10 (Or So) Guitarists You Should Know - dummies

10 (Or So) Guitarists You Should Know

By Mark Phillips, Jon Chappell, Hal Leonard Corporation

Regardless of style, certain guitarists have made their mark on the world of guitar so that any guitarist who comes along after them has a hard time escaping their legacy. Presented here, in chronological order, ten (or 12, but who’s counting?) guitarists who mattered and why.

Andrés Segovia (1893–1987)

Not only was Andrés Segovia the most famous classical guitarist of all time, but he also literally invented the genre. Before his arrival, the guitar was a lowly instrument of the peasant classes. Segovia began performing Bach pieces and other serious classical music on the guitar (writing many of his own transcriptions), eventually elevating this “parlor” activity to a world-class style. His incredible performing career lasted more than 70 years. His signature pieces include Bach’s “Chaconne” and Albeniz’s “Granada.”

Django Reinhardt (1910–1953)

Born in Belgium, Django Reinhardt was a ferociously virtuosic acoustic guitarist who defined the gypsy jazz guitar sound. His blistering single-note runs, vocal-like string bends, and rapid-picked tremolo technique became hallmarks of the style. Reinhardt was centered in Paris for most of his career and made the bulk of his important recordings with his band, the Quintette du Hot Club de France, and with jazz violinist Stephane Grapelli. His stunning instrumental work is all the more amazing when you consider that his left hand had been severely injured in a fire, leaving him the use of just two fingers. His signature tunes include “Minor Swing,” “Nuages,” and “Djangology.”

Charlie Christian (1916–1942)

Charlie Christian invented the art of electric jazz guitar. His fluid solos with Benny Goodman’s big band and smaller combos were sophisticated, scintillating, and years ahead of their time. After hours, he used to jam with fellow jazz rebels at Minton’s in New York, where his adventurous improvisations helped create the genre known as bebop. Christian played the guitar like a horn, incorporating intervallic (non-stepwise) motion into his lines. His signature tunes include “I Found a New Baby,” “Seven Come Eleven,” and “Stardust.”

Wes Montgomery (1923–1968)

A legendary jazz player, Wes Montgomery’s brand of cool jazz was based on the fact that he used his thumb, instead of a traditional guitar pick, to sound notes. Another of his innovations was the use of octaves (that is, two identical notes in different ranges) to create fat, moving, unison lines. He died young, but his proponents still call him one of the all-time jazz greats. His signature tunes include “Four on Six” and “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.”

Chet Atkins (1924–2001)

Known as “Mr. Guitar,” Chet Atkins is the definitive country guitarist. Building on Merle Travis’s fast fingerpicking technique (see Chapter 13), Atkins refined the style, adding jazz, classical, and pop nuances to create a truly sophisticated country-guitar approach. He played with Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, and countless country stars over the decades. His signature tunes include “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Yankee Doodle Dixie.”

B.B. King (1925–2015)

Although he wasn’t the first electric bluesman, B.B. King is easily the most popular: His swinging, high-voltage guitar style complemented charismatic stagemanship and a huge, gospel-fueled voice. Along with his trademark Gibson ES-355 guitar, nicknamed “Lucille,” King’s minimalist soloing technique and massive finger vibrato cemented his place in the annals of electric blues history. His signature tunes include “Every Day I Have the Blues” and “The Thrill Is Gone.”

Chuck Berry (1926– )

Perhaps rock’s first real guitar hero, Chuck Berry used fast, rhythmic double-stops to create his signature guitar style. Although some regard him equally for his songwriting and lyric-writing skills, his fire-breathing breaks made his signature tunes “Johnny B. Goode,” “Rockin’ in the U.S.A.,” and “Maybelline” bona fide guitar classics.

Jimi Hendrix (1942–1970)

Considered the greatest rock guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix fused R&B, blues, rock, and psychedelia into a mesmerizing sonic soup. His 1967 breakthrough at the Monterey Pop Festival instantly rewrote the rock guitar textbook, especially after he whipped off his Stratocaster and lit it on fire. Young guitarists religiously copy his licks to this day. Hendrix was known for his fiery abandon (even when his guitar wasn’t actually on fire) and innovative work with feedback and the whammy bar. His signature tunes include “Purple Haze” and “Little Wing.”

Jimmy Page (1944– )

Jimmy Page succeeded Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck in the Yardbirds, but he didn’t really find his niche until forming Led Zeppelin, one of the great ’70s rock bands — and of all time. Page’s forte was the art of recording guitars, layering track upon track to construct thundering avalanches of electrified tone. Yet he could also play sublime acoustic guitar, regularly employing unusual tunings and global influences. In rock circles, his six-string creativity in the studio is unmatched. His signature tunes include “Stairway to Heaven” and “Whole Lotta Love.”

Eric Clapton (1945– )

In many ways, Eric Clapton is the father of contemporary rock guitar. Before Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page showed up, the Yardbirds-era Clapton was already fusing electric Chicago blues with the fury of rock ‘n’ roll. He later expanded upon this style in Cream, Blind Faith, and the legendary Derek and the Dominos. Clapton eventually went solo, turning into one of the most popular recording artists of the last 40 years. A true living legend, his signature tunes include “Crossroads” and “Layla.”

Stevie Ray Vaughan (1954–1990)

A Texas-born-and-bred rock and blues virtuoso who declined a gig with David Bowie so he could instead record his first solo album, Stevie Ray Vaughan played Texas blues as a high-energy amalgam of B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix. So explosive and pyrotechnic was his playing that people had trouble categorizing him as a blues or a rock player. Vaughan was tragically killed in a helicopter accident leaving from a gig, but every blues guitarist who comes up today has been influenced by him, and his work is the benchmark for modern electric blues playing. His signature tunes include “Pride and Joy,” “Texas Flood,” and “Love Struck, Baby.”

Eddie Van Halen (1955– )

Rock guitar’s equivalent to Jackson Pollock, Eddie Van Halen’s improvisationally inspired splatter-note approach to metal guitar completely reinvented the style starting in the late ’70s. He turned two-handed tapping into a common guitar technique (thanks to his groundbreaking “Eruption”), while pushing the limits of whammy bar and hammer-on expertise. Van Halen is also a master at fusing blues-based rock with modern techniques, and his rhythm playing is one of the best examples of the integrated style (combining low-note riffs with chords and double-stops). A guitar hero in every sense of the term, his signature tunes include “Eruption,” “Spanish Fly,” and “Panama.”