Thirty Great Guitarists — Including Steve Vai, David Gilmour and Eddie Van Halen — Pick the Greatest Guitarists of All Time
LESLIE WEST by Martin Barre
Leslie West made a big impression on me when Mountain supported Jethro Tull on a long U.S. tour during the early Seventies. In those days, opening acts weren’t too friendly, and it all became a bit competitive, but Mountain were lovely guys, and we really hit it off. They were such a great band. I loved Leslie’s larger-than-life style, they had great songs, and they were so incredibly tight. In that last respect, they taught Jethro Tull a lot about being a band.
I know of at least three people that were affected by Leslie’s playing style—myself, John McLaughlin and Mick Ralphs [of Mott the Hoople and Bad Company]—but I’m sure there are plenty more. Leslie has such recognizable tone, and I love the melodic way he plays; every note counts. He never resorts to the pyrotechnic approach or feels the need to be overly clever.
If you want a good starting off point for a beginner, go with Climbing!  or Nantucket Sleighride . I still love what Mountain did with “Theme from an Imaginary Western.” My goodness, they brought that to life, especially onstage.
JEFF BECK by David Gilmour
I’m sort of horribly, pathetically fannish about Jeff. Ever since “Hi Ho Silver Lining” came out [in 1967] when I was 20-odd years old, I’ve revered him and his playing. In many ways he is just the best guitar player. And 40-something years since he came to prominence in the Yardbirds, he is still the only person pushing forward in that way. He’s never retreading old ground; he’s always looking for a new challenge.
Jeff’s scarily brilliant. He’s a tightrope walker. I’m not. I like to cover all my bases and make myself secure with a great band, with the music all rehearsed. I just walk out there, and if I didn’t even play anything it would still sound great. Jeff’s different. He’s out there mining that seam.
JIMI HENDRIX by Joe Satriani
The first thing that really flipped me out was hearing “The Wind Cries Mary” on the radio. Before that, I was a drummer, and I started from watching the Rolling Stones and the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. But as soon as I heard Hendrix, that was it.
What made him great was his choice of notes. When you hear “Machine Gun” from Live at the Fillmore, you have no idea what’s going to happen in the next few minutes. You’re totally unprepared. With “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” you can’t believe how perfect a performance it is, and it’s just a blues thing in E.
Unfortunately, the Seventies were a hellish period for many great players, if you look at Hendrix’s comrades, it was a rough road. But look at someone like Jeff Beck—he just gets better and better.
I saw him a month ago in Oakland, and I was just in tears standing at the side of the stage listening to him playing “Where Were You.” Nowadays, as a guitarist you want to celebrate what you’ve been able to play, which goes back to quoting other great players, but you also feel a responsibility not to copy those people. In my mind, when I’m playing, my heroes are sitting on my shoulders.