We all have our favorite guitarists out there, but the problem with them (or us) is that favorites change and they can change pretty often. What we loved as young guitarists sometimes don’t do it for us anymore as we age.
But INFLUENTIAL guitarists, those don’t change. They may not always be our favorites, but they will always be responsible for part of your guitar upbringing. They’re the ones that inspired you to pick up the guitar, or dictated the shift on your learning path to other genres, or the ones that rekindled your love of the instrument during a dry spell when you were uninspired. In short, they are the ones who helped shape you and your playing with their own.
With this in mind, I put together a list of my own Top 5 Influential Guitarists. I even roped Jon into adding his Top 5 as well, but I’m curious what yours are! Share your list in the comments with how they influenced you. Don’t be shy – this is a safe place.
In descending order:
5) Nick 13 of Tiger Army
Tiger Army came into my life with a fantastic merger of genres I loved that always seemed separated by time and style: punk and rockabilly. I have always been a fan of oldies from the late 50s and early 60s, but it just didn’t have the same level of energy that got me like punk did. In walked Nick 13 and blended the two in a delay-drenched tone with vintage instruments and a whole lot of attitude, and gave me a different outlook on what punk could be.
Check out this video from their sophomore effort, II: The Power of Moonlight called “Incorporeal.”
4) James “Munky” Shaffer of Korn
I’ve always wanted to play guitar at some level, but it was Korn and Shaffer specifically that made me say “enough,” and finally get the ball rolling. Korn was my education in guitar. Shaffer thrashed about on stage, giving himself to emotion, not necessarily musicianship, and the band was never out to show off. It seemed very much more like a cathartic experience for the band – a freak show of people simultaneously working out their demons – than an actual band like we’ve always known, and I loved it. After listening to the first album, I knew I had to play guitar as soon as possible, and it had to be an Ibanez (incorrectly pronounced), and, if possible, it had to have seven strings. Eventually I got a hold of an RG7620 and loved it for the most part, but the locking bridge drove me right up the wall and I ended up getting rid of it. To this day, it’s the only guitar I regret selling.
Korn was the first music I had ever heard that felt uniquely mine. It wasn’t in my dad’s CD collection, nobody from school was listening to them, and they weren’t cool at all when I found them. They lit a huge fire in me for music in general and it was because of them that I branched off to other varieties of metal, eventually stumbling onto the massive institution known as Metallica, and a little further down into punk and the Misfits in particular. Korn was the door that led to every single influence that came afterward, so I feel like I owe Shaffer quite a bit. Maybe I should get an Apex 20 as a way of saying “thank you.”
Check out this video from their first album, Korn, entitled “Blind.”
3) Keith Merrow of Conquering Dystopia
This may sound like a slight, but hear me out: Keith Merrow, for all his insane songwriting and riffing abilities, strikes me as an Everyman. Here is a guy who wasn’t confident enough in his music to put it out until his friend goaded him into it and he wasn’t a professional. He was doing all this amazing stuff with a family and a day job. He was releasing whole albums in his spare time and building a truly grass-roots fan base by word of mouth and some seriously great video editing skills to accompany his seriously great guitar work. He seems humble, and he’s always been friendly to me, but perhaps even more importantly, he’s been unknowingly acting as an inspiration. Maybe I’ll never be as fast at playing, or thrash quite as hard as he can, but I CAN do better than I currently am. I can write better music than I have been, I can play faster than I was last week, and I can get better at recording and editing. Videos (and their editing) don’t scare me anymore. I am always trying to write (words!) better than I have been previously.
Keith Merrow isn’t an untouchable guitar god that was birthed under the bright lights of an arena, nor groomed by major labels – he is all fire, homegrown, and is my personal example that even someone with those kinds of skills probably started or resided in my wheelhouse at one point or another, and progressed from it. Just like I will.
To hang on to this example in a non-creepy way, I had to order his signature Schecter. Also, because it jives the most with what I personally look for in a guitar spec-wise.
Check out this video to see exactly what I’m talking about regarding his skills.
