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 411mania » Music » Columns

The 411 Music Top Five 07.30.13: The Top 5 Guitarists
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 07.30.2013


Criteria: I think this is pretty self-explanatory. The top five guitarists. Make sense? Cool.

Honorable Mention: Stone Gossard (Pearl Jam), Billy Joe Armstrong (Green Day)

5. Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails, How to Destroy Angels)

We start off with the man who is his own band. Reznor's guitar work is like a cave full of bats. Always leave the lights off, and don't be surprised when you do turn them on that a bat(s) is going to scratch the hell out of you. He likes to make his guitar scream when he screams or have it whisper as he does. Although his modern work has shifted to a more electronic sound, he still incorporates those guitar screams, albeit a little less frequently.

4. Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine)

Ah yes Tom Morello. I like to throw things around when Rise Against The machine is playing. True story: one time, while Killing in the Name was playing, I got so hyped up that I jumped off my roof. That either speaks highly of RATM or it shows how retarded I truly am.

3. Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)

Although grunge doesn't really do much for me, I really dig Kurt Cobain's line of work. I still get chills every time I hear that iconic riff in "Smells like Teen Spirit" and I enjoyed Nirvana's Unplugged album. I find him to be at his best in an acoustic setting. There's something about it that makes him...organic. Definitely easier to digest.

2. Jack White

Jack White is a living legend. I've heard "Seven Nation Army" about a thousand times since its inception simply because of that awesome riff that sounds like a blues guitar with a hint of punk and alternative mixed in. That's been the case for White for over a decade. He knows what he's doing folks!

1. Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters)

This may be me being biased but I adore Dave Grohl. The man can do no wrong in my eyes. I didn't count his stint in nirvana simply because he was the drummer. I am like the first disciple of Grohlism (it's real to me dammit!) and it's simply because he is damn good. There are maybe 20 guitar solos of his that I firmly remember. It's his fault that I have been laughed at for doing the air guitar like a jackass.

Honorable Mention:
Yngwie Malmsteen (Solo): He may be a total asshole, but you can't deny his talent. The man could play guitar for days and I think he'd manage to keep everything fresh and entertaining the whole time. May he weedly forever.

Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden): This man is one of the best things about Iron Maiden, without him, the band wasn't as good. Not to mention when he showed up in Bruce Dickinson's solo band, things got infinitely better.

Dave Mustaine (Megadeth): I adore Megadeth, I really do, and Dave has written some of my favorite riffs and songs of all time. He just barely misses the cut in favor of his arguably better half.

5. Marty Friedman (Megadeth, Cacophony)

I mentioned a second ago how I loved Megadeth so much, and I think while Dave is the main reason, Marty is the other reason. While only being in the band for ten years, no matter the quality of the five albums he was on (and we know that some of those albums were spotty in quality at best), he was the best part of every album. The man seems to always have a good solo somewhere up his sleeves, always. My favorite of his is from my favorite album, 'Rust in Peace'. "Tornado of Souls", is a song that is fast as a wildfire, and is a classic. But the solo towards the end is a thing of beauty, I can't get enough of that song, or the album, even after all these years (all 5 of them) of loving it. Of course, Megadeth isn't his only work, he also does lots of work in Japan now, whether it be metal or j-pop, he's there. He also was in a band with Jason Becker (I wish I knew more of his work, he might've made this list if I did) called Cacophony, and the songs I have heard from his time there is nothing short of guitar heaven. Just so many great back and forths between the two of them. Maybe Marty will get back full time into metal sometime?, I'd like that, the latest thing I've heard him on is a guest spot on Jeff Loomis's newest album, 'Plains of Oblivion', go find that album, because it's awesome, but the song he is in, "Mercurial" is a ton of fun.

