No matter how romantic the origin story behind our favorite guitar players, people don’t just pick up the guitar for the first time and run through 16th Century Greensleeves, Scuttle Buttin’ then Eruption to close things out. No.
It doesn’t matter whom you sell your soul to, whether you start on the acoustic or electric guitar, it takes time to get good. More often than not, it takes a teacher’s guidance too. With a mind to the Guitar Teacher of the Year category in our Guitarist of the Year 2020 competition, and in a mood that could only be described as being hot for teacher, we’d like to give an apple to some of pioneers and trailblazers of guitar instruction.
We have cut this down to 15 guitar teachers who are not only teaching us to play but making us think about the instrument anew.
There will be omissions. That is the nature of a list. There will be some surprise inclusions. We’ll look at the teachers of yore, those whose instructional books taught our heroes, and who laid the foundations.
But we’ll also look at those who continue to push the boundaries as players in their own right and are sharing that knowledge in real-time, and those who have used the internet’s reach to spread knowledge and offer a digitally enriched platform for today’s player to learn on.
There have never been more educational resources available to guitarists. That invites a new discipline, a rigor in curating your learning. With that in mind, our first pick is straight out the old-school and started teaching long before we had the color TV let alone the internet… Heck! Before we had the Telecaster.
1. Mel Bay
It is only right that we should start with one of the OG founding fathers of popularized guitar instruction – and indeed of banjo, harmonica and more. Mel Bay’s name is so embedded in our consciousness as the publishing brand that it transcends Melbourne E. Bay, the man.
Born in Bunker, Missouri, in 1913, Bay was a self-taught guitarist who made his bones playing various gigs across the Ozark region. He moved to St. Louis and after falling on hard times he ended up teaching up to 100 students a week. By 1947, he started writing lessons.
The Mel Bay Modern Guitar Method series might seem antiquated these days in its choice to use standard notation to encourage sight-reading, but, like eating your vegetables when you're young, it’ll make you grow up big and strong…
Selling over 20 million copies, it could lay claim to being the most-influential series of guitar instructional books ever. Mel Bay’s Guitar Chords remains an invaluable resource for players of all abilities.
2. Joe Satriani
Even before you start talking pedagogies and knowledge, curriculum and delivery, you can tell a lot about a teacher from the quality of their students, and no one has a more celebrated alumni body than Joe Satriani.
Alex Skolnick, Steve Vai, Kirk Hammett, Larry LaLonde, Charlie Hunter, Counting Crows’ David Bryson! The range of guitar talent weened on Satch’s wisdom speaks for itself.
With or without the guitar, Satch is an excellent communicator. As in his own compositions, he is a master in breaking down music theory and expressing it in something that’s digestible, human and ultimately musical.
His teaching started when he was at Five Towns College, in New York, with Vai an early pupil, but he was soon inundated after moving out west to Berkley, California. Check out Satch’s Guitar World lesson above – it’ll help you approach melody differently when building solos.
3. Michael Angelo Batio
Where do you start with Michael Angelo Batio? The pioneer of double-neck shred is one of the world’s most incendiary players, but that’s not enough. No, the Notorious MAB has made it his mission in life to lift thousands of players onto the shred pantheon.
A Guitar World columnist, whose Learn Shred Guitar lessons series was published in conjunction with GW, his curriculum covers all the essentials you need to make your fingerboard feel the burn – sweep picking, flat-picking, rock/classical fusion, soloing over odd time signatures and, of course – the bread and butter of technical proficiency – ruthlessly efficient picking techniques.
4. Paul Gilbert
Like Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert is someone who inspires players to play just by talking about the instrument. That’s what the best teachers do – they communicate.
Of course, his discography with Racer X, Mr. Big and as a solo artist bears testimony to his chops and the playbook that’s behind them, and a philosophy that takes his schooling from the Guitar Institute of Technology and applies it to life lessons learned from absorbing the pyrotechnic rock theater of Eddie Van Halen, the classicism of Page, the melodic playfulness of the Beatles and a lot more besides.
