A Short Treatise on Guitarists

Yngwie Malmsteen may be amongst the most technically skilled and accomplished guitarists of all time. But his work is mechanical and the incessant shredding is overbearing and at the expense of the soul you would find in other eighties guitarists such as Guns N’ Roses’ Slash or the talented Randy Rhodes (Of Blizzard of Oz fame.) Malmsteen was inspired by nineteenth century violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini and the more contemporary Richie Blackmore of Deep Purple.
Frankly after about five minutes, whilst you can marvel at Malmsteen’s technical acuity it ceases to be enjoyable. Art sacrificed for mechanical drudgery. The attention of the listener is overtly drawn from a state of appreciation into an analysis of themotion. Similar to listening to a machine churn rapidly. Paganini or Segovia he is not. Plus, just for good measure. Slash’s foray into the orchestra pit at the end of November Rain completely surpasses anything which could be classed as part of the pretentious neo-classical metal genre anyway. Slash of course provided the likeability, as the aspirationally talented, essentially working class hero constrasted against Axl Rose’s febrile, loathsome, white trash heel with deranged delusions of grandeur, to such phenomenal effect to help make Guns N’ Roses at the time easily the biggest band in the world. 

Nonetheless I digress, Malmsteen’s debut album Rising Force is a fascinating insight into the man. Whilst largely well received – being completely instrumental – and easily the best of his work, I’m always aghast at how Malmsteen aside, the other session musicians on the album would not be good enough to play in a bad such as Ratt. Malmsteen’s shredding is against a backdrop of badly played generic eighties metal. Critics (as did most eighties shredders who he is largely responsible for) quickly tired of Malmsteen, due to his lack of interest in anything akin to artistic development or range such as other contemporaries like Todd Rundgren. Saying that, not many people do have the range of Rundgren. As technically skilful as his playing may be, he’s effectively a one trick pony, repetition is the mother of indifference. A wasted talent.

Whilst Malmsteen would be best described as a dour, mechanical air splitter, I much prefer guitarists who are the opposite and play out of a passion for music and furthering their art.

Following the excesses of late eighties shredding drudgery, in the early nineties there was Cobain. Cobain had soul and could sing too. Rare and difficult to find many people who can combine the two to such a high level, which puts him on the level of Hendrix. Whilst Smells Like Teen Spirit may be overplayed, the In Utero album is to this day grossly underrated.

Tom Morello is someone I love watching. He has a chronic difference to anything which could be described as fancy. Plus, testament to the creative spirit, he works with low budget kit – and has done for most of his career. I find it fascinating and it’s part of his enduring appeal, that quite early on, in his own words he gave up searching for ‘the perfect sound.’ Opting instead to work with what he had. Building his music on the quirks and glitches of the equipment at his disposal to find his own unique sound. There’s a video of him with Springsteen at The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame where they perform The Ghost of Tom Joad and the audience are just in awed silence.

The first time I ever picked up a guitar I was inspired by The Beatles when I was eight years old. Or as it would happen, George Harrison. The opening note of A Hard Days Night is something I tried to play constantly. Even at a young age, I couldn’t accept that it was basically someone playing a fucking boring chord like a ‘C’ but that’s testament to the ability of the man. To make it sound so engrossing. Anyone can work with good stuff, it takes a master to work with shit. To this day, I’m still mesmerised by that . Also an honourable mention to ‘I Feel Fine’ which is probably my favourite song of all time and the first song to utilise feedback. Whilst it was actually number one at the time, it never made a Beatles album because Ringo didn’t like it (!) which embodies the high standard of the times. Where their contemporaries were the likes of The Rolling Stones who have virtually unheard b-sides which are better than pretty much every song of the past twenty years. She Smiled Sweetly being probably one of my favourites.

A lot of the earlier stuff of the sixties was inspired by a lot of great blues stuff which kind of goes unheard. I mean probably Chuck Berry aside, it’s rare you ever hear anything about the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker which is quite sad.

Then there’s the classic jazz guitarists I love like Wes Montgomery and Django Reinhardt. Wes Montgomery block chords are the bane of my life, however sound amazing. Wes Montgomery probably even surpasses Django Reinhardt who is mind-blowing. Especially for someone with only three fingers.

Fin.

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