4. Dimebag Darrell (Pantera)

I miss Dimebag, doesn't everyone, though? So many songs that I remember so well were done by Dimebag, and I love those songs. He had a lot of memorable riffs under his belt during his stay in the band that he made famous, Pantera, even more riffs when you go back and listen to the stuff that the band doesn't want you to remember. He also was incredibly influential on the metal scene of the 90s, because his band was one of the only metal bands in the mainstream after most of the mainstream bands of the time either became relics, or changed their sound to a much less metal state. Pantera strapped their sound down to be simple, memorable, and in your face, and it worked out really well. His style was much more stripped down, and his band benefited for it. His solos were pretty damn legendary, as well, they could range from blazing fast (like the one from "The Sleep", off of 'Cowboys From Hell') or slow and laden in emotion, like "Floods" off of 'The Great Southern Trendkill'. That song also has one of my favorite outros of all time, it is just so damn good. Dimebag also had a band after Pantera called Damageplan, but I don't think they were all that great, though he really tried to make them great. I still hate that he died in 2004, the same day as John Lennon, actually.

3. Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne)

Another man gone far too soon, damn, I just realized that over half of my top 5 are dead, and I also realized I never got to hear any of them in their heydays, but we aren't here to talk about that. Randy Rhoads is by far the youngest person on this list, he died at 25, far too young. He had a background in classical guitar, hell, according to Ozzy's book, he would be playing classical music pieces on his guitar whenever he had the hankering to do so. It's amazing how much of an impact he has made in only 5 albums (2 being Japan only releases with Quiet Riot, and 1 being a posthumous live album). In terms of his best solos, we don't exactly have a giant catalog of them, sadly, BUT we do have the two better known Ozzy songs, "Crazy Train", and "Mr.Crowley", which both have guitar solos that I would deem impeccable. I would recommend finding anything that he has been on, it's well worth your time listening.

2. Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath)

The father of all metal, how could I not have him on this list? Without him, I wouldn't be here making this list, I wouldn't even be the same person, and I'm not kidding, I really wouldn't. He has given metalheads so much, so many great riffs, great solos, and not to mention metal in general. I think it was said once that no matter what riff you come up with, it wont be original, because Tony Iommi has already played it and put it on record, so pretty much everyone after him is just doing their own rendition of his work. While I wont quite agree with that statement, I will agree with the sentiment. From their classic first six albums, to the works with Dio, to the albums with Tony Martin not named 'Forbideen', his work with Black Sabbath alone gets him this spot on this list. But he also has some pretty solid solo albums, so go check those out while you're at it. As for great solos from Tony Iommi, the best one I found was one that I saw on a Top 100 solos in metal list, and holy hell, it was as good as advertised. "Kill in the Spirit World", off of one of the Tony Martin albums I mentioned, 'Headless Cross' is a really good song, but once I heard the solo, I was sold, it was one of the best solos I've heard in a while, and I write a weekly metal column, so you know I have to listen to lots of solos every week. I don't think I have to say anything else, because his influence and work speak for themselves, and I just went ahead and talked about them, just to make sure everyone knows about the greatness that is Tony Iommi.

