Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rock Music: The Guitar and Its Masters

The electric guitar epitomizes rock music as much as anything else.  From the 1950s to today, no rock band or soloist would be without a guitar, or perhaps two or three.  The guitar is a versatile instrument that can play various roles in the rock group:
  • Bass guitar, playing the low notes
  • Rhythm guitar, playing the harmonies
  • Lead guitar, playing solos during the breaks
Gibson Les Paul guitar
played by Slash
of Guns n' Roses
In many groups the guitarist plays both lead and rhythm roles, and takes a back seat to the lead singer.  Still, during many songs there is a break during which the guitarist has a long solo, and the "guitar heroes" of rock show their virtuosity there.  There have only been a few rock guitarists who led their own groups or gone solo, most notably Jimi Hendrix, Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits), Eric Clapton, and Joe Walsh, formerly of The Eagles.

The guitar itself became part of the show, as when The Who's Pete Townshend smashed it on stage. But most guitarists treasure their instruments, and they often have several instruments with distinct sounds. The famous guitars have been the Gibson company's Les Paul model, and Fender's  Stratocaster model.

Guitar Heroes of Rock History:

Les Paul: though not a rocker, revolutionized the guitar and Gibson's Les Paul model is a classic instrument still played today by some of rock music's most famous guitarists.

Chuck Berry's duck walk
Chuck Berry is rock music's first virtuoso, playing his hollow-body guitar while singing and dancing to such hits as "Maybelline."  His stage moves influenced later musicians, especially his "duck walk" (pictured).

The Beatles famously had three guitarists, all of whom also sang.  Paul McCartney played bass guitar left-handed. George Harrison played acoustic and electric guitars and also learned to play the sitar, a stringed instrument native to India.  John Lennon played harmonica and piano in addition to the guitar.  All three played a variety of guitars throughout their careers.

Hendrix playing his
Stratocaster behind his back
Jimi Hendrix wowed audiences by playing the guitar held behind his back and with his teeth, among other stunts, but it was his virtuosic solos that have earned his reputation.  He played left-handed, using a specially modified Fender stratocaster.

Eric Clapton's career began in the 1960s, with his band The Yardbirds and continued with Cream and Derek and the Dominos.  In the 1970s he went solo, uniting his distinctive singing voice with his command of the guitar.

Jeff Beck was one of the famous Yardbirds guitarists (the others are Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page) before going on to a solo career and collaborating with many great bands and rock musicians.

Jimmy page playing
the 12-string side
of a two-neck guitar
Jimmy Page, guitarist with Led Zeppelin, contributed signature licks on both electric and acoustic guitar.  The Gibson Les Paul instruments were some of his favorites.  He also played on two-neck and three-neck guitars.

Keith Richards has contributed some of the most memorable guitar riffs in rock history during his 40-plus years with The Rolling Stones.

Frank Zappa was a genius of sound art, using unusual sounds to evoke anachronistic ideas within one song.

Pete Townshend of The Who is famous as much for destroying guitars on stage as for performing on them.

Alex Lifeson contributed signature licks and innovative solos to the classic songs of Rush, such as Working Man.

Joe Satriani had a long and influential solo career before joining the supergroup, Chickenfoot.

Brian May of Queen was greatly overshadowed by Freddie Mercury's stage presence, yet his guitar echoes through the group's big hits.  He plays on a guitar that he designed himself and made with his father's help.

Joe Perry of Aerosmith has been upstaged by its histrionic frontman, but he is considered one of the best rock guitarists.

Peter Frampton famously asked "Do you feel like we do" through his specially outfitted Gibson Les Paul guitar.  In 1980 the guitar was lost in a plane crash and looters had scavenged it and then sold it.  Frampton thought it had been destroyed, but it was returned to him in 2012, over 30 years lager.

Stevie Ray Vaughan
with "Number One"
Stevie Ray Vaughan ramped up the improv and riffs of the blues genre, reigniting interest in the blues. He died in 1990 in a helicopter crash, and his brother Jimmie continues the Vaughan family guitar tradition.  His "Number One" Fender Stratocaster was his main guitar (his others were also Stratocasters) and took quite a beating over his career.  It spawned a signature "SRV" model by the company.

David Gilmour was guitarist for Pink Floyd during its heyday on albums such as Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall.

Slash of Guns n' Roses created some iconic guitar solos before leaving the band to start his solo career.

Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits is also a soloist and composer of film scores.

Ritchie Blackmore
playing a
Fender Stratocaster
Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple, famous for the riffs of the group's greatest hit, "Smoke on the Water"

Eddie Van Halen of Van Halen made his name with fast-paced songs such as "Hot for Teacher."

Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath lowered the pitch of his guitar strings to relieve the pain of an old industrial injury to his fingers.  The resulting sound helped define heavy metal for the next generation and beyond.

Angus Young's duck walk
Angus Young of AC/DC plays Gibson guitars while strutting about the stage using his hero Chuck Berry's moves.

Dave Mustaine is both singer and lead guitarist for the group Megadeth.

Randy Rhoads (with Ozzy Osbourne)

Steve Vai played with Frank Zappa's band before going solo, though he is also well known for his collaborations with other rockers and eventually joined Whitesnake.

Dickie Betts of The Allman Brothers Band took over the lead guitar role after the death of Duane Allman.  His guitar instrumental, "Jessica," is a staple of classic rock radio.

Dimebag Darrell, of Pantera, created a darker, edgier guitar tone that would define the heavy metal sound for a generation or more.

John Petrucci of Dream Theater "shreds" his guitar in virtuosic speed.  He has also become a teacher, and has made instructional videos.

John Frusciante, was guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers before going solo.

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