“What! You fools! Where’s Hendrix? Where’s Clapton?” OK, so this is a top ten guitarists list without some of the best guitarists in it. We accept that, but what we wanted to do was create a list that didn’t have the same, boring faces on it and instead honour those that often fail to make the usual top tens. We’ve gone for those with undoubted skill but also the power to influence thousands of other guitarists and change a band’s direction all through their unique brand of fretmanship. Sit back, crack open a pack of Ernie Ball super slinky strings and enjoy Neon Filler’s distinct Top Ten Guitarists list.
(To coincide with the release of this list we are also offering the chance to win a set of luxury plectrums. Head over to our competition page for further details.)
10. Roddy Byers (The Specials)
When you think of The Specials you probably think of a great ska beat, the witty and socially aware lyrics, or perhaps the horn section booming out on tracks such as ‘Ghost Town’. But for us it was the lead guitar playing of Roddy Byers that left us mesmerised. Because The Specials were not a guitar band in the sense of the early Beatles or the Stones Byers contribution can easily be overlooked, but take a closer listen and there’s some great guitar work going on. Among our favourite Special’s tracks featuring Byers’ skills are ‘Concrete Jungle’ (a song Byers wrote) and ‘It’s Up to You’.
9. Ricky Wilson (The B-52s)
The B-52s guitarist Ricky Wilson’s style sounded like a bizarre new wave version of Duane Eddy and involved some of the strangest tunings and string removals in modern music. Five strings, with the G string missing was among his common methods, but he also often played with just four on his trusty Mosrite. The Mosrite forum has some interesting listings of his open tuning string configurations for some of the band’s key songs if you want to attempt to recreate Ricky’s unusual style. Be warned though replicating Wilson’s tuning may be tricky. He died in 1985 and according to the Mosrite forum Wilson reportedly once said “I just tune the strings till I hear something I like, and then something comes out…No, I don’t write anything down I have no idea how the tunings go.”
8. Johnny Hickman
Johnny Hickman is the smartly coiffured lead guitarist in the Virgina based band Cracker. His country rock sound is influenced by punk, surf and classic pop. Like all great guitarists he knows just when to hold back and when to let rip. He is a sophisticated player, and he needs to be when he is playing songs written by David Lowery, one of the most esoteric people in pop music. He is just as skilled when playing the grungey ‘Low’ as he is a country ballad like ‘Darling One’ but is at his most comfortable playing the bluesy riffs and soloing like he does in the above clip of ‘Been Around The World’.
7. Dallas and Travis Good (The Sadies)
The more perceptive reader will have noticed that this is actually two people, albeit two closely related ones, but there is another very good reason for their joint inclusion. They have an amazing trick where they play each others guitars.A photo doesn’t do this full justice, I’ve seen them live a few times and I’m still amazed every time. Of course there’s much more to their playing than just one party trick and their band, The Sadies, are brilliant. We’ve banned the likes of Syd Barrett from this feature but if it’s 60’s rock you’re after The Sadies’ cover of Lucifer Sam, everyone’s favourite diabolic cat, should do the trick. Like fellow Canadian Neil these guys really rock albeit it in a more interestingly psychedelic alt-country kind of way.
6. Dave Gregory (XTC)
Dave Gregory had been playing the guitar in bands since he was a teenager in the 1960s but it wasn’t until a decade later when he joined XTC that his talent gained the audience it deserved. He transformed XTC’s style and spent the next 20 years beautifully augmenting the songs of its chief writers Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding with his inventive, exciting guitar parts. Sometimes jazz, sometimes pure pop, his solos were intricate but never showy and his riffs were always catchy. He now plies his trade with The Tin Spirits, and their act contains a number of XTC hits, including ‘Scissor Man’ which is a great example of his technically inventive style.
5. Chuck Prophet
Chuck Prophet came to prominence when he joined the psychedelic desert rock group Green On Red in 1985. His unique take on Stonesey guitar playing would lead them down a country blues root for the rest of their recording career. Since 1990 he has had a successful solo career and also been an in demand session guitarist for a range of artists including Bob Neuwirth, Kelly Willis, Aimee Mann, Warren Zevon, Jonathan Richman, Lucinda Williams and Cake. His solo outings have tended to be more restrained affairs with the guitar heroics taking a back seat to the singing and songwriting. It is with Green On Red, particularly live, that Prophet lets rip and blasts out impossible riffs and scorching guitar solos. The clip above shows us how it is done, the solo starts at 1:30 and seems to last until the end of the song.
4. Brian Baker
Brian Baker is one of the most influential guitarists in the history of punk. From his early bands Minor Threat and Dag Nasty through to his current band Bad Religion his style is often copied. At the heart of his playing is a powerful and warm distortion that somehow allows the melody and his distinct way of finger picking chords to shine through. When we recently included Can I Say, the 1986 debut from Dag Nasty in our Top 100 Albums list, FlexMyHead, a contributor on the Daghouse forum (dedicated to all things Dag Nasty) gave us this excellent review of Baker’s playing. “I think that the way Brian Baker would slip into single picking/notes and just his guitar sound was more important than his bar chords, kinda in the same way that the Adolescents and D.I. pioneered the use of that sliding octave chords for melody, I think Brian Baker defined some of the melodic-punk staples the bands have gone on to use. Even in a current punk band like Strike Anywhere, I hear Brian Baker’s influence in their guitar work, even if the music is not quite the same.”
3. David Rawlings
Best known as the musical partner of Gillian Welch, David Rawlings is right at the top of the list of guitarists we’ve had the pleasure of seeing live. As you can see from the clip his technical ability is off the radar and adds to his spell binding performances. While Welch tops the bill, Rawlings is just as much of a star. Others realise this too with Rawlings having played on Ryan Adams’s albums Demolition and Heartbreaker, which was recently named a Neon Filler Top 100 album. He’s also appeared on two Bright Eyes albums, Cassadaga and Four Winds.
2. Buster B Jones
Buster B Jones wasn’t one for interviews and was reportedly uncomfortable with fame. Yet this blues man was one of the most influential and dazzling guitar players of all time. His life was tragically cut short at 49 when liver failure got the better of him but he has never been forgotten. Despite having his name inlaid in his fret board in mother of pearl this was a rare moment of immodesty for this warm and friendly guitar legend.
1. Davey Graham
Other British guitarists are better known but are any more influential? The late Davy Graham pioneered the British folk guitar boom of the 1960s and influenced a generation of songwriters from Paul Simon to Bert Jansch. Perhaps his most famous composition was ‘Anji’, which Jansch in particular does a great version of. Part of Graham’s skill was his eclectic approach to guitar music, using it to both reinvigorate English folk music and bring music from around the world to a Western audience. North Africa, eastern Europe and India are just of the musical destinations his musical prowess covered. The album Folk Roots, New Routes, with Shirley Collins and The Guitar Player, featuring a beautiful version of the Julie London hit ‘Cry Me A River’, are among the many highlights in his back catalogue.
Compiled by Martin Burns, Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers