Guitar is a magically dynamic instrument. To some, learning it seems impossible. I am one of those folk. I just don’t get how people can move their fingers so intricately and play so fast.
Some quick history: stringed instruments (known as chordophones) have been around for over 3,000 years, but the instrument officially named “guitar” has existed since at least 1200. A long damn time.
A long time which, in combination with wide cultural influence, has allowed the instrument’s utility to develop and expand. There is an infinite combination of sounds one can make with a guitar, and we currently live in an age in which the best guitar pioneers of all time are going hard on the six- (or 12-) stringed instrument.
The following is a list of six great guitarists who, in their own ways, have revolutionized the guitar:
1) George Harrison (The Beatles): No two George Harrison guitar parts sound alike, so it’s confounding how he can consistently sound so catchy. He creates beautiful melodies on the acoustic (“Black Bird,” “Here Comes the Sun”) and can create a soft sound, but frequents the electric guitar. He is father of some of the most memorable riffs ever (“Ticket to Ride”), can solo like a madman and manages never to overdo his part — he doesn’t dominate or overshadow the other Beatles. The best-selling band of all time’s sound goes nowhere without this man.
2) Jewel: One of the emotionally rawest artists I have ever listened to — especially on her debut album, Pieces of You. It’s just Jewel and her acoustic guitar. Her music is simple, and her honesty is so pure, the literal opposite of heavy metal. She gets me every time with songs like “Morning Song,” that make me want to hug my girlfriend or a puppy. Her simplicity and emotionality revolutionize how guitar is played as well as how it functions in relation to lyrics.
3) Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse): Pure twang is how I would describe his guitar sound. But he utilizes this twang so well. Listen to the song “Broke” and be prepared to get inspired and think deeply. He brings a deep, sad spaciness that is unrivaled to the guitar world. The album The Moon and Antarctica literally makes you feel like you are in Antarctica looking at a massive white moon — it’s incredible. His guitar sound contains hints of loneliness and depression, which are only complemented by his sad voice. He is able to communicate mood so well with his guitar playing.
4) Noel Gallagher (Oasis): Rough, distorted guitar never sounded so beautiful. He characterized this sound for Oasis — beginning songs like “Some Might Say” with loud yet surprisingly melodic strumming, only to solo and riff his heart out when the time is right. Oasis’ rough guitar reminds us of their grunge contemporaries, but the underlying beauty and melody within their loudness is what separates them.
5) Bob Dylan: Bob preceded Jewel by about 30 years, but embodies the same simple relationship between musician and guitar. He’s like no one else, though — for one, his guitar playing is much folkier. He strums and noodles away, and his acoustic guitar complements his scratchy voice so uniquely.
Then there are his lyrics — guitar or not, some of the best poetry ever written. He paints vivid pictures nonstop in the listener’s mind with his abstract lyrics.
6) J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.): I love when lead singers also play guitar, because usually their musical personality shines through equally in both. J. Mascis is no exception. His guitar, exemplified in songs like “We’re Not Alone,” sounds very raw and unproduced — it sounds like he is playing it live.
What really makes him special, though, is his ability to wail on the guitar when he plays solos — he evidently puts himself out there. I lose myself in them, so I can only imagine how much he does while he plays. His soloing skill is unequal to anyone, and his tone is always spot on.
These artists each took/take guitar to new levels in their own way. I would be overjoyed if I could play literally one-tenth as well as any one of them — their talents are extraordinary. We live in an age of musical pioneers, but I am so excited for what is still to come.
Other guitarists that I would have loved to discuss: Johnny Marr (The Smiths) , David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Axl Rose (Guns N Roses), Jerry Garcia (The Grateful Dead), Thom York (Radiohead), Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones) and Bradley Nowell (Sublime).