"The whole vibe of Ace Frehley was really special to me. I was so small, and Ace was this larger-than-life figure… I didn't even think he was a real person": John 5 names the guitarists who shaped his sound

John 5 performs with Mötley Crüe at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia on November 14, 2023
(Image credit: Chris Putnam/Future/Getty Images)

Blistering riffs and eruptive solos aside, the most endearing thing about John 5 – born John William Lowery – is the joy he exudes while talking guitar and the players who influenced him.

It's a rare thing – especially in an age where jaded mindsets and an over-saturation of bright and shiny things reigns supreme. Somehow, though, John 5 hasn't lost the fire, nor has exhaustion set in. Instead, the early muse that set him alight remains. 

“Like any kid, I loved to watch TV,” he tells Guitar World. “I thought the TV was like another member of the family, and I was rounded up in front of it all the time.”

As for the effect that had on his young mind, John 5 continues, “I'd be watching Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and The Brady Bunch, but it wasn't until I watched Roy Clark, Buck Owens, and Don Rich with my dad that my mind was blown. I think that would have been my first real inspiration as far as guitar. It was my epiphany to start playing.”

With the energy of a raging bull, a young John 5 focused his efforts on what he was meant to do. 

“I knew this [playing guitar] was what I wanted to spend my life doing. I think the perfect way to put it is that I was obsessed. If I had a guitar lesson on a Tuesday after school, I'd stay home on Wednesday just to master that lesson and get it down.

“I was completely obsessed with guitar,” he says. “I knew it was what I was going to do. For my whole life, there was no if's, and's, or but's about it.”

John 5's enthusiasm is palatable. Moreover, his early wisdom that guitar would be his calling proved true as he made stops with the likes of David Lee Roth, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, and now, Mötley Crüe.

Aside from those gigs, John 5 has done guest spots with some of rock's most legendary personalities, like Ace Frehley, Steve Perry, Sebastian Bach, and Alice Cooper, to name a few. All of this is to say that, as far as his playing goes, John 5 is decidedly ambidextrous. 

“It's cheesy,” he says, “But I love music. It doesn't have to be metal, rock, or country – I just love music.”

That same love of music left John 5 with an ability to equally impact anything he touches. “I listen to so many different styles,” he says, “but I don't see them as different – I just see music. And I'm still a fan who has a true love for music. I still love to learn and study. I'm still excited to get up in the morning and play guitar.”

I never want to stop learning. I'll be a different guitar player ten years from now than today – I'll never slow down and keep pushing myself to a level I'm happy with

These days, John 5 is taking that excitement to the stage and the studio with Mötley Crüe, jumpstarting the 40-years-strong glam titans. That energy, however, goes both ways.

“Experiencing new things, like with Mötley Crüe, keeps me inspired,” he says. “It's unbelievable that I get to share the stage and studio with these guys and share life with them, too.

Nikki Sixx (left) and John 5 perform onstage with Mötley Crüe at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia on November 14, 2023

(Image credit: Sam Tabone/WireImage)

“You never know what life is gonna throw at you,” he says. “All of this is an education, and I never want to stop learning. I'll be a different guitar player ten years from now than today – I'll never slow down and keep pushing myself to a level I'm happy with. I just want to experience as much as I can, and I'm experiencing a lot right now and am very thankful for it.”

During a break in the action, John 5 dialed in with Guitar World, prefacing the chat by saying, “Without these guys, the world would be a very different place,” before digging into the 10 players who shaped a career full of rowdy riffs, seething solos, gargantuan gigs, and never-ending surprises.

10. Roy Clark/Buck Owens/Don Rich

“I don't know if there's a particular order for these three guys, but like I said earlier, I love Roy Clark, Buck Owens, and Don Rich. I love all those country chicken pickers, and seeing those guys was my real life-changing experience as far as picking up guitar. I started learning those songs after seeing them on TV, and I learned all that chicken-pickin' stuff even before rock, which is strange looking back on it.”

9. Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix performs at Grona Lund in Stockholm, Sweden on May 24, 1967

(Image credit: Svenska Dagbladet/AFP/Getty Images)

“Seeing Jimi Hendrix just blew my mind. I was so obsessed with his playing, and it's really what got me into rock. It just seemed like Jimi Hendrix was on another level, and I remember watching a film on HBO later about Woodstock – I watched him play the Star-Spangled Banner and play with his teeth, and again, that just blew my mind. I was really into Jimi Hendrix for a very long time, and it really helped me get my sound dialed in while I learned all those songs.”

