You’ve heard of B.B. King and may have heard of Jimi Hendrix, among two of the greatest guitarists of all time. King still loves to strum the blues on his Gibson guitars and Hendrix was a psychedelic rock artist who thumbed his Fender Stratocaster in ways that few have ever come close to matching. Both men have contributed much to contemporary music, turning their gifts for guitar playing into an art form. Besides King and Hendrix there have been others that have played a significant part in transforming the art of guitar playing including the following individuals.
1. Steve Vai — Starting off as a transcriptionist for Frank Zappa, Steve Vai soon made a name for himself as a member of the David Lee Roth band. At 20, Vai was strumming with Zappa and by 25 he was with Roth. His top guitar choices are the Ibanez JEM and Ibanez Universe in addition to a Tom Anderson Drop Top Classic. He also uses exotic guitars and sometimes plays a heart-shaped triple-neck model. Vai is recognized for his understanding of music theory. He is further appreciated by students of the Berklee College of Music with whom he shares his techniques online.
2. Slash — Born Saul Hudson, Slash is a musician and guitarist who came to fame playing for Guns N’ Roses and was later part of Velvet Revolver before embarking on a solo career. His instruments of choice include a Gibson Les Paul, a B.C. Rich Mockingbird and a Gibson EDS-1275, just three of more than 100 guitars that he owns. In 2008 Slash embarked on a solo career, what he had touched on at earlier times in his life when he jammed for Michael Jackson, the Yardbirds and Paulina Rubio among others.
3. Les Paul — Born Lester William Polsfuss, Les Paul was an American guitarist with a penchant for blues, country and jazz music. He was also a songwriter and inventor. Paul is credited with making rock and roll possible by inventing the solid-body electric guitar, and was also innovative in sound experimentation. The Gibson Les Paul was first sold in 1952 and was designed in collaboration with Ted McCarty. Among the musicians that have played a Les Paul are Eric Clapton, Steve Jones, Sammy Hagar, Billie Joe Armstrong, Peter Frampton and Jeff Beck.
4. David Gilmour — He was brought on the fifth and last musician for Pink Floyd, but last certainly did not meant least in David Gilmour. The English rocker has been credited with shaping Pink Floyd’s ethereal sound, pouring emotion into his guitar that few have ever matched. Gilmour is nearly always seen with a black Fender Stratocaster, but he also plays a red model and a Fender Telecaster.
5. Tom Morello — Not every guitarist seeks to sound like a guitar player or at least not all the time. Tom Morello, inspired by LED Zeppelin and a guitarist with Rage Against the Machine, counts his custom “Arm the Homeless” guitar as his favorite. This guitar is outfitted with a Kramer neck and a custom performance body to produce truly unique sounds. Morello also is fond of Fender Stratocaster, Fender Telecaster, an Ibanez classical acoustic and a Gibson Les Paul.
Claim to Fame Besides Steve Vai, Slash, Les Paul, David Gilmour and Tom Morello, there are dozens of other guitarists that have had a larger than life influence through their work. Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, Phil Keaggy, Keith Richards and Brian May are a few that come to mind. Step back in the 1950s and Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins and Bod Diddley must be recalled. In the 1960s, it was Pete Townshend, George Harrison, Jeff Beck along with Hendrix, Clapton and Richards. By the 1970s, Gilmour, Santana and Duane Allman rose to fame and were later joined by Randy Rhoades, Vito Bratta, Buckethead and a host of other strummers. Ask any budding guitarist whom they admire most and one or more of these names will likely be mentioned. Down through the years inspiration has been handed off, with a new contingent of guitar artists certain to dominate in the 21st century.