member of Rush that everyone seems to forget. He is also my favorite member of the capable group. His playing ranges from near heavy metal to the delicacy of flamenco and classical guitar. Over their 20+ year career, he has demonstrated his constant ability to change and progress to encompass nearly every known style. Lifeson's solos are some of the greatest out there and, like Fripp, he has the ability to overshadow and change the direction of an entire song with just a solo. Like Marr, he has a mastery of chords and a quick and complex playing style that operate well within the boundaries of popular music.

fine examples: Rush - 2112, Hemispheres, Moving Pictures

notable solos: Freewill, La Villa Strangiato

Dave Navarro

The LA metal sound was never so appealing coming from anyone else. His style and playing was at its peak while working with Eric Avery in Jane's Addiction, and even though he usually played loud and laden with effects, he was fully capable of providing clear emotional sound environments to take the song into a new realm. He deserves a great deal of credit along with Avery and Stephen Perkins in his ability to provide dynamics in a stagnant and complacent age of music.

fine examples: Jane's Addiction - Live, Nothing's Shocking, Ritual de lo Habitual; Deconstruction

notable songs: Jane's Addiction - Summertime Rolls, Three Days