Kudos if you own a GW/Paul Gilbert Shred Alert DVD. It’s out of print now but you can find Paul Gilbert’s lessons on the Artistworks platform. Right now, sign up, get new video lessons, share your own progress on video and receive feedback and lesson videos to take your playing to the next level. Just don’t disappoint him with wet sandwich vibrato.
5. Tomo Fujita
Learning guitar can be an unforgiving experience at times. When we first start out it’s intimidating, with a little finger pain on top, then, as we progress, we periodically hit some speed bumps and fall into a rut. Few teachers are better at getting you back on track than Berklee professor Tomo Fujita.
He has the uncanny knack of presenting simple steps that deliver immeasurable improvements on your playing. No detail is spared. He’s a stickler for the importance of phrasing, muting and dynamics, and how paying attention to the small things – sometimes obviously so in hindsight – delivers big results.
He has over three decades of experience, taught John Mayer, has a similarly great ear for sweet clean tones, and has some of the best funk chops you’ll hear. His YouTube channel, TomoFujitaMusic, is an invaluable resource for guitar players, no matter their expertise. Even if you just want to learn a nice chord progression.
6. Justin Sandercoe
Testimonials from the likes of Mark Knopfler, Steve Vai, Brian May and Tommy Emmanuel speak to the quality of teaching Justin Sandercoe offers – and his platform, JustinGuitar, is free to join, with a cornucopia of learning materials and lessons provided free of charge.
But once you have spent some time working through his lessons – you can mark them complete and move on – you might want to enroll in some of his more in-depth digital programs.
There are lessons covering subjects from the the major scale, to music theory, solo blues guitar and more. You can go as deep as you want, but for a beginner or intermediate player who's looking to put some theory together with some song knowledge and develop their chops, Sandercoe is one of the best around – 1.28 million subscribers on YouTube can’t be wrong.
7. Burt Weedon
Those raised on the digital immediacy of YouTube and its smorgasbord of educational canapés are really following a path that was set by Burt Weedon way back in the late '50s.
Weedon’s Play In A Day instructional book taught a whole generation of guitarists how to play. Legends such as Brian May, John Lennon, George Harrison and Eric Clapton referenced Play In A Day as a source text.
It's still in print and on DVD if you’re willing to hunt it out. Techniques have evolved, so too playing styles, but the fundamentals remain unchanged, and it's a credible argument to say that no one has done more to popularize guitar playing than Weedon. He was a great player, too.
8. Jennifer Batten
Michael Jackson and Jeff Beck's former shredder-in-chief can be found on the TrueFire platform, where she has released three courses. Her Rock Sauce courses – one for rhythm, one for lead – will give you a working knowledge of her incendiary style, with 50 Ultra Intervallic Guitar Licks You Must Know a veritable masterclass in the sort of melodic patterns and scalar approaches that will prime you for improvisation.
Any player of intermediate to advanced skill will know that feeling where their proficiency becomes a crutch and it’s time to bust out of the comfort zone. Batten’s the sort of player and teacher to do that.
Now, get yourself a Gravity Pick and check out this masterclass in building strength and stamina, while finding new ways of phrasing familiar patterns.
9. Greg Koch
The Gristleman is one of the most prodigiously gifted players of his generation, playing a kinetic hybrid style of country, blues, rock ’n’ roll and jazz… It’s one hot jam.
He’s also a prolific teacher. If you're an intermediate or advanced player, it might well be worth spending a hundred bucks for an hour-long Skype lesson to crib some licks from him and workshop your technique.
But if your budget is more modest, Koch has written and produced a wide variety of instructional books and DVDs with Hal Leonard, that not only unpack his style in granular detail but cover blues, rhythm guitar, country and players such as Stevie Ray Vaughan. He’s an affable host, a killer player, and knows how to put a fun lesson together.
10. Guthrie Govan
You might recognize Guitar World's erstwhile Professor Shred from Hans Zimmer’s blockbuster world tours and movie soundtracks, the Fellowship, Asia, the Aristocrats or his expansive adventures with Steven Wilson.
