Jaysun’s Top Ten Guitarists: Number 7
Welcome to a series of articles from Jaysun Lynch, unknown guitar legend in his own mind. This will be ten articles long, giving a chance to deeply display my reasons for each member of the list. If you haven’t read the previous article, then click on his name below. If you have, you know where to start!
This is a list based on those who have influences me, not overall acceptability. You won’t see the standards of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, and Eric Clapton. All fine (and great) guitarists, but none made an impact on me personally. This list shows the top guitarists that inspired me to want to learn the craft, skill, and creativity represented in rock guitar. This is the key, rock guitar. There will be no jazz guitarists from the 70’s, or blues guitarists from the 30’s, just the modern era of rock music. Interestingly, 60% of the list are known for preferring Fender instruments. This does not necessarily indicate quality (well, maybe it is), but more of prestige and influence. I will be grading on a certain amount of criteria: originality, technical skill, and the important songwriting portion. The entirety of my list is heavily catered to the craft of songwriting for their respective bands and careers, I would have it no other way. I will also list the gear they use, and their best examples. Look at that, droning on and on, let’s just get to the list!
7. George Harrison: The Beatles
6. Lindsay Buckingham: Fleetwood Mac
5. Andy Summers: The Police
4. Kurt Cobain: Nirvana
3. David Gilmour: Pink Floyd
2. Eddie Van Halen: Van Halen
1.Billy Corgan: The Smashing Pumpkins
7. George Harrison: The Beatles, Solo, The Traveling Wilbury’s
Sly, understated, and powerful. George Harrison was known as “The Quiet One” in the Beatles, the baby of the group, which made his maturity as one of rock’s greatest guitar innovators all the more noticeable. As you progress through each Beatles album, you can hear George try something new to elevate the overall sound to heights music never heard before. His influence is everywhere, from tone, to style, and to different sounds. George Harrison is a brilliant contrast to John Frusciante, where Frusciante is evocative in performance and a yearning to be heard, George is stoic and uncluttered, a pure tone. When you are the least appreciated member of the worlds biggest band, flying under the radar seems ironic.
When it came to guitar in rock and roll, there wasn’t a major amount of heroes or distinct style. Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, even Chet Atkins were some of the top guys, in a small pool really. The time was ripe to innovate and bring the guitar to the forefront of music. Harrison was amongst the host of new British players that made guitar the main presence of rock, not the beat. George was a student of the guitar, learning the insides and out of the the instrument so well he could probably wire it blindfolded. He even became the bands unofficial guitar tech, keeping everything in tune and producing great sounds. John was more into playing by emotion, George was the technical powerhouse. This is what I love about him. Guitar nerds love the tech of playing, and George was one of the first major artists to care about the technical aspect.
From early Beatles records and performances, George developed a fantastic mix of country, blues, and the new form of rock and roll. He even used the plucking style for many a performance, using a raw sound turning his amplifier very loud. Accentuated by his straight across, high on the chest playing style, George crafted a new sense of playability. In the classic “All My Loving,” George used his finesse and finger picking styles to create a blues/country hybrid that is very early rock and roll, but a technical powerhouse in all of 12 seconds. The sound is played so rough that it creates the early instance of dissonance and distortion he later employed, this was not so used in pop music.
“I Saw Her Standing There” was an amazing breakthrough in cultivating the guitar audience. As many are undoubtedly aware, The Beatles performances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” are amongst the most viewed musical performances in history. The entire lead part that George seems to just breeze through shows his top class playing style, it’s so evocative and interesting for such an early time. PLaying it today still proves how innovative he was to bring guitar to the forefront.
When it comes to riff rock, the Beatles helped innovated that too! What do you know? George playing a huge riff was relatively new, and “Daytripper” is one of the best instances in early Beatles records that helped shape the rest of their careers. With major reverb making the notes sounds like musical water, flooding the ears with a bright, vibrant, fast plucked tune. “Daytripper” was one of those defining moments to my ears when I started playing guitar. I wasn’t really into the Beatles as a child too much, but after I started to play, I wanted to research as much as possible, and picked up my stepfather’s Past Masters: Vol. 1 CD and let it play through the rather large sound system we had. When I heard Daytripper the first time, I set it to repeat and let that play through over and over. That riff wrapped around my brain. It’s fluidity, the perfect scale, the rough texture, and the soft melody. That’s the song that made me pay attention to George Harrison. In the Live At Budokan version, you can hear George experimenting with a deeper sound, turning the bass on the amplifier higher, adding a little distortion and heightening the arena rock sound to new levels. Compare the two to hear his evolution in progress. This sent riffs to a new level.
“Paperback Writer” is the hero of distortion, and evolved lead guitar just as much as “Daytripper.” Distortion and fizz was pretty new to rock, using circuits and metal boxes to produces a grit to an otherwise clear sound to convey the confusion youth feels growing up.
Bringing new instrumentation to your lead part can evolve your overall playing sound in major ways, and George Harrison decided to bring the new music he was hearing from India to rock music. The sitar became as synonymous with Harrison as his Gretsch. “Norwegian Wood” provided something new you didn’t hear in any other rick, innovating sound and lead parts to incorporate more foreign sounds for the betterment of rock in general.
