Here at Guitar Space, we thought it’s best we feature some of our top guitar players, introduce you to their sound, their gear, and help you learn to play like them (if you want). We will be featuring our top guitar players of course, but we might throw in a few surprises for you all as well. Continue reading this guitar players guide to learn more about your favorite guitar players.
Before I get into sharing the players themselves, I thought I’d share some advice.
How to Sound Like Your Favorite Player
What inspired you to play the guitar?
Was it a favorite song? And, who was the guitar player behind that song?
Even if your parents forced you to take music lessons, at some point, you began forming your own musical personality. You started discovering your own favorite styles of music.
This is where your favorite player or players come into the picture. And, you begin to learn their songs and guitar parts. By guitar parts, I mean how they use chords, arpeggios, scales, licks, and riffs to play their songs.
As you dig deeper, you want to learn more. And, you keep practicing, studying, listening, learning, and practicing more. But, something’s missing. YOU WANT TO RECREATE THE TONES OF YOUR FAVORITE PLAYER.
But, where do you begin? And, let’s face it, without rock-star dollars and your limited experience, you’re not exactly sure where to go.
That’s okay. We’ve been there, too. That’s why the Guitar Space writers are looking into well-known guitarists. We want to offer you the 411 on their gear.
Explore some of their tone secrets. And provide you with valid and solid information to make well-educated choices as to what to buy.
Some Guitar Space Player Pro Buying Tips
But, first, what not to buy. Or, instead, some pointers on what to avoid.
If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re curious about purchasing your next guitar, amp, or outfitting your rig with stompboxes and effects pedals.
But, before you go on a guitar gear splurge, you need to be practical and explore your options before spending your hard-earned greenbacks on an impulsive purchase.
Buying the Signature Guitars
When I was the music director for the School of Rock, I witnessed well-off, and well-intentioned parents drop $3000 on a signature guitar model for junior’s next recital (a rock concert complete with light show and smoke machine effects).
These fantastic events created quite a stir, and the kids, parents, and teachers all looked forward to it. All, except for me, the director. Because I had to deal with all of the logistical nightmares, but that’s a story for another time.
Now, don’t get me wrong. These parents could afford it. But, a Dimebag Darrell guitar for a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan was not the wisest investment. That aside, not all signature guitars are the best choice for sounding like your favorite player.
These collaborations between a well-known player and a guitar company are business decisions. And depending on the conditions of the agreement and the player’s involvement, the final product could be a success or a failure. The lesson here is to do your research.
If the artist raves about the instrument and, more importantly, uses the guitar personally in concert, then you know that they’re happy with the final product. But, there are still other factors.
Remember, the signature instrument you may have in mind was made to the specifications of the artist/player and not to yours. You may find that the guitar plays perfectly. But it feels uncomfortable for you or doesn’t sound quite right or any of a dozen other minor frustrations that can lead to a not-so-positive experience.
Lastly, don’t rule out a signature guitar if you don’t recognize the player that the guitar is named after.
Here’s a quick story:
When I travel to a new town, I always look for a mom-and-pop guitar shop. Call me nostalgic, but I like the vibe of these places, and you can find an oddball item or a good deal that turns into a prized possession. At any rate, I walked into the shop and, as I looked around, my eyes caught an alluring guitar. A semi-hollow body made by a company known for making great-quality, solid-body guitars.
I took the guitar for a trial run. I plugged it into a tube amp, dialed in a tone, and was pleasantly surprised. It played great and sounded fantastic. I considered buying the guitar. But, I didn’t like that it had the name of somebody that I didn’t know on the headstock. And, he was from a band that I had never heard of. But the guitar was exceptional, and I regret not purchasing it.
Do your research and don’t rule out any possibilities.
The Same Model as Your Favorite Artist
Do you buy the same model as your favorite artist? This is a tricky one. Rock stars have guitar techs that maintain their guitars for them.
These guys keep the necks straight, frets from buzzing, and pickups from making unwanted humming, hissing, and fizzing sounds. They also make modifications when needed.
So, don’t buy with only your eyes. Play the guitar if you can and plug it in. You don’t want to get home and find that the pickups are fried and sound like a dying toaster.
1. If you have good quality gear, then consider modifications.
I’m actually a big fan of this. Some years back, I was selling a guitar and found a buyer who wanted to trade me a Mesa-Boogie Nomad. I took the deal and liked the amp, but it was a little too distorted and boxy sounding.
I took it to my amp guru, and we swapped out the speaker. That’s it. It sounded like a new amp and more to my liking. I did the same with a couple of guitars.
I swapped out the pickups and got the sound I was looking for. All for a couple of hundred bucks rather than spending close to $1000 on a new guitar.
The goal of these Player Profiles is to share some details about the player’s gear. And provide you with enough guidance so that you can make well-informed decisions for your subsequent purchases. Also, if you’re a guitar nerd like me, you simply like knowing about this stuff so that you can bore your friends at parties.
