“Strat or Les Paul? I’m going to go with Strat. The bar has become a big part of the way I play…” Pete Thorn answers the guitar world’s biggest questions – and names the underrated players you need to hear right now

Pete Thorn performs live in the Classic Rock Show
(Image credit: Will Ireland/Future)

LA-based guitarist Pete Thorn is many things: a session player who's toured and recorded with Don Henley, Chris Cornell, Melissa Etheridge, Jewel, Linda Perry and more. A YouTube star who's clocked up millions of views through his gear demos, interviews and how-tos. A self-confessed Guitar Nerd (it was the name of his debut solo album in 2011) and maybe least well-known of all, a classic rock guitar hero.

Thorn is the lead guitarist in The Classic Rock Show, the phenomenally successful tribute to some of the greatest rock bands of all time that kicks off its 2024 world tour in the UK and Europe in January, before hitting the States in March and April.

We interrupted his rehearsals to ask him the 11 things all guitar nerds need to know. Watch it on video or read his answers below. 

1. What was your first guitar?

“A Hondo strat. Used to be an import brand – I think it was made in Korea. I sanded the body down not long after I got it, only to discover to my horror that it was plywood, which you could see in the arm contours and stuff. But I miss it dearly and I wish I still had it.”

2. Is tone in the fingers or in the gear?

“I'd say it's 85 percent in the fingers and then a little bit in the gear. Certainly, you can't get the same tone out of a Deluxe Reverb that you can out of a Plexi 100-watt Marshall stack, but it starts in your hands with your vibrato and your attack and your right hand. And if that stuff ain't there, then you really got nothing.”

3. What's your greatest gear find? 

“I'm gonna go with my association with Suhr. I've got a signature guitar line with Suhr guitars as well as my amps. They've just been the best partner. And I figure that we found each other. That's a gear find: It's not like finding something in a pawn shop or something. But I took a plunge once and bought my first Suhr from all the way across the country. I live in Los Angeles, so it came all the way from Pennsylvania. I bought it used, shipped it across the country. 

“When I got it, I pulled it out of the case and I started playing it. I was like, 'Oh, this is lovely. This guitar is amazing.' And I played for about 45 minutes unplugged and then realized that I was in tune. I hadn't tuned the guitar when it came out of the case and it was still in tune 45 minutes after I started playing it. That's when I knew I'd found something special. And the rest is history: I have a longstanding relationship with the company. I love their guitars and amps, so I'm glad that we found each other.”

4. What was your worst onstage moment?

“14 years old: I learned real quick at a lunchtime concert I played in my junior high. My big guitar solo was coming up and I walked a little bit too far from the amplifier and the cord pulled out of the front of the amp right before I started my big solo.]

“That was embarrassing – but that's how you learn. You've got to wrap your cords through the handle of the amp and through the strap of your guitar and all that. You learn by doing. You learn more on stage in five minutes than you ever could, practicing in your room for two years. There's a lot of truth to that.”

5. Who are your favorite up-and-coming guitar players?

Chris Buck comes to mind as being just an amazingly talented and mature guitarist. The phrasing in his hands is just like – I guess it's coming from his heart. He plays like a great lead singer when he solos: he's saying something, he's seeing something. It's always melodic. The phrasing is beautiful. A really, really special guitar player.”

6. What’s the best piece of guitar advice you’ve received?

“It's about what you don't play as well as what you do play. You don't have to fill every hole. You don't have to constantly be making noise. Sometimes it's about saying something and then pausing for effect. Regrouping your thoughts, saying something again, just like how I'm talking right now. That's important. The notes you don't play are as important as the ones that you do.

“A great way to practice that, by the way, is don't always start on the downbeat of the bar. Giving people a little bit of time to regroup and catch their thoughts in between what you say is golden.”

7. What aspect of guitar would you like to be better at?

“Improvising. I just sang a melody off the top of my head that wasn't planned. Now being able to just transfer that through my fingers – from my mind and my heart out through my fingers – that's the golden thing. I'd like to be able to get closer to that – what I hear in my head, to have it come out from my fingers. That's always the goal, I think, for a guitar player as a soloist and improviser. Just to be able to transfer your ideas to the guitar.”

8. What’s the one piece of gear that you can’t live without?

“The tuner. Always the most important piece of gear. Obviously, my guitar, but y'know, if you got a guitar and it's way out of tune, that ain't gonna be any fun for anybody to listen to.”

9. Who’s a guitarist you consider underrated?

“I was talking about Daniel Lanois the other day with Ian [Thornley] from Big Wreck. He was talking about his appreciation for Daniel and how Daniel makes sounds with his hands and his fingers that we just don't make. Like, how did you do that? And I remember seeing him play and feeling like that.

“It's always fun when I discover a guitar player and I can't tell what they're doing. I can hear the sounds coming out but it's a mystery to me exactly how they're accomplishing those parts and those sounds. I love that because it makes me remember what it's like to be really little and seeing my favorite bands and just being amazed by what was happening. 

“Another one that I think is constantly underrated is one of the greats: Michael Landau. I think Michael Landau is sort of the Jeff Beck of our time. I mean, Jeff Beck was the Jeff Beck of our time but he's sadly no longer with us. If you ever get a chance to check out Mike, he's got a lot of that magic.

“Talk about a guy that can transfer what is coming through his head and his heart, his mind out through his hands and the guitar. I've never seen anybody as such an effective communicator on the guitar. So Michael Landau: come to LA and see him at the Baked Potato sometime – it is a transcendent experience.”

10. What do people get wrong about you and your guitar playing?

“People think I never make mistakes – or they say that a lot. You know, we always put our best foot forward on the internet but it's not like I don't screw up 50 times before that. I made mistakes before I got to the take that you liked, probably. Every now and then I get a first take and that's a cool experience, but I played plenty of crappy notes. Just like all of you out there. We all do, we're human. We're not perfect – that's what makes it fun.”

11. You can only play one: Strat or Les Paul?

“I'm going to go with Strat. The bar has become a big part of the way I play. It kind of always was. My signature guitar is basically Strat-based. It's what I started on. It's definitely home base for me. I love Les Pauls, but I grew to adapt to them and figure out what I loved about them later. I started on a Strat, I've kind of ended up back on one. Les Pauls are like: I love playing them but I'm almost dabbling in something else, y'know? The Strat is just a great working man, working woman's guitar. Leo got it right in '54, didn't he?”

  • The Classic Rock Show comes to the UK in January, featuring performances of music from the likes of Led Zeppelin, Dire Straits, The Who, Eric Clapton, AC/DC, Queen, Rainbow, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and many more. For full dates, see TheClassicRockShow.com – tickets are on-sale now via Ticketmaster.

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Scott Rowley
Content Director, Music, at Future plc

Scott is the Content Director of Music at Future plc, responsible for the editorial strategy of online and print brands like Guitar World, Guitar Player, Total Guitar, Louder, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog, Guitarist and more. He was Editor in Chief of Classic Rock for 10 years and, before that, the Editor of Total Guitar and Bassist magazines. Scott regularly appears on Classic Rock’s podcast, The 20 Million Club, and was the writer/researcher on 2017’s Mick Ronson documentary Beside Bowie