One of the most recognizable lead parts in all of rock music (and one of the most copied) is the song “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The moment George plays the guitar through one of the most distorted tones ever heard at the time, you know you are in for something completely different. The mids and treble set to very high, a Tonebender circuit crunching an amazing sound that cuts almost through the listener’s heart. George set a new precedent to be heard for sure.
George was very interested in a more laid back style by the late 60’s (more on this during the songwriting), heard on his own songs. “Here Comes The Sun” is a classic example of this, but during the remastering process sometime ago, a lost guitar solo to the song (that makes sense given the instrumental break in the middle) shows George’s continued creativity. A huge sounding solo on a thinner sound (probably a Telecaster) with notes in a different scale than the song, show George was still ready to belt out an amazing solo amidst the happy songs. I love this video.
“Something” is one of the most recorded songs in the history of rock, and is not remembered as a George Harrison song. Yet, his searing tone can be heard, from the very beginning. It’s a very sensual song, played with love and duty. George plucks wildly on the lead, while he created a very chorus-y tracked guitar that shows how emotional love can truly be even when things are calm and soothing. An amazingly creative use of guitar playing in the overall piece, with a rhythmic crunch and a a solo that is so bluesy, bass-like, and all over the scale. George wanted to emphasize the slide-like sound with only his fingers, creating a masterpiece.
George’s solo work is my favorite amongst the post-Beatles work. He had amassed a large library of demoes and songs during his time in the Beatles, as Lennon and McCartney were the primary composers. One of the high points on his amazing first album “All Things Must Pass” is the opening track, “I’d Have You Anytime.” The distinctive George Harrison guitar comes creeping in with his brilliantly timed acoustic rhythm, sweetening the already loving track. The reverb is thick and gives a major feeling, while he sweeps over the riff and giving a different flavor of notes every time he plays through it. The muted nature and the brevity of the overall guitars in the song had my ears at attention the first time I listened to the album. It’s sweet blues scale. This style of song would be replicated to “Adult Contemporary” many years later, but here it’s fresh and open.
George Harrison was not known as a singer songwriter, as he had taken a back seat to the two most popular Beatles during their time, but broke free with a prolific frenzy after the Beatles break-up. He found new ways to implement all sounds to capture his calm demeanor and poetic aptitude to playing music.
“Taxman” was George’s first hit song, written by himself that is. It showed how he valued the group as a whole, he wrote a song that wouldn’t just feature his playing ability, he included the entire band in a very cohesive piece and helped define the band’s sound with the song. This displayed he was a force to be reckoned with. Paul actually played the solo in the song, but even the simple notation the guitar plays repeatedly is expansive and unique for it’s time. This style would later be heard in Pink Floyd, funk, and reggae. George’s use here was very influential.
The White Album, as it’s commonly referred, brought some the Beatles most memorable songs, and is a high point of recorded music in general. Out of the 30 tracks, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” endures as a standout on the massive classic. One of the greatest songs in rock history, he employed techniques not yet heard. Muting the guitar strings? Not really used, metal picked this up sometime later (Black Sabbath, yes). This is a milestone track, and he brought in his “frenemy” Eric Clapton in to play the coursing solo, knowing he had what it took to perform what George himself didn’t know if he could do.
Guitar is not all electric, of course, and George was so technically accomplished, that just strumming some chords are a thing of beauty. From his amazing album All Things Must Pass is the beautiful track “My Sweet Lord.” He sets the rhythm with just the guitar itself, the drums are almost an afterthought. This song showed me that a single voice and an acoustic guitar can be an entire band all itself. The melody swimming in between each strum, this influenced the way I would write music from then on.
“Give Me Love” was a big hit, and showed how even a modern jazz type of piano style of playing can even create one of the most haunting pieces of peace-pleas in rock history. When George was left on his own, to create what he wanted, he used slide guitars (like here) and multiple effects to enlighten the listener to what he wants them to feel.
George was known as a guitar collector, and had a famously large collection. There is even an app in the App Store that shows the amazing variety he used.
Gretsch Duo Jet was the guitar he played on Ed Sullivan, and was his main instrument from 1961-1967. He created his signature style with it, and lovingly cared for it. The hot pickups and the hollow body created the wispy sound he deemed lead-worthy for years. By the mid 60’s he started picking up many different varieties. Rickenbackers (which influenced Roger McGuinn to use as the Byrds sound), Telecasters (like in the Let it Be film), Les Pauls, Stratocasters, amongst others. His Beatles career was defined by Gretsch and Rickenbackers, but his solo work was mainly Fender Instruments.
George liked playing through Vox amps, which gave a crisp and rich sound that guitarists have sought ever since. I see so many vox amps on stage during indie band performances that it’s become a game when my band watches other local bands. He switched to Fender brand amps later in his career for the clarity and depth.
George Harrison was the guitar god for so many youth, even contemporaries, that he is almost forgotten as a guitar icon like you forget how helpful the alphabet song taught you to read. His playing style is so familiar because he is one of the most heard guitarists in history, but really focusing in on the specific parts reveals a pop music genius at work.