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Poll: The Greatest Guitarist of All Time, Round 4 — Steve Vai Vs. Joe Satriani

Welcome to the Sweet 16 portion of our first-ever Greatest Guitarist poll!

It all started a few months back, when 128 132 guitarists went head to head, round by round, in a bracketed format. We filled all but four of the slots with the names of incredible guitarists (dead and living) — players chosen for their technical ability as well as their importance and creativity, not to mention how influential they've been. We asked our readers to vote in the final four names, which you did, selecting Nuno Bettencourt, Chet Atkins, Malcolm Young and Jake E. Lee.

But now, several rounds later, we're into the Sweet 16, which is being brought to you by Sweetwater Sound.

Some things to take to consider before casting your vote:

Influence: Who inspired more kids to beg their parents for a guitar for Christmas? Who inspired a wave of copycats?
Chops/Versatility: Is the guitarist in question a one-trick pony or a master of many styles?
Body of Work: Who had the more consistent career? Who has played on more classic albums?
Creativity: Who pioneered new techniques? Who sounds the most radically different from what came before them?

You can check out the full results via our regularly updated bracket here and at the bottom of this story. (Click on the bracket to expand it.)

Round 4 — Today's Match

Today, the student meets the teacher! STEVE VAI goes head to head with JOE SATRIANI.

STEVE VAI: As a solo guitarist and a member of David Lee Roth's band and Whitesnake, Steve Vai has become the epitome of the blazing, soulful virtuoso — Ralph Macchio be damned. So far, Vai has had no trouble dispatching shred greats like Nuno Bettencourt and Jason Becker — not to mention the legendary Ritchie Blackmore — but he'll have his hands full when he takes on a man with whom he has shared many a stage and Guitar World cover over the years.

JOE SATRIANI: Before 1987's Surfing with the Alien was released, it was assumed that a guitarist would simply never break out without a vocalist. A platinum album and several Grammy nods later, and Joe Satriani effectively took shred mainstream, inspiring a wave of copycats hoping to earn their own spot on the Billboard charts with their technical prowess.

Guitar World Staff Picks

BRAD TOLINSKI, Editorial Director

Pick: Steve Vai

It's a classic duel: the master versus the gifted student. Years and and years ago, Steve Vai took lessons from Joe Satriani, but since then each has pursued their own unique paths. Satriani's work has been somewhat more conventional, alternating between his supremely melodic solo guitar albums and work with the likes of Mick Jagger, Deep Purple and most recently Sammy Hagar and Chickenfoot. Vai, however, since leaving David Lee Roth's band in the '80s has taken an increasingly eccentric path. I love Satch, but in terms of pure, pushing the limits of the guitar, I have to give the edge to Vai — he's one of rock's truly uncompromising screwballs.


JIMMY BROWN, Senior Music Editor

Pick: Steve Vai

Both guitarists are brilliant musicians, true artists and resourceful and accomplished technicians on their instruments, but I would have to give a slight the edge to Vai, based on his playing in Crossroads and his Flex-Able album. Satch's guitar soars, sings and wins me over with musicality, but Vai can make his instrument "speak" complex emotions, even without the aid of a talk box or wah pedal.


DAMIAN FANELLI, Online Managing Editor

Pick: Steve Vai

With all respect to the great Joe Satriani, I have to go with Steve Vai. Why Vai? First impressions are important, and I can't forget how bowled over I was after Vai's mid-'80s one-two punch of Crossroads and "The Attitude Song." But more importantly, I appreciate guitarists — whether they're blues guys, country guys or shredders — who have an unmistakable sound all their own, as identifiable as a speaking voice or singing voice. For me, Vai is that guy; he's sort of a Jeff Beck Version 2.0 in that regard. To paraphrase Tom Hulce as Mozart in Amadeus, one hears such sounds, and what can one say but … "Vai." OK, I'm done with the mid-'80s movie references.


JOSH HART, Online Producer

Pick: Steve Vai

Suffice it to say, comparing these two on their technical merits alone would likely lead to a stalemate and plenty of self-loathing. Both guitarists have done an untold amount toward forwarding the cause of shred guitar, from Satch's landmark appearance on the Billboard charts with Surfing with the Alien to Vai's three Grammy wins. Stints in Whitesnake and David Lee Roth's solo band aside, Vai has established himself as a guitarist that transcends the hard rock boundary and defies categorization (Jeff Beck 2.0, as Damian so succinctly put it), something Joe Satriani hasn't quite done in this writer's humble opinion.


PAUL RIARIO, Technical Editor

Pick: Steve Vai

As accomplished and refined a player as Satch is, Steve Vai is the trailblazing guitarist. Using a similar combination of extraordinary technique, harmonization, whammy bar and effects like Jimi Hendrix, Vai transported rock guitar's vocabulary into a new age of shredding and made it even more emotive. From coaxing vocal-like call and response in "Yankee Rose," to all-out tremolo abuse in "The Attitude Song," Vai is a champion at making the guitar sound so unconventional yet musical.