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Tony Rice, bluegrass flatpicking master, dies aged 69: guitarists pay tribute

David Grisman (L) and Tony Rice perform at the Pacific Cultural Center on May 28, 1994 in Carmel California.
(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

Tony Rice, bluegrass flatpicking hero, has died aged 69.

Rice died on Christmas morning at his home in Reidsville, North Carolina. News of his death was shared via the International Bluegrass Music Association on social media.

“It is with a heavy heart we say goodbye to one of the most iconic voices & musicians in bluegrass,” the statement reads.

“Few will ever match his skill & influence. Rest in Peace, Tony.”

Rice was renowned for his fluid, melodious flatpicking on his Martin D-28, which influenced scores of acoustic guitarists who followed, including the likes of Jason Isbell, Ricky Skaggs and Billy Strings.

“Tony Rice was the king of the flatpicked flattop guitar,” Isbell said on Twitter. “His influence cannot possibly be overstated. If you aren’t familiar with his music, please look it up. I don’t know if a person can make anything more beautiful.”

“Tony Rice was the single most influential acoustic guitar player in the last 50 years,” Skaggs wrote on Facebook. “Many if not all of the bluegrass guitar players of today would say that they cut their teeth on Tony Rice’s music. He loved hearing the next generation players play his licks. I think that’s where he got most of his joy as a player.”

As well as releasing a number of albums under his own name, Rice was a prolific collaborator, whether as a member of the David Grisman Quintet, or playing with the likes of Jerry Garcia and Dolly Parton.

In 1993, Rice received a Grammy for best country instrumental performance, and was named guitarist of the year by the International Bluegrass Music Association.

In recent years, Rice had experienced health problems, including a muscle disorder around his vocal cords and tennis elbow, which hindered his guitar playing.

He last performed live in 2013, when he was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.

Guitarists including Joe Bonamassa, Billy Strings and Alex Skolnick have lined up to pay tribute to Rice on social media. We've shared a selection below.

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Michael Astley-Brown

Mike is Digital Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World, having spent nine storied years contributing to guitar journalism and a decade-and-a-half performing in bands of variable genre (and quality). He has written and edited for MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitarist, and makes prog-ish instrumental rock under the nom de plume Maebe.