1. Chuck Schuldiner (Death)

The most obvious pick for number one in any of my lists. If anyone has read my weekly column (The Hammer of Doom), you'll know that the last sentence in every one of my columns is the closing quote from Death's, 'Live in LA', "Keep the metal faith alive". I idolize Chuck Schuldiner, I don't think there is any other way to put it, I can't say that I've ever heard a bad note come out of his guitar (Voodoocult doesn't count), and as a person he seems like someone I'd have liked to hang out with. He's also the godfather of death metal. Though there were a few other bands (like Possessed and Celtic Frost) that did something close to the death metal style that he pioneered in Death with their first album, 'Scream Bloody Gore', nobody got the spirit and sound all together like Chuck did. The death metal growl, the lower guitar tone, and the gore lyrics combined gave us all a look at what a true death metal band should sound like. After that, he went on to get more technical and progressive until their swansong, 'The Sound of Perseverance'. I can say that every one of Death's albums are great, I dare may even say that there a beyond great, but I don't want to sound like too much of a fanboy. I'll also mention the band that I see as just a further extension of Death's musical progression, Control Denied. The sound of Control Denied is pretty much Death with clean vocals and perhaps a few more element of progressive music than before. 'The Fragile Art of Existence' is their only album to date, because Chuck died of cancer (RIP), and I can say for certain that it is one of my favorite albums of all time, it is near flawless, with the only mark against it I can think of is the vocals sometimes get to be a little over the top, but besides that the album is just wonderful. I think if I were to give my favorite Chuck Schuldiner solo, I'd go with Control Denied's, "When the Link Becomes Missing". With honorable mentions being Death's, "The Philosopher" and "Perennial Quest". I am so grateful for discovering Death and Chuck Schulinder in general, and just like Tony Iommi, Chuck has really changed my life, because without Tony I wouldn't have metal, and without Chuck, I'd have never gotten into death metal (Death were my first death metal band, thanks to Dave Mustaine's Megadeth Radio), and I have never looked back. Cancer is a bitch, it's taken many people around the world, I hate that Chuck had to be one of them, because I wish I could've met him. Oh well, I think I've made a good case for Chuck, I hope you guys in the comment section enjoy the song below as much as I do. So to end this Top 5 in a fitting fashion, in the words of my hero and yours, Chuck Schuldiner, Keep the metal faith alive. \m/

Honorable Mention: Slash (Guns N' Roses, Velvet Revolver), Chuck Berry, Jeff Beck (The Yardbirds, the Jeff Beck Group), Duane Allman (The Allman Brothers Band), Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot)

5. B.B. King

First up for me is true icon of rhythm and blues. B.B. King should (or could, at least) be on just about every guitar-related list you can imagine. I mean, let's set aside the fact that he's still rocking over a hundred shows a year even today at the age of 87, long after most of your great guitarists have hung it up (if not passed on). For the record, that's him cutting back from the 250 - 300 he did during his seventies. In other words, B.B. King is just about as badass as an octogenarian can get. But even without that fact, the King of Blues deserves a placement on this list as much as anyone. He is an absolute institution of electric blues and influenced the likes of Richards, Page, Clapton, Harrison, Beck, Cray, Allman, James, Vaughan...the list goes on. The way he plays Lucille (the name of his guitar, for the uninitiated) is a thing of absolute beauty. He plays the blues with a clarity that you don't find in a lot of guitarists. Technical precision can be a bit of a lost art sometimes, as those who try to be too precise lose the passion. King is a master of doing both and he set the standard for countless others to follow, both in blues and in rock and roll alike. I'm not even a big blues fan, and I love B.B. King's work. It transcends genre and taste to become something universally brilliant.

4. David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)

I don't know anyone who doesn't at least appreciate Pink Floyd. Their sound may not be for everyone and I've known people to say they are overrated or just not their kind of music, but you have to acknowledge their talent. And while Roger Water gets and deserves a lot of the credit for providing the conceptual and lyrical guidelines, David Gilmour provided just as integral a voice in his guitar work. Gilmour was brought in to cover for Syd Barrett on guitar in 1967 because of Barrett's increasingly erratic behavior. After the band got fed up with Barrett and just chose not to pick him up for a gig, officially setting Gilmour as the lead guitarist. Gilmour proceeded to become an integral part of the group and contributed some of the most memorable guitar solos of the modern era. "Comfortably Numb" is a song that is just astounding in the emotional impact of its instrumental work; he doesn't cram a thousand notes in there but he doesn't need to. He is able to draw the emotional impact out of a more evenly-paced composition. He is very multi-dimensional as well; he can bring an element of funk when he so desires. "Another Brick In the Wall, Part 1," "Time," "Money"...all absolutely integral songs when you want to talk about the greatest guitar songs, and just a sampling of how great Gilmour really is.

