30 on 30: The Greatest Guitarists Picked by the Greatest Guitarists
We ask 30 guitarists who they would pick as the greatest of all time.
BRIAN MAY by Steve Vai
I don’t think enough is really said about the brilliance of Brian May’s guitar playing, in the sense that it’s overshadowed by the greatness of the music itself. The Queen II album was one of those pivotal moments that just nailed me to the wall.
He’s probably one of the top identifiable guitar players, even more so than Beck, Page and Clapton. They’re all so identifiable, but Brian May had such a tone in his head and in his fingers. It speaks volumes. His contribution to orchestrated guitars is unprecedented. There was nothing like it before him. To me, it was like when Edward Van Halen came along and reshaped the sound of electric guitar. That’s what I heard in Brian May’s playing. It’s something that’s inherent in the brain of the guitar player.
I remember working with Frank Zappa for the first time. I had just moved out to Los Angeles, and nobody knew me. I was 21. I went to the Rainbow Bar & Grill, and Brian May was there. I couldn’t believe it. I mustered up every little bit of courage and went up to him and said, “Thank you so much for everything you’ve done. I play guitar. I’m here in town with Frank Zappa.” He said, “Oh, really? Why don’t you come down to our rehearsal?”
I went down, and he brought me up on the stage, and he let me play the guitar—the guitar that he built with his dad [the “Red Special”]. I couldn’t even believe that I was touching this instrument! He was so kind and so warm, and for who? This kid, you know? And I played his guitar, and it sounded like Steve Vai. Then when he played it, it sounded just like Brian May. It was very apparent to me that his tone is in his fingers and his head.
He’s a class act from head to toe, and it shows in his playing. I can listen to any player and pantomime their sound, but I can’t do Brian May. He’s just walking on higher ground.
MARTY FRIEDMAN by Jason Becker
When I was 16 years old, I sent a demo tape to Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records. He called me and said I should go and meet Marty.
I went to Marty’s tiny apartment in San Francisco. We started jamming, without amps. That moment changed my life. What he was doing was so new to me. The unique bends, vibrato, exotic scales, phrasing and timing were fascinating to me. And then it hit me: he was a lot better than I was. I started to sweat. I tried to play my best stuff, but my musical mind had already shifted. I knew I wanted to learn from this guy.
Marty was very complimentary of my technique and the melodies on my demo tape. He started coming over to record his songs on my four-track. He taught me the second harmonies and counterpoint lines. Once he saw that I was a sponge for learning, he started incorporating some of my ideas. I feel like every day that I jammed or wrote with Marty was like taking lessons for a year. He taught by example, and with his influence I learned how to be my own unique creative artist. Even to this day, when I am composing and I get stuck, I think to myself, What would Marty do?
EDWARD VAN HALEN by Richie Kotzen
This is kind of embarrassing, but the first time I heard Eddie Van Halen was on the solo for Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” I was like, “Man, that’s unbelievable. Who is this guitar player?” I asked around and found out it was Eddie Van Halen. Then I ended up getting some Van Halen records, and after that I just really wanted to play like him.
He didn’t sound like any other guitar player, but it was more about the way that he played the notes. Everyone talks about Van Halen’s sound, but it really has to do with his timing, his rhythm style and his phrasing. It’s more about that to me than the amp or whatever guitar he’s using.
The first time I saw Eddie play, I had the best possible seat. Because we had the same guitar tech, I was able to watch him from this little room under the stage, where he goes to change guitars or do whatever. It was pretty incredible.
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