But there’s a good chance you already know his name and his style on the strength of his teaching alone. He's a relentless educator of guitarists with an encyclopedic knowledge of theory and a near supernatural talent for playing and teaching in any style imaginable.
His two-volume Creative Guitar book series makes an excellent showcase for his ideas for guitar playing; indeed, his lessons are very much geared towards equipping you to chase your own musical rainbow – which is where a sound knowledge of theory and technique can take you.
11. Wolf Marshall
The Tolstoy of transcription, Wolf Marshall was a super prolific figure in guitar culture from the late '80s onwards, with his Signature Licks series unpacking the styles of Robby Krieger, Steve Vai, Eric Clapton and more.
Indeed, any of the high-profile guitar heroes of the day were put under the microscope, digested and presented in a way that could let those learning the instrument borrow from the masters.
The Wolf Marshall Guitar Method was a leader in its field, offering a comprehensive syllabus for guitarists. These days, Marshall’s syllabus is more jazz-orientated, and you can find his lessons on TrueFire.
12. Sarah Longfield
Sarah Longfield is a polymath phenom whose trailblazing, extended-range style typifies the frontier spirit in today’s experimental metal. It has also helped change the design of the extended-range guitar, with her signature Strandberg models tailor-made for some of the – quite frankly – crazy stuff that is going on with her lessons.
Enlisting to her master course on JamPlay is to prepare to take that seven- or eight-string of yours out of the chug zone and into some celestial territory where next-gen techniques such as "paradiddle tapping” and “advanced tapped arpeggios” will change not just how you play but perhaps what you think of the instrument itself.
We mentioned she was a polymath, and this is writ-large in her playing and teaching, with a style borne out of her training on drums and piano.
13. Yvette Young
Another new-school polymath guitarist with a penchant for Strandberg’s Boden seven-string and hybrid tapping, Yvette Young teaches a style that resists easy categorization.
Mastering it might considerably rewire your chops and technique. If that sounds complicated, it nonetheless makes perfect sense when you hear it in the context of her band, Covet. The melody and the purpose is always foregrounded, and that’s one the key takeaways from her JamPlay course.
Young teaches us how to write in odd meters and incorporate both hands in playing riffs, and also takes you inside the approaches she uses on Covet songs such as Shibuya.
As you can see from her Guitar World lesson above, her rhythm style shows her right hand assuming fingerboard positions that might be alien at first, but are a key part of what is ultimately a wholly practical approach to defying the limitations placed on us by the instrument.
14. Tommy Emmanuel
Who could be better at teaching fingerstyle guitar than the best fingerstyle player in the world? Tommy Emmanuel is just incredible, and he covers some ground. There’s country, bluegrass, folk, jazz and more, but it just sounds like Emmanuel.
He cites Chet Atkins as a key influence. “Growing up listening to Chet Atkins taught me to find the melody and stick with the melody,” he told Guitar World last year, and that is, in essence, akin to his playing and teaching philosophy. All the technique is focused on expressing nuance of musical information in a part.
His teaching is borne of practical wisdom, breaking fingerstyle and Travis picking down into manageable exercises that, in sum, demystify the process and choice cuts from his discography. His lessons are available on the TrueFire platform.
15. Andy Aledort
Okay, so maybe we are a little biased in picking long-time Guitar World contributor Andy Aledort in this list but, come on, his services to guitar tuition, particularly in the field of blues-rock, are unparalleled.
He has sold over a million instructional DVDs, written over 200 books on guitar instruction – taking a deep dive into the styles of Albert King, Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan – plus a number of tab books that are bona fide bookshelf essentials, such as Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction and The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Axis: Bold as Love.
To get some some Aledort Jedi fretboard knowledge in your life right now, well, just point that browser to his current series of lessons on GW – which right now sees him exploring the major hexatonic scale. Alternatively, look him up on TrueFire or go direct to his site.