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Thirty Great Guitarists — Including Steve Vai, David Gilmour and Eddie Van Halen — Pick the Greatest Guitarists of All Time

Thirty Great Guitarists — Including Steve Vai, David Gilmour and Eddie Van Halen — Pick the Greatest Guitarists of All Time

TONY IOMMI by James Hetfield

As far as being a riff-and-rhythm guy, my favorite guitarist is Tony Iommi. He inspired me to want to play heavy.

I admired other rhythm players, like AC/DC’s Malcolm Young, who’d just stay in the back and hold it down, and the Scorpions’ Rudy Schenker, who has a lot of percussiveness in his playing. I also liked Rush’s Alex Lifeson—people wouldn’t think of him as a rhythm player, but he comes up with some pretty amazing offbeat things.

But Iommi is the main man. To me, he seemed like one of those quiet geniuses. At one time he was the frontman of Black Sabbath, and Ozzy was off to one side; at that time, the riff was more important than the vocals. Tony can go from the heaviest minor-key doom riff to a happy mode, and it will still sound heavy. Metallica can’t do happy, but Tony can pull it off. My favorite Black Sabbath track is “Into the Void.”

ERIC CLAPTON by Eddie Van Halen

Clapton was it. I knew every note he played. Mammoth—me, Alex Van Halen and a bass player we knew—were the junior Cream.

Being limited gear-wise forced me to find my own voice on the guitar. That’s why Eric Clapton’s live jams with Cream were such an influence on me. Back in ’68, he was pretty much just using natural distortion on those live tracks on Wheels of Fire and Goodbye.

I had no money and couldn’t afford a fuzz box or a wah-wah or a ring modulator, or whatever Hendrix had in his whole rig. I just plugged straight into an amp and turned it up to 11. So in order to get a different or unique sound, I had to learn to squeeze it out of the strings with just my fingers. I never had a guitar lesson in my life, except from listening to Eric Clapton records.

JIM McCARTY by Ted Nugent

I discovered the most powerful musical influence of my entire life when I played the Walled Lake Casino outside of Detroit. It was either 1959 or 1960. My band the Lourdes opened up for Martha & the Vandellas, Gene Pitney, and Billy Lee & the Rivieras, who went on to become Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. Their guitarist was Jim McCarty, who played a Gibson Byrdland through a Fender Twin.

Standing there watching McCarty rip into his leads, I thought, Dear god in heaven, what is that? It was so outrageous, so noisy, yet so musical and so rhythmical. I realized that simply playing a song would never do again.

After I heard him play, I went on a gee-hah to get a Byrdland and a Fender Twin amp—because of the crispness, the thickness, the style of his playing. It was about using all the fingers, all the strings, all the time.

That’s where the multi-rhythmic patterns on my song “Stranglehold” come from, with all the grace rhythms, all the counter-rhythms, all the pedal tones that never stop. I’m playing multiple parts on the guitar by using various incremental touches to each string. And that’s because of McCarty.

KEITH RICHARDS by Steven Van Zandt

The British invasion of 1964 to 1966 turned Americans on to our own rock and roll pioneers and blues players. I grew up on Keith Richards, and his lead on the Stones’ versions of Chuck Berry songs helped reinvent the guitar for Beck, Clapton and Jimmy Page.

I always felt that you go through that muso phase and stay there or get out. I went out the other end. I didn’t want to be a virtuoso for a minute. So I came full circle to the fact that the guitar solo must serve the song—that’s more important.

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