Guitarist is 500! Well, not 500, though come deadline the editorial staff might feel that way. But to celebrate 500 issues of the world's best monthly – we're biased – magazine catering to all aspects of guitar culture, staff past and present share their memories.
It's a celebration... But maybe a form of group therapy too. As the old joke goes, magazine editors have got issues. Here's Jamie Dickson, Guitarist's incumbent editor, to kick things off. He has enjoyed a successful tenure but of course he nearly knocked Slash out with a light stand.
Jamie Dickson (2011-present)
“My first memory of Guitarist magazine comes from the day I bought my first guitar. I was 16 and I’d started working in a local gardening centre. I’d just received my first pay packet of £75 and I couldn’t decide what to spend it on; I thought either a Walkman or a guitar.
“So I walked into Morlings music shop in Lowestoft with my pay and walked out again with a Hohner Dreadnought – and that one decision changed the course of the rest of my life. The second thing I bought that day was a copy of Guitarist, so I could find out what to do with my new Hohner. I remember Slash was on the front cover and, digging around in subsequent years, I think it would have been around 1992.
“Fast forward to 2011 and I found myself actually getting a job at the magazine I’d read and loved for years. It was a real pinch-yourself moment and one I’ve never forgotten. It was a privilege then and it remains so today. One of my first big assignments I received, as a features editor, was to interview BB King backstage at the Albert Hall during an all-star celebration of (if memory serves) his 86th birthday.
“I had been granted only 10 minutes’ interview time to get the cover feature and, having been ushered into the great bluesman’s dressing room and been introduced, I was a little alarmed when he began with quite a long recital of the story of how his guitar Lucille came to get its name. It was wonderful to hear him tell it in person, but I knew this story had been told many times before.
“But to my delight, BB then told me about how listening to the wavering sound of Hawaiian guitar players on the radio influenced his trademark vibrato as a blues player – he also recalled being scolded for touching a preacher’s guitar as a very young boy, a moment that somehow began a love affair with the instrument that, through his huge talent, gave the world so much incredible music.
“As the short interview drew to a close, I said goodbye and, on cloud nine, left the dressing room carrying one of our photographer’s light stands – and narrowly avoided lamping (literally) Slash in the head with it as he walked briskly past the dressing room door. Talk about going from hero to zero – or very nearly.
“Since then there have been so many memorable moments meeting musicians I’ve admired my whole life. But I’m deeply conscious this privilege is only extended to me in order to bring readers of this magazine closer to that moment, to that musician, through the stories we publish.
“As such, while it is an honour to be the actual person in the room, it’s you – the readers of Guitarist – who make it all possible. I’d like to express my enduring gratitude to you for that support, as we literally wouldn’t be able to do this without you. I hope we’ve repaid your support by helping you feel like you’ve spent time with your guitar heroes in these pages.
“So, what moment has made me proudest, working at Guitarist? Well, for the reasons outlined above, I’m going to set aside things like interviews – no matter how personally gratifying – that are really just part of my job. Which leaves me with one memory to treasure in particular. In 2018, myself, Nev Marten and Mick Taylor were invited to perform Hendrix’s first album at the Bristol Blues Festival.
“While we were never going to reach Jimi’s epic heights on guitar, we gave it all we had in a performance to a sold-out auditorium. It was a memory to treasure because my mother and father were in the audience and I remember my dad coming up afterwards and saying he was proud of me – you don’t forget those things, no matter what age you are.
“We all went and had a meal afterwards and the moment became a special memory. My dad died a year later. So I’m going to name that as my favourite moment from my privileged time working here – three editors, past and present, performing music we loved for people we loved.”
Mick Taylor (1997-2013)
“So. Many. Memories. Meeting your heroes goes without saying, not least the staff of the mag – then headed up by Neville – on a rainy February day in 1997. It started with endless copy subbing, to eventually being let off the leash as a nervous newbie writer somewhat agog at a stream of seasoned pro players.
“The failing tape machines; picking up the phone to David Gilmour and not believing it was him; playing Brad Paisley’s guitar on stage; hanging out in Joe Bonamassa’s apartment; talking at length with Randall Smith, Paul Reed Smith, Bill Collings; Peter Green, Les Paul… titan after titan offering endless golden nuggets of insight and learning. The primary task remains translating those interactions via words and images, but the secondary effect is the profundity with which it shapes us personally.
“And then there are the guitars. Oh the guitars… and the amps and the pedals and yet more guitars. A never-ending stream of jaw-dropping instruments about which you were required to form some objective opinion. I’m still not sure it’s possible.
“Above all else, though, what replaces any single memory are two realisations that continue to grow in significance. The first is the inspirational talent and commitment of the people who never got a byline, but who made – and continue to make – Guitarist happen day-to-day. You taught me what better looks like, and to never stop chasing it.
“Secondly, it’s the camaraderie and shared passion created by this bizarre amalgam of wood and metal. As my brother-in-tone Daniel says, ‘It’s a lot to have in common with someone,’ and that it is. To have been part of that as steward of the best guitar magazine in the world is a privilege that remains as amazing as it was unlikely. Happy 500th Guitarist. I will always love you.”
David Mead (1992-’96; 2015-present)
“Memories from my time as Guitarist editor in the mid-’90s are many and varied and it’s difficult to single out just one. Previously, as features editor, my first serious mission had been to interview Steve Vai at the Cannes Guitar Festival in May ’93 where I was treated like a lord and chauffeur-driven everywhere.
“I actually had to plead with the organisers to let me walk to Vai’s hotel to do the interview so that I could enjoy just a little of the South of France sunshine. We became so engrossed in our conversation that I nearly missed my flight home, Steve giving me a lift back to my hotel to pick up my things just in time to be chauffeured back to Nice Airport.
“Being asked to write the liner notes for Gary Moore’s Blues For Greeny album was certainly a highlight of my tenure in the editor’s chair. I was invited up to Sarm West studios to hear a rough mix of the album and while I was there I had a few words with Gary and noticed that Greeny was on a stand in the main studio. I asked if I could have a quick play and Gary said, ‘Sure.’ I remember it being very light and incredibly resonant, and I was in total awe of its historical significance.
“I’ve been incredibly fortunate to spend time with many of my favourite guitarists: having a coffee with Eric Clapton at Olympic Studios in 1994 (and playing ‘Blackie’ afterwards), being given a tour around Air Studios by Mark Knopfler and a private lesson on how to play Romeo and Juliet on his famous resonator. Other unforgettables include spending 24 hours with Pink Floyd on tour in Strasbourg, and an hour-long phone call talking to Frank Zappa… Thanks, Guitarist!”
Dave Burrluck (2000-present)
“Unlike my illustrious colleagues’ stories of derring-do with some of the greatest guitar players ever, I’m more likely to have been shown the tradesman’s entrance. Dispatched many more times than I can remember to visit factories all over the world, I’m invariably covered in sawdust, not glitter. But, to be honest, I’ve always felt more at home talking timbers, glue and production techniques with the likes of Bob Taylor, Joe Knaggs and countless others. That’s my schooling.
“It certainly hasn’t all been plain sailing and free lunches. Crossing the border from the USA into Mexico on a press trip to Fender’s Ensenada factory, where our passports were scrutinised by big staff with bigger guns, was unsettling, to say the least. And having our car searched for bombs every morning as we left the hotel compound in Jakarta makes you wonder if your factory trip was really necessary.
“It can be an eye-opening and humbling experience, too. Visiting a sizable factory in China is one experience I won’t forget. Staffed by young workers who really should have been in college but lived miles from their homes in dormitories on-site, I realised my bulky DSLR and lenses cost more than any of the staff earned in a year. I never travelled with that kit again and have always had immense respect for these ordinary people making guitars we can actually afford.
“On a quick trip to Annapolis, Maryland, to interview Paul Reed Smith I was told we were going to the White House so I’d better pack a suit. When Paul and his driver, Church, arrived to pick me up it was swiftly decided that said suit was a bit too Dr Feelgood.
“We drove to Paul’s house where he and Church dressed me in one of Paul’s outfits, which, as Paul is a fair bit taller than me, didn’t exactly fit. Now late, we headed off to Washington and hit traffic: ‘Let’s do the interview now,’ suggests Paul. I got my story and got to see George Bush announce the end of the war in Iraq. If only I was making this up…”
Neville Marten (1986-’93; 1996-present)
“I have millions of great Guitarist memories. Playing Clapton’s ‘Blackie’ and ‘Brownie’, David Gilmour’s white 0001 Strat or Brian May’s Red Special, Jimi’s ‘Woodstock’ Strat, or playing on stage with Gary Moore. Then there were fantastic work trips all over the world to incredible places. But while these all stand out, I recall certain things that didn’t quite go to plan, just as readily as those that did.
“One biggie was in 2006 when I went to interview Mike McCartney about his new book Live8 Coolpix, where brother Paul had invited him backstage to take candid shots of the artists that performed at the festival. I drove to Liverpool for the lunchtime launch and was due to interview Mike afterwards. I heard that Paul was in town and it was rumoured he might attend. He didn’t. I believe someone also mentioned they were leaving for Las Vegas the next day for the opening of The Beatles Love: Cirque du Soleil show.
“Mike had other interviews to do and mine kept getting pushed back. About three hours later we were sitting on the floor of an empty radio studio, having our chat. We got on really well and had common friends, like guitarist Joe Brown (before The Beatles broke, they’d supported him; Mike told me he’d snapped a picture of George as he sneakily picked up Joe’s Gibson ES-345).
“After the interview Mike said something like, ‘Neville, I feel you’ve been messed about today. Why don’t you come to dinner with the family?’ Since I faced a three-and-a-half-hour trek home I politely declined. On the long drive out of Liverpool it suddenly dawned, ‘The family… you absolute moron! Have you just turned down dinner with Paul McCartney?’
“Now, I have absolutely no idea if that’s what was going to happen, but if it was, it’s safe to say I goofed!”
Eddie Allen (1984-1996)
“Following a chance meeting in 1984 with an old friend, I was invited to meet a publisher who was about to launch a new magazine aimed exclusively at guitarists. At that meeting I accepted his offer to be involved, and Guitarist was launched. By the November 1985 issue, featuring Gary Moore, I was designing front covers (mine had a Flying V in the strapline), riding on a tour bus with Gary and his band, and taking photographs for publication in the magazine – including the cover picture. Necessity meant we learnt quickly to become multi-skilled in those days.
“Then joining the editorial team with their ability to engage with artists, equipment manufacturers and distributors alike, coupled with their musicality, enthusiasm and knowledge for all things guitar-related, I hope helped in Guitarist’s transition from a magazine written by enthusiastic amateurs to a world-leading international publication.
“I eventually became editor, and in the 12 years I was involved with Guitarist we literally covered a lot of ground, reviewing gear and interviewing artists. During that time just about every major player featured in its pages, as did all the latest gear.
“I’ve lost count of the amount of equipment reviews and artist interviews I did, but there is one that will always stand out: Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel. An absolute gentleman and as mad as a box of frogs. But the night spent talking with Heart’s Nancy Wilson or the morning spent in Lita Ford’s hotel room both come a close second.
“Working on Guitarist magazine from day one was an adventure. Actually, it was like being in a musical episode of Minder, starring the great and the good from all parts of the music industry. Personally, being a part of the first 12 years of Guitarist’s 500 issues was amazing. Here’s to the next 500.”