8. Chet Atkins

“Another important one for me is Chet Atkins. I was so obsessed with Chet Atkins' style – that certain style of playing the bass and the melody lines at the same time. I still love it so much even today – it's such an incredible style of playing, and it's so different from anything else that I've learned in the past. It's a very different way of playing guitar, and it's almost as if I started speaking a different language [when I learned it] because it's so different from anything else.”

7. Steve Vai 

Steve Vai performs at The Academy in New York City in 1993

(Image credit: Patti Ouderkirk/WireImage)

“Next, I would go with the great Steve Vai. I loved Steve Vai, and was introduced to him by reading Guitar Player and Guitar World magazine. I remember being totally blown away because this was an example of just taking it to another level. Like, what Steve Vai did with the [1984] Flex-Able record was unreal. 

“It's so important to have inspiration – I think having amazing inspiration that never goes away is the most important thing in life. And what Steve Vai did with the guitar, and what he still does with the guitar, is incredible. It's really something special to me, and it had a very real effect on my life.”

6. Buckethead

“Buckethead is someone who influenced me later in life and really helped me as a touring player and as an instrumentalist. I love Buckethead's style, and he and I are very similar with the love for country, the crazy shredding, the monsters, and all that stuff. So, Buckethead was a very big inspiration to me in my later years, and he still is. 

“That's what I've been saying – being inspired is so important. I hope it will never go away because I love being inspired more than anything. I love the feeling of, 'Oh, wow, that's cool. That's different. I really like and enjoy this.'”

5. Paul Gilbert 

Paul Gilbert performs onstage in London in 2008

(Image credit: C Brandon/Redferns)

“I love Paul Gilbert. I got into him with Racer X, and I loved that first Racer X record [Street Lethal]. I was totally obsessed with it. I remember I was living in California, and I would go see every Racer X show that I could, and he would do this thing [a cover band] called Electric Fence and all these super-interesting things. I would go to everything, and I loved it. I love Paul Gilbert's playing, string skipping, arpeggios, picking, everything about it. What Paul Gilbert did really helped shape my playing a lot.”

4. Yngwie Malmsteen

“I have to include Yngwie Malmsteen. I was just obsessed with his playing and remember being blown away by him. His playing was a real game-changer because it was genius. But genius is not, 'Oh, that guy can play' – that's not genius to me. I think genius is something I can't see. And that's what Yngwie Malmsteen did – he changed everything and created this style. 

“That's what genius is, it's the thing you can't see but is created. And he created something that really had an effect on me and zillions of other people all over the world.”

3. Ace Frehley

Ace Frehley performs onstage with Kiss at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, California in 1977

(Image credit: Richard McCaffrey/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

“I love Ace Frehley. He was like my Superman or Spiderman. I love, love, loved Ace as a young kid while I was learning everything. The whole vibe of Ace was something really special to me. I was so small, and Ace was just like this larger-than-life figure… I didn't even think he was a real person. I was like, 'Wow, this is just totally insane,' and was really blown away by Ace. Luckily, I still have this love for a lot of these players, and I do still have that same love for Ace.”

2. Joe Maphis 

“This is a strange one, and a lot of people may not know who he is, but Joe Maphis was an amazing country picker. He had a big effect on me, and you can really hear it in a lot of my playing, especially my solos and my instrumental stuff. 

“Joe Maphis was the envy of country guitar in the late '50s and throughout the '60s. He was an absolute demon on guitar, and he could pick up a mandolin and do the same thing. And then he'd put the mandolin down, pick up a banjo, and do the same thing, and then put that down, grab a stand-up bass, and do it again. It was just so unbelievable. So, if you aren't familiar with Joe Maphis, please look him up. He's something to see.”

1. Eddie Van Halen 

Eddie Van Halen performs live onstage at the Cobo Arena in Detroit, Michigan on September 26, 1986

(Image credit: Ross Marino/Getty Images)

“My number one is like a lot of other people's number one, and that's Eddie Van Halen. He's another player who fits what I was describing before with genius. Eddie created something that changed the world forever – it's very hard to explain, but it's just so unbelievable. He did that with his songwriting, amazing guitar playing, and the inventions and designs, too. I was just obsessed with his playing, like all the other guitar players in the world. Thank god we had Eddie Van Halen, that's for sure.”

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Andrew Daly

Andrew Daly is an iced-coffee-addicted, oddball Telecaster-playing, alfredo pasta-loving journalist from Long Island, NY, who, in addition to being a contributing writer for Guitar World, scribes for Rock Candy, Bass Player, Total Guitar, and Classic Rock History. Andrew has interviewed favorites like Ace Frehley, Johnny Marr, Vito Bratta, Bruce Kulick, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Rich Robinson, and Paul Stanley, while his all-time favorite (rhythm player), Keith Richards, continues to elude him.