3. Stevie Ray Vaughan

I ask you, ladies and gentlemen: what the hell is it with vehicular accidents--and especially airborne ones--claiming the lives of great musicians? Randy Rhoads died in a plane crash, as did several members of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens went down in a plane crash, making the phrase "The Day the Music Died" a major one in rock history. And Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash in 1990 at the age of just thirty-five. The tragic death came just seven years after his debut album, Texas Flood, became an instant watershed album of blues rock. Vaughan had been working in the business well before that however, starting as a teenager in Austin, Texas and building his reputation with his band Double Trouble. Vaughan contributed to David Bowie's almost Let's Dance and helped it become his biggest-selling album to that point. Vaughan only got the chance to release two of his own albums, but what albums they were. Stevie Ray Vaughan didn't play the guitar as much as he commanded it; he was a true master of the guitar in a way that not many people are able to even comprehend right, much less hope to reach. Vaughan's ability to coax music out of his Fender Stratocaster was a thing of beauty, and even people who don't lean toward lyrical music over instrumental love his work. Vaughan's legacy is to be one of the greatest guitar players of all-time, who could have easily become the single greatest given a bit longer of a career to grow and get even better.

2. Jimmy Page (The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin)

Led Zeppelin is THE rock group of the 1970s. Everyone has their personal favorites and not everyone counts Zeppelin as that favorite; I don't consider them my personal favorite either, as much as I like them. But even if I have other bands I prefer on a personal level, I cannot deny that Zeppelin was the greatest rock group of the decade. And a big portion of the credit that stature belongs to one Jimmy Page. Page was able to create music that transcended its era and genre. Everyone knows "Stairway to Heaven," and what do people think of first? Page's incredible closing solo. But let's not pretend he's a one-song wonder. Look at the brilliant solo in "Heartbreaker," the absolutely quintessential 70s opening to "Whole Lotta Love," the bluesy riffs in "Black Dog," the metal-influencing staccato of "Immigrant Song"...of course, I could go on and on. The point here is that Jimmy Page has been an influence on just about anyone who has ever picked up a guitar. Let's just run through a list: Steve Vai, as Ace Frehley, Joe Satriani, John Frusciante, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Tony Iommi, Joe Perry, Richie Sambora, Angus Young, Slash, Dave Mustaine, Mike McCready, Jerry Cantrell, Stone Gossard, Mick Mars, Paul Stanley, Alex Lifeson, Dan Hawkins, Brian May, Johnny Ramone...I could keep going, but I really don't think I have to. And hell, I didn't even touch on his work with the Yardbirds, which was just as good in a lot of ways. Yeah, he's #2 with a bullet.

1. Jimi Hendrix

There are great guitar players. Then there are guitar gods. Jim Hendrix is the god of gods when it comes to guitar work. Hendrix revolutionized guitar playing and rock music in a way that few others have done. I've never heard anyone for whom their instrument was so much like an extension of their own body. Hendrix played guitar the way other people walk or breathe. Sadly, we are entering an era where less and less people had the opportunity to hear him live and instead have to rely on recordings (obviously, I'm one of them), because by all accounts watching him perform live was nothing less than an extraordinary experience. Hendrix took what the world knew about the guitar and how it could factor into rock and roll, looked it over and then turned it upside down. As Neil Young said during Hendrix's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, "Hendrix threw a Molotov cocktail onto rock and roll." He was a consummate performer and when he took the stage, people had to pay attention. There was simply no other choice than to do so. Listening to Jimi Hendrix the first time was, for me and many others, a life-changing experience because it was the moment that we really grew to love--not like, but love--rock and roll guitar.

The Final Word

As always, the last thoughts come from you, the reader. We're merely unpaid monkeys with typewriters and Wikipedia. Here's what you need to do: List your Top Five for this week's topic on the comment section using the following format:

5. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
4. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
3. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
2. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
1. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it


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