When it Comes to Amps… What Kind of Player are You?
Are you just starting out or an experienced player?
Are you looking to sound like your favorite player in your bedroom?
Or, are you looking to build your live rig for club gigs?
These are essential considerations to think about before browsing the Google webs or researching your next amp here. After all, you don’t want to end up with a $3000 boutique amp that has your nosy neighbors up in arms while the amp is still in standby mode.
Today’s technology offers a wide variety of options that can help you reach arena-rock-sounding tones without shaking the rats out of the ceiling.
There are digital alternatives to analog problems. And, by that, I mean tube amps have a sweet spot. And even a 20-watt 1 x 12 combo can generate enough power to make you public enemy number one in your neighborhood.
Suppose you have an exaggerated respect for all things analog, and the idea of digital upsets your delicate sensibilities. In that case, you’ll be happy to know that there are non-digital options as well. Amp attenuators that adjust the sonic sweet spot of your amp to apartment-friendly levels.
What about effects?
Some players have racks of effects and pedals that require Nasa-approved technicians to wire and rewire their pedalboard. These pedalboards need you to learn how to tap dance your way through sonic heavenliness during your next face-melting instrumental cadenza.
With vintage analog pedals demanding three- and sometimes four-digit monetary units, you can spend a small fortune on your oversized, matchbox-car-looking stompboxes.
If you’re sticking to a budget, then just adhere to the basics. You can always add effects over time.
My three essential pedals are distortion, reverb, and delay.
Learn How to Use Your Gear and How to Listen to Your Gear
We have a great page about electric guitars called How to find the Best Electric Guitar. This is a great resource page that the Guitar Space writers put together. And, it covers everything that you need to know about the electric guitar. So, flag the page, copy the url, or whatever you do to remember the important stuff, and use it for reference.
Trust me, you’re gonna have questions, and even if you know the answer, you may just need a different way of explaining it, and this page has got you covered.
Primary offender number one: Learn to listen
Many players want to upgrade because they’re not getting the sound they’re looking for. And this could be the result of a couple of problems:
- You’re not familiar enough with your gear to get the most out of it.
- You’re trying to get it to sound like something that it’s not meant to do.
In either case, these situations are pretty common and easy fixes. As an electric guitar player, you need to become familiar enough with your gear to get the sound that you want out of it.
Let me tell you a quick story:
I had just graduated college, moved back to NYC, began cutting my teeth on the club scene and finding some pit work. Then a friend told me about a corporate band audition looking for players to mold into a G.B. band. G.B. stands for General Business and, in some circles, is also referred to as a Club Date band. I auditioned, and, even though I was still quite green, I landed the gig.
The gig required me to learn hundreds of tunes and play everything from the 50s to the 90s. The MD (music director) demanded authentic sounds. So, I began assembling my rig. Up till this point, I was using a Mesa-Boogie Mark III and a handful of pedals. Good enough for rock and blues, but not for all styles of contemporary pop music.
The MD and company reps were very patient with me but voiced their disapproval of my sound. I hadn’t learned how to use my gear, and I had purchased good equipment. But I didn’t know how to use it or what to listen for.
So, I went back to basics. I made sure that my guitar and my amp worked well together. I used the CD references that the company provided me and began dialing in just the guitar and amp tones until I learned how to set my guitar and amp. Then, I slowly added one pedal at a time.
About a year into the gig, I remember playing Atlantic City. We were in the middle of a soundcheck in the grand ballroom of a hotel, and the M.D. wanted to run some new pop tunes. After we played them, he turned to me and said, “You’ve got the perfect tone, I mean, that’s the sound from the record.”
Learning to play the tune is crucial, but producing the right tone for the song is just as important.
Copying Licks and Copying Tones
When learning from your favorite players, there are two schools of thought:
- Copy every little detail exactly
- Take what you like and forget about the rest
Although both are legitimate paths worthy of exploration, I feel that copying the licks and tone of your favorite player down to the last detail is misdirected energy.
Please understand me. I offer much respect to anyone who has met the challenges of learning the guitar. And continued further when others have fallen by the wayside.
But, in the true spirit of artistic expression, I feel that more time should be spent developing your own voice.
Let’s begin with licks
These are little pieces of vocabulary that each player picks up from other players. The first type of player dedicates their time to learning the lick exactly and using it only where they feel that their favorite player would use the lick.
They’re trying to imitate what their favorite player said the way that they said it. But, they’re not learning to speak for themselves. They’re not developing musical conversation skills.
The second type of player learns these licks and begins developing them. Some licks become part of their vocabulary, while others are forgotten about. And, over time, slowly becomes part of that player’s everyday communication skills. This player has learned to express themselves while being influenced and inspired by other players.