2) Chris Cheney of the Living End
Just a bit after I fell in love with Korn, an Australian band called the Living End hit the US in a pretty big way with their first US single “Prisoner of Society,” and it was the most punk thing I had ever heard at that point, but it was so much more. It was unique in that day’s popular soundscape of Godsmack’s “Whatever,” Metallica’s “Whiskey in the Jar,” and Orgy’s “Blue Monday,” with loud, standard-tuned, hollowbody guitars, a stand-up bass, and a confrontational outlook regarding the generation coming up, while not just being angry. Where the guitar offerings if the day were… Sparse in displayed abilities, Cheney whipped out a fantastic solo that wasn’t just needless “wheedleywheedleywheedley,” but fit the song and truly took it up to the next level like any good solo should.
Upon investigation, it turned out that their first album was packed to the gills with great songs, excellent guitar work, and more than a fair nod to the past both in songwriting an aesthetics. Cheney was what originally had me pulling to Gretsch guitars, but always on the back burner while I was enveloped in nu-metal. Eventually, though, nu-metal became homogenous and there were a LOT of bands that sounded the same or, even worse, devolved to an intolerable level of self-indulgence. This was the time when I revisited the Living End and Cheney’s guitar work, and took a turn in a different music direction, leading me to my number one most influential guitarist.
Also, Australians have a valid points when they complain about their home country: Guitars are ridiculously expensive, they are often forgotten on tours, and literally everything in the country is attempting to kill its inhabitants, even the country itself with its mind-blowing expansive desert of not-much-at-all, but at least they have the Living End, and (as a bonus) access to Chris Cheney’s signature guitar, which even the US doesn’t have access to (presumably because it is very similar to some guy named Billy Duffy’s signature White Falcon). Oh yeah! They also have decent weather, fantastic beaches, intriguing soap-operas, friendly people, a unique history, and a really, really large rock. Pros and cons, folks. Pros and cons.
Check out this video of “Prisoner of Society,” for their self-titled album to see the solo I was talking about.
1) Jim “the Reverend Horton Heat” Heath of the Reverend Horton Heat
In college, I was done with music. A great deal of punk sounded the same, I had given up on nu-metal a while ago, guitar was boring, and I drifted, listless in the void that is a guitarist who doesn’t play guitar or like music. The Living End was the only lifeline to music that I had, and I said as much to a boss at work who replied that if I liked the Living End, I would love the Reverend Horton Heat.
And he was right. Jim Heath is an AMAZING player who has had a long career of writing original material and always striving to progress and reach new grounds sonically. A fan once accosted him, expressing disappointment that he didn’t write more songs like one of his hits (“400 Bucks”) and he said he had no interest in rewriting the song as a different one. He wanted to write new stuff, and go new places, but always to have a common core in the middle – a sound that was uniquely him – a goal any fan could tell you he accomplished.
His songs span from the hilarious to the sexual; from depressing to avant garde; from solo electric pieces to full-throttle rock songs that toe the line between fast-paced rockabilly and flat-out punk rock, but throughout the entirety of his huge catalog, the songs remain entertaining and interesting. The guitar work is nothing short of spectacular and any guitarist could study what Heath is doing and find inspiration and new ideas. He was what made me fall back in love with music and grab my guitar again. Ultimately, it was Heath that has me playing today and everything I’ve done since listening to his album Holy Roller at work that fateful day has been his fault including starting a guitar-centered blog that eventually fell away to being picked up by the best guitar blog on this planet, becoming a host on Six String Bliss, and finally getting my very own Gretsch hollowbody that I have used (per Heath’s example) on any damn genre I want, because it could handle them all, and even interviewing the man for Guitar Lifestyle! You could even say that this post right here is because of Heath, because I wanted to share who made me who I am guitar-wise, and share that list with you fine folks.
Oh! AND he’s got a killer signature guitar that, like him, isn’t strictly tied to the past with appointments that weren’t used on Gretsch guitars together until the early 90s when Fred Gretsch III regained control of the company. Now there’s an anomaly of a Gretsch 6120 out there that is both vintage and modern, two periods pushed together for art’s sake, just like Heath.
Here’s a video from his latest (awesome) album that everyone should pick up, REV called “Scenery Going By.”
So that’s my list! Time to warm up your fingers and get to typing, because I want to see what your Top 5 list looks like!