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As a guitar player, I'm fascinated by just about any guitar playing, but most of my guitar heroes either come from classic rock of blues. Thats not necessarily a knock against more modern guitarists though, and so as part of my guitarist series for the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll, I thought I'd talk about 4 more modern guitarists that have really sparked my interest.
I think each of these 4 is underrated in terms of their guitar prowess, has some interesting techniques and is making some music worth taking a look at by both guitar players and non players alike. Most of these players I've mentioned at one point in one article or another so my appreciation for them shouldn't come as a surprise, but the reasons for that appreciation might.
Mike Einziger from Incubus
As I'm sure is already evident from some of my other posts here at the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll, I'm a big Incubus fan, and have been for a while now. Yeah, they have some great songwriting but I find Mike Einzinger's guitar work my favorite part. Sometimes he's grinding out full fledged borderline metal riffs, other times these twisting progressive riffs and other times still completely subtle atmospheric solos and lead parts. I'm especially interested in the more atmospheric and progressive sides to his playing. There is a subtlety and a complexity that is not always that apparent, but after listening for a while, I'm usually blown away at the creativity and musicality. A subtle use of different effects and restrained but complex higher technique makes for some interesting riffs and some great tonal color. When he does take a solo, it isn't really in the form of a typical guitar solo, but instead seems to work more to create a particular sonic landscape, while hiding some intricate parts. When it comes to modern underrated guitarists I definitely put Mike Einziger up there with anyone.
Jack White from the White Stripes & the Raconteurs
It's also evident from my other writings that I'm a big fan of the White Stripes and in particular, Jack White. Part of my appreciation comes from songwriting but what really strikes me, especially about either of his band's live performances, is his guitar work. Something of the complete opposite of many guitarist, instead of striving for perfection and high technique, White seems to play based purely on instinct to create something totally spontaneous and drenched in the rawest emotions possible. His guitar work is about as gnarled, gritty and screeching as is possible, and that works so well with his particular brand of rock and blues. There are times when it even borders on noise rock, and I like that because it seems to really push the soul of the song to the front, and make his songs anything but polished. Some people might find this kind of playing not as expressive as more traditional guitar work, or even a bit hard to listen to it, but I love it because it seems to capture spontaneously whatever that songs particular emotion is, by just letting what happens, happen. Along with the heavy electric side, White is also a killer slide guitarist that can wail the blues with the best in a very delta blues influenced fashion, while utilizing a whammy pedal to make it screech even more. He's got a great subtle side as well and more than once seems to add just the perfect minimalist blues lick to a song and I'm a big fan of his howling guitar tone. Jack White is definitely one of the guitarists who've really changed what I thought expressive guitar playing and great guitar tone could be.
I think John Mayer has really gotten a a raw deal from some people because of some more pop oriented music. I'm not a fan of his early work personally. I can get into his later stuff, but I'm still not a huge fan. That said, I do have tremendous respect for him because I think he's one of the most soulful modern guitarists around. With touches of funk mixed with his own brand of jam band influenced blues... and he's definitely got some killer blues chops, and a great guitar tone that seems reminiscent of some of the great electric blues players. What I really appreciate about Mayer's guitar work is the soul he brings to it. Blues is a soul based genre of course, but he seems to bring this soul to every song he does from the most pop based ballad, to the funkiest jam. This combined with some intricate rhythm parts that come off sounding deceptively simple, some advanced musical parts and a creativity that seems to expand the blues genre without ever sounding overtly progressive, but more subtlety jazzy. There are moments when I hear a lot of the more jazzy side of Stevie Ray Vaughan in Mayer's music, other times he channels a little B.B. King and other times still seems to channel his own soul right through his fingers creating a such a unique blend. Even though I might not be a huge fan of John Mayer's music, his guitar work is top notch and I can definitely appreciate that.
John Frusciante from the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Another funky guitarist, John Frusciante can easily out funk most of the well known modern players as it just seems to come naturally in his playing. He's also got a little bit of Hendrix hidden deep down though that comes out in some screaming moments, but never too overtly, instead just adding it when necessary and then retreating into the more restrained rhythm parts. I find that when this guy plays a solo, it's almost always just what was needed and never a sliver more, like he's very concerned about sounding too over the top and overshadowing the music. That's a good thing in my opinion, although part of me also wishes he'd open up and really scream. I mean he does scream when he solos, but it always seems like he's more concerned with color than technique...a good thing, but makes me wonder what it'd be like to hear him go all out and shred. Still, I really like that subtlety and am especially fond of his rhythm parts on some of the Chili Peppers more pulled back songs. They have a folk-like delicacy to them, even when they're electric. This is right in line with that subtlety, but they're quite complex musically and create an atmosphere that has depth and soul. Then of course there is his funky side, which is great and also deceptively simple, hiding complex rhythmic patters and a more progressive style than straight funk, all the while remaining within the feel. When it comes to remaining restrained and staying within the feel of the song, I think John Frusciante is one of the best.
All guitarists have their favorites who have inspired them or who's playing they dig and I know of more than a few others who I could have talked about. I tend to absorb and appreciate a little bit of every player I listen to and each of these 4 has had some impact on my own playing and how I view music as a whole. I think they're all pretty well known and appreciated for their guitar work in some way, but not nearly as much as I think they deserve.
If this is your first look at any of these guitarists, check out their music as there is some great songs throughout their works. Maybe you've already heard some but not really been taken in by the guitar work... sounds like it's time to take another look.