Are you looking for the metric on how to measure a guitar virtuoso? Have you got your own ideas about who is the best guitarist that you want to measure up against ours?
Well, come on in as we explore 5 of my favorite guitar players!
If, in the words of Ed Seith, a ‘virtuoso is someone in whose hands the music is transcendent’, then we should look no further than guitar player Mr Robert Fripp.
There is a comment on the video below which relays a quote by Daryl Hall, stating that ‘when a guitarist plays a really good blues solo, it sounds like a person crying. When Robert plays a solo, it sounds like the universe crying.’
His ability to ‘transcend’ the mere means of the guitar and to tap into the realms of the purely spiritual and beyond is what makes him a genius and a virtuoso, embalmed in consummate skill.
Before people like Paul Gilbert and Steve Vai came along and showed sweep picking the entrance and the exit, Speedy West was showing everyone and everything that for on the western frontier with cowboy chords– and all on lap steel.
Instead of playing with the fingers, lap steel requires the use of a bar of metal (or something else) to sound out the notes like a slide. Speedy West is one of the ablest guitar players of the lap steel, living or dead, lead guitarist, and other guitarists all in one neat package.
A perhaps surprising choice comes in the form of Daniel Lanois, famed for his collaborations with Brian Eno, though with a guitar tone that many guitarists would sell precious organs to have. Forget John Petrucci and T Bone Walker, and Albert Collins, Daniel Lanois was even reinventing the guitar in his first band as a kid.
Like Fripp, Lanois’ style is transcendent and deeply emotional, rocking the soul to the very core like a babe in a cradle sent forth on winds of cold and warm-blooded old times.
Again, another perhaps unexpected choice, but one that I stand by. Not exactly known for live performance, Nick Drake’s abilities and inventiveness with the folk guitar are there for all to see on his three recorded albums, awash with relative virtuosity whether through muscle memory or otherwise.
Both his playing ability and compositional approach, though informed by the folk tradition, are their own and I rue the day when I hear a Nick Drake song and do not recognize it as such. Though he came to a bitter end, his legacy and life is alive always in his music.
A relative newcomer to the world of music and a young man at that, this guitarist’s credentials are no less weighty. He is, in fact, the very definition of a virtuoso, playing all sorts of different styles of guitar at the level of mastery and without a moment’s hesitation.
Forget George Benson, Marty Friedman, and Joseph Satriani, this young man can jazz with the best and still has plenty of space left to expand minds with gargantuan drones and then satisfy the rocker buried within us all with a few AC/DC riffs for good measure.
So, there you have it!
Hopefully, whatever it is you came here for in the first place has been satiated, and you have been able to measure your own top picks against ours in a steel string orgy of humbucking buckshot ricocheting into the eye for an eye makes the whole world blind of us all.
FAQs Guitar Virtuoso
There are a number of guitarists that will come to mind in the hive of the public imaginary (Steve Vai, Kirk Hammett, John Mayer) – essentially anyone who can pick fast and flavorlessly. My own personal choices would involve players from the margins like Robert Fripp (figurehead and only consistent member of the legendary progressive rock institution King Crimson) or Daniel Lanois (like Fripp, a frequent collaborator with Brian Eno for more ambient excursions in music).
In the words of Ed Seith, a ‘virtuoso, on any instrument is typically defined as someone who has mastered the instrument – from technique to theory, to multiple (all known?) styles of music typically associated with that instrument, and then some. A virtuoso is someone in whose hands the music is transcendent.’ There are not any real boundaries or criteria for what makes a virtuoso, though it should be more or less instinctual. The term is, however, thrown around a little too much these days, bleaching the word and stripping it of its power and initial meaning.
There is absolutely no one guitar player worthy of the title of greatest ever, for each so-called ‘great’ guitarist has brought something different to the table. There are undoubtedly those that have exerted more influence than others through the homogeny of their techniques, but as far as there is even a metric to measure greatness, there is no ‘greatest’ guitar player ever. My own personal choice for favorite guitarist would be someone like Robert Fripp, who furthered the aspects of the guitar that I hold dear and that I feel are not appreciated enough, namely its incredible ability as a drone and noise instrument aligned with its ability to channel transcendental emotion.
There is not really one guitar player that can be labeled the most technical, though there are a few that spring to mind instantly. Guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, et al all use far too many notes for my liking. It just seems like wasted energy that is used for no end other than to show that they can do it. Just because you can do something, it does not mean that you should, and I would struggle to find a better exemplar for that than in the technicality of these kinds of musicians.