Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Guitar Heroes

Not sure how much of an honor it is to be a hero to a crappy guitar player, but...

Yeah, yeah. We all know about Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. They are both amazing guitarists for very different reasons (jaw dropping live playing and amazing composition respectively), so I won't waste your time going over their achievements or the achievements of the dozens of other great guitarists who get a ton of coverage in the guitar mags whether by dint of talent or of marketability and endorsements. Instead I'll concentrate on some of the guitarists I love who get less attention than they merit and from whose playing I have learned a little.

Steve Hackett -- merits top of the list for his solo on Genesis' Firth of Fifth alone. Much as I like some of his solo work, I have to say that what I love most about his playing is the way that he works within a virtuoso ensemble like Genesis in its idiosyncratic prime between Nursery Cryme and Wind and Wuthering, with Steve's special brand of genius most prominently on display in Selling England by the Pound. And again, while I love his pioneering two-handed tapping on songs like The Musical Box and Dancing with the Moonlit Knight, what slays me again and again is the understated grandeur of his soaring solos and his melodic counterpoint to Peter Gabriel's vocal lines. It's not easy to find space between Tony Banks keys and Mike Rutherford's blend of acoustic/bass/bass pedal genius, but it seems that whenever Hackett emerges from the mix he does so with amazing beauty and grace and delivers a performance that is unmistakably his own.

In addition to two handed tapping, Hackett plays some amazing slide guitar in a non-blues setting that ranges from etherial to downright rude. Given his love of sustain and crescendo, I thought for many years that he was a big Ebow player, but it turns out that much of what I thought was a combination of slide and ebow was actually Hackett's use of a Fernandes sustainer and a Floyd Rose playing through a volume pedal. You can see his Floyded out Les Paul in action here:

His solo albums after Genesis started off a bit uneven, but he still usually manages to astound often enough to make each release worthwhile and his nylon string work is always stellar. And at least once per album he reminds the listener of all that Genesis lost when they parted ways with him to chart a more radio-friendly path. He's worked with Steve Howe of Yes in their co-project GTR, and former King Crimson and Asia alum John Wetton on several notable tours. He's even managed to hold down his part of the stage while touring with John Paul Jones, Nuno Bettencourt and Paul Gilbert as part of Guitar Wars.

But mostly he's remained my most constant hero on guitar no matter what other fixations I might have at the time.

[coming next...some metal heroes]

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