Next, let’s talk tone
Licks are one thing, but tone is something entirely separate. This is a player’s unique sound. And, there are so many variables to copying someone’s tone.
You can play through Eddie Van Halen’s rig and not sound like Van Halen. In fact, some players would sound absolutely awful playing through EVH’s rig.
Some of my favorite players don’t sound like clones of their major influences. For example:
- Angus Young was influenced by B.B. King
- Eddie Van Halen was influenced by Eric Clapton
- Chuck Berry was influenced by T-Bone Walker
- George Harrison was influenced by Carl Perkins
These are just some guitarists that immediately come to mind, but the list could go on and on.
Now, imagine if these players copied the licks and tones of their favorite players without injecting their own creativity and originality. Music would not have evolved.
Don’t spend your time trying to imitate your idols perfectly. Learn from them and take the time to develop your own ideas and create your own sound.
Let’s talk players. Who would you like us to write about?
As we begin to delve into this topic, we’re focusing on three main categories of players. Let’s explore each of these different categories of players.
These players have lots of biographical material available on the web. Also, we don’t want to regurgitate the same information using different words since these players are known outside of the guitar-playing community. Instead, we want to dig into the details of their innovative approaches to tone.
Examples of legendary players:
- Eddie Van Halen created the first Super Strat. EVH wanted to attain the playability of the Strat but with the humbucking sound of a Les Paul. He also set the standard for the technical prowess that all guitarists to come are measured by.
- Jimmy Page orchestrated guitar parts in a hard rock setting. Page used magical open-tunings and recording tricks that he kept secret for decades.
- Jimi Hendrix was arguably the first triple threat: singer/songwriter, guitar wizard in rhythm and lead realms, and master showman. You didn’t go to a Hendrix concert to hear and see Jimi, but to experience Jimi.
- Eric Clapton combined a Gibson Les Paul with a Marshall amp and gave the world the blueprint for producing the authentic rock guitar sound.
- David Gilmour created solos that soared melodically, dripped with tone, and told a story. He also showed us that true virtuosity and artistic expression could coexist. Shredders hate him.
Let us know who we missed in the “Comments” section. Maybe we’ll feature that legendary player in a future article.
These are guitarists’ guitarists. Some may be known outside of guitar and musician circles but are still relatively unknown. After thriving in the L.A. studio scene, these players created a successful solo career.
Examples of these players are:
- Robben Ford played and recorded with Blues legends Charlie Musselwhite and Jimmy Witherspoon while barely out of high school. He toured with George Harrison in the mid-70s, recorded with Joni Mitchell, and held the guitar seat with Miles Davis in early 1986. His improvisation skills and Dumble-driven tone are envied by thousands of guitarists around the globe.
- Larry Carlton is more than likely the most recorded guitarist of all time. During his L.A. studio session days, he played on over 3000 sessions. Larry also launched six self-titled albums during this period. In the mid-80s, he committed himself to his solo career and was nominated for 19 Grammys, winning 4. His sweet tone is attributed to his use of the Gibson 335 and Fender Tweed amp. But, L.C. also has a Dumble-driven sound that is legendary.
- Michael Landau began touring the world with Boz Scaggs at 19 in the late-70s. Later, his friend Steve Lukather recommended him for studio work. He is yet another studio veteran who played on many significant releases during the 80s-90s. His pedalboard is legendary. Many aspiring guitarists take pictures of his pedals, attempting to replicate his tone by copying his stompbox settings.
- Carl Verheyen is another L.A. session alum. He’s probably best known for holding the guitar seat in Supertramp. Carl recorded with Supertramp in 1985 and then toured with the band as a sideman from 1986-1989. In 1996 he became a formal band member. He’s balanced his session work, Supertramp, and solo career since the mid-80s. Carl also has impressive acoustic guitar chops often demonstrated in his solo guitar shows.
Let us know what notable players you’d like us to discuss in the “Comments” section. Maybe we’ll feature that guitarist in a future article.
These are players worthy of mention. They may be making waves on the current scene and are worthy of a closer look. I differ to you, the readers, to make suggestions.
Tell us who you think we should be talking about and why. Drop your candidates in the “Comments” section.
Here are a few examples of modern guitar players and their gear:
- Dave Grohl Guitars and Gear List
- Wilbur Soot Guitars and Gear List
- Prince Rogers Nelson Guitars and Gear List
- John Mayer Guitars and Gear List
- Shawn Mendes Guitars Review
- Harry Styles Guitars and Gear List
- Stevie Ray Vaughan Bio and Gear List
- Randy Rhoads Bio and Gear List
- Eric Johnson Bio and Gear List
- Carlos Santana Bio and Gear List
- Jeff Beck Bio and Gear List
- Adrian Smith Bio and Gear List
- Pete Wentz Guitar and Gear List
- Frank Iero Guitar and Gear List
- David Bowie Guitar and Gear List
- Steve Lacy Guitar and Gear List
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