A Brief History of Rock Guitar


 No single instrument has influenced modern music as much as the electric guitar. Almost every modern band has at least one electric guitarist. Some stay in the background others share the limelight just as much as the singer. A brief history of rock guitar could go something like this: the guitar was invented then came along a few acoustic guitarists followed by some electric guitarists. Then there was Jimmy Hendrix who influenced bands like Black Sabbath which gave birth to heavy metal.  This is maybe all you want to know, however, if you wish to know more then please read on.

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Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

A comprehensive, and thoughroly enjoyable read,a great investment also Paul:)

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 6 years ago from California

Wow, this is really good! You certainly know a lot about rock guitar. I also noticed that you used many of the same pictures I've used in my various hubs about rockers and rock 'n' roll. Keep on plucking, dude. Later!

Paul_Steads 6 years ago Author

Thanks! I thought the pictures were the best I could find.

James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

I enjoyed this pithy Hub about rock guitar. Thanks!

Paul_Steads 6 years ago Author

Thanks James for reading it. Your praise is well appreciated.

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    The Beginnings

    This history starts back in the 1950s. This era marks the beginnings of modern rock and roll music when traditional country music was being fused with rhythm and blues. This new style is thought to have started with Bill Haley and the Comets hit “Rock Around the Clock” in 1954. It could be argued, however, that this accolade belongs to Elvis Presley with his “That’s all Right (Mama)” or Ike Turner’s “Shake Rattle and Roll” also recorded in 1954.

    A further development involved the bass pattern of the music. Much popular music of the time was based on the twelve bar blues (see figure below for explanation). Bo Diddley broke this rule and was pivