The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Unlimited Love is quite possibly the guitar album of 2022. It has everything.
There are the anthems, tracks that will soundtrack millions of people’s summers. There are ballads, the Chilis resizing their sound to compose something more intimate, tracks such as Tangelo, which let the acoustic guitar take the lead.
But there’s more: this is the record that welcomes guitarist John Frusciante back to the fold, back where he belongs. A talent like his comes along once a generation if we are lucky. Whether he is casting a web of Hendrix inspired rhythm on his Fender Stratocaster or leaning into something more atonal and out there, somehow he always makes the right choices.
Game recognizes game, and so to accompany Guitar World’s epic interview with Frusciante, we tracked down some of the best players on the planet to get their perspective on his playing, to ask them what makes him great, and perhaps to pick some favorite moments from a discography animated by his gifts on guitar.
Let’s kick things off with the maestro…
“John has always been an MVP in any band he performs with. He always writes the perfect part, and his passion for vintage recording gear captures his tone magnificently.
“Perhaps one of my favorite performances by him is an obscure one, Inca Roads by Frank Zappa, performed solo live. Anyone who can play it is a Jedi boss! I never had to play that part when I was with Frank, thank goodness.”
“For me it’s Otherside off of Californication. It’s a great example of how the simplest guitar parts can be so clever and well-fitting for a band like RHCP. I can’t imagine that writing parts to complement Flea’s grooves (without getting in the way) is an easy task. Frusciante is the very definition of a guitarist who doesn’t overplay – and always lays down such appropriate ideas that include his specific voice.”
Rodrigo Sanchez (Rodrigo y Gabriela)
“JF is among the very few guitar players of our generation that came up with his own very distinctive sound, and that’s not an easy thing to do on an instrument that has been around for a long, long time.
“Despite his being on my radar forever, it wasn’t until our 2019 album, Mettavolution, that you can hear his influence – and it’ll be very present in the new Rodrigo y Gabriela album.”
Philipp Dausch (Milky Chance)
“John’s songwriting and his sense for harmony and sound has always been so inspiring. Curtains [Frusciante’s 2005 solo album] is a masterpiece that showcases all of that – and A Name or Time Tonight are two of my favorites.”
“What I love most about John Frusciante is the way his style has the clear roots of old-school guitar greats like Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa, yet still remains completely of the times (if not a little bit futuristic). His heroes pushed the limits of the instrument and inspired generations of people to pick up the guitar… and John has done the same!”
“One of the first albums I bought for myself was Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The interplay between the bass and rhythm guitar is so in the pocket and organic – lots of innovative, understated guitar moments followed by chaos and fireworks.
“The solo on I Could Have Lied is so expressive and emotional; it adds this desperation to Anthony Kiedis’ delivery. I loved the guitar playing on the title track – it’s riff-driven, melodic, explosive. The whole album kills.”
“Original, raw, heartfelt and pure, Herculean and supernatural – these are some of the words I would use to describe John’s guitar playing.
“Whether he’s working with the cleanest of clean tones with a total absence of ambience, or the craziest of fuzzed-out, psychedelic, melt-your-face-off lead sounds, he always makes it feel natural and sound personal.
“John’s live performances with the Chili Peppers are exceptional examples of his organic, highly creative and high-energy approach to using a Strat.”
“By the Way was one of the first albums I ever heard. I was instantly fascinated by John’s playing and I always thought he had such an interesting style; it’s so dynamic and expressive, and you can tell it’s him straight away. Not to mention his tones are absolutely stunning! His songwriting is awesome too, always playing for the song and giving it exactly what it needs.”
“I vividly remember hearing Under the Bridge the first time and not being able to fathom that it was just one guitar. There were bass notes, harmony and lead lines all happening at once, and for someone who had convinced himself that power chords were all that was needed, it was like he was playing a different instrument entirely.
“It’s an experience John himself has echoed numerous times as he described hearing Little Wing for the first time – that melodic style of rhythm playing that Curtis Mayfield pioneered and Jimi Hendrix expanded on is an integral part of my playing today; John was the first person I heard put it to such good use.”
Laura Jane Grace (solo artist, Against Me!)
“One of my first-ever public performances was at summer camp playing air guitar along to Under the Bridge. John was one of my earliest influences in that way. I was fascinated just mimicking him. I think he’s brilliant, one of my favorites.
“The Red Hot Chilli Peppers Live at Slane Castle is one of the all-time best live performances ever captured on footage, and it’s at least half because of John’s contribution.”
“My favorite piece from Frusciante would, hands down, be Snow (Hey Oh) – for several reasons. Aside from the absolutely legendary complex arpeggio executed in a legato liquid manner, and the mass cultural timeless effect it has had since its recording, the homage paid to the traditions of J.S. Bach in the chordal cycle of the riff reminds us that sometimes the simple magics of this universe are just what our souls need.”
“John Frusciante is responsible for some of the most catchy and recognisable riffs in music. My fave is Dani California. Although he’s one of the most skilful guitarists out there, he’s not hugely technical – he just has enormous feel and doesn’t rely on fast, crazy runs to impress. He uses things such as dynamics and tonal range, interesting pedal effects and his other-worldly timing to compliment any song he’s playing on.”
Sadler Vaden (solo, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit)
“Scar Tissue is one of my favorite Frusciante performances. I love the slide solos, and the main guitar parts are so economical, just like so much of his writing/playing.
“Obviously, you can hear his influences such as Hendrix, etc., but the parts he composes are uniquely his own.
“They are always deceivingly hard to pull off and most of the time you can sing his solos note for note. To me, that’s a mark of a great guitarist.”
“Every guitar part in Under the Bridge is iconic. The beginning is very stark and nearly plain. When the hi-hats enter, you can hear the Jimi Hendrix influence; John deconstructed Hendrix’s vibe and built it back up into his own thing. Sure, you can hear Jimi’s influence, but John’s invention is absolutely identifiable.
“The variety of sounds he gets from the beginning of the song through the bridge are equally iconic. From solemn-sounding chords in the beginning, to the slightly overdriven and nearly reverb-free compressed sound of the chorus, to that chorused sound in the refrain where it goes from A major to A minor… The song has everything.”
“One of the things I love most about John is his ability to fill up so much sound with so much simplicity. His parts leave room for the bass and drums to do their thing, but they outline the harmony. The hooks are always catchy, and they fill up just the right amount of space while leaving enough for the imagination to fill in some of the blanks.
“A lot of the riffs are just so hooky – all the parts are so cool in the way they interact. But it’s not like he’s playing huge chords to fill things out; he’s playing things that are actually a little more simple, with fewer notes than what a lot of other people would play.
“That plays into the technical and theoretical way he approaches things. He plays things that feel very catchy, interacting and weaving between the bass and the drums but also able to stand on their own.”
“When I started playing guitar, Californication was the biggest album in the world. I was immediately struck by John Frusciante’s slinky, funky, effortless style of riffing and soloing – often imitated, never duplicated.”
Josh Kennedy (The Black Moods)
“Frusciante’s playing on Hey from Stadium Arcadium is impeccable. His clean guitar part creates this innocence that matches not only the vocal melody, but the tone of the overall piece. It creates this vibe to truly ride alongside the lyrics that Kiedis sings – all adding up to a guitar solo that can bring a man to his knees.”
Brian Fallon (solo, The Gaslight Anthem)
“The version of Don’t Forget Me from La Cigale feels like the entire band working at a fluidity you only find from people connecting to a moving force that’s beyond all of them.
“The way John is playing here feels otherworldly. I’d think that even he would say he was connected to something beyond our human comprehension, where you get entirely lost in the music that’s happening at that moment.
“There’s no way to force that state of mind for a musician or creative person; you have to just show up and hope it comes to visit you. Clearly, on this night John was met.”
“John Frusciante is a master of riffs that are imaginative, interesting, yet totally in service of the song. And his sense of time and groove give an understated effortlessness.
“One of my favorite riffs is on Snow (Hey, Oh); he takes a straightforward chord progression yet makes it so engaging, so musical, by choosing cool voicings, great articulation and well-placed slurs and dynamics.”
Joe Langridge-Brown (Nothing But Thieves)
“There’s a song called Don’t Forget Me – I swear, the solo is only three notes played over and over again. At the time, I felt like I had to play really fast because the best players were doing all these amazing arpeggios.
“So that was the song that made me understand that the right three notes can affect you way more than anything for the sake of speed or technicality. I’ve seen some pictures of his rig, and it’s unreal. The guy has so many pedals on different boards, so he’s probably to blame for my love for that as well!”
“I love John Frusciante’s top lines in relation to the rhythm guitar and bass. Every note feels like it’s where it’s supposed to be, but every choice he makes still catches me off guard. The perfectly placed hammer-on in every riff trickled into my playing early on.
“And the way he can create so much tension with only one or two strings over a bass line – like the solos in Scar Tissue. Moments like that have always made me feel better about keeping it simple.”
Steve Selvidge (The Hold Steady)
“Pretty Little Ditty was a clear indicator of what was to come from John. I saw him on MTV, then on the Mother’s Milk tour when I was 16. Being a Funkadelic fan, his playing spoke to my aesthetic as a guitarist. Plus he just looked really fucking cool.
“He was just old enough for me to still kinda idolize, but young enough that I could also relate to him and even think that playing to a sold-out room of 1,200 or so people might be possible for me, too.”
Zak and Rex Cox (Uncured)
“While John is best known for his work with RHCP, we know him best for his more avant-garde work with the Mars Volta and Omar Rodrígues-Lopez. The Bedlam in Goliath is one of our favorite progressive albums of all time, and the layers of guitar work are incredible.
“John and Omar’s riffs are groovy throughout, with tasty wah solos and dirty stop-box effects pushing the experimental concepts developed through the whole album.”
Tad Kubler (The Hold Steady)
“I was a massive RHCP fan in high school. Hillel Slovak was still alive when I discovered them. It was wild to see the evolution/transformation of the band. I first saw RHCP on the Uplift Mofo tour, just after Hillel passed away. I was in 10th grade.
“And then I think I saw five or six shows when they were touring Mother’s Milk. The difference in those two versions of the band was astounding. John was a guitar hero.”
Aaron Bruno (Awolnation)
“John Frusciante really sees music as a great tradition that is passed down and not something that’s possessed by individuals. It’s a more fluid thing that he’s a part of. He studies it and is very disciplined with how he relates to it.
“He’s good at constantly being inspired by different artists and different types of music, pulling from all of these different things when writing. He left RHCP after Blood Sugar Sex Magik and then didn’t play guitar for years!
“When he rejoined the band, his fingers didn’t have the same strength that they did before. Instead of feeling defeated and like he wasn’t good enough, he directed his attention to guitarists who weren’t as flashy but who played more simply and were more about the interaction with the other instruments. He used his limitations as a strength, not a weakness, which is an amazing mindset.
“Since then he has obviously regained all that strength and has played more like a ‘guitar hero,’ but the fact that when he couldn’t, he still wrote/recorded Californication – that’s amazing. I particularly love his playing on Hard to Concentrate – all those different guitar sounds (that don’t sound like guitar) are really special.
“It’s hard to choose a favorite, but his playing on Dosed kind of sums up how much emotion he is pulling from the instrument, with all those different parts going at once.”
Ace (Skunk Anansie)
“What I like about John is, what he plays is really simple, totally direct and just literally works for the song. This makes people connect with it really quickly and easily. There is a certain honesty about is playing that also shows the flaws as well as the brilliance.
“I like his tone because it’s quite classic and it sounds like he really likes Jimi Hendrix, which is always a good starting point. What he does is different from everyone else… he is just him, and his vibe and personality comes out through the playing.
“It doesn’t sound like a technically brilliant virtuoso; he sounds like a musician with a lot of soul and feeling. I would say my favorite song by him, just for being a real standout track, is Under the Bridge. It’s simple, honest and really moving – three things that are very difficult to capture in a single guitar part.”
Roy Oliver (Capital Theatre)
“What instantly stood out to me about John’s guitar style was that it was so diverse. His tasty, clean, melodic riffs, crunchy funk rhythms and big, screaming guitar solos really showcase his abilities, and that’s been inspiring to me, a guitarist who loves all kinds of music and sounds.
“To pick one piece of work is challenging, but I really love his work on This Velvet Glove. It’s got those nice clean riffs with that funky crunch guitar providing a great rhythmic change. Basically anything by John seems to float my boat.”
Pat Cassidy (The Districts)
“There is an instrumental track on To Record Only Water for Ten Days called Ramparts that has owned a small piece of real estate in my subconscious since I was 13. Clocking in at roughly 70 seconds, the recording is rather sparse, just multiple layers of John’s signature simple yet hugely emotive guitar playing.
“This song in particular was a big influence to me at that time because I had just acquired my first pedal, a Boss RC-20 Loop Station, and began making short instrumental recordings myself.
“I’ve always been drawn to some of John Frusciante’s solo home recordings and those of artists like Daniel Johnston for the same reason. They capture a certain sense of intimacy – as if nobody was intended to hear them. You can feel that the music was made purely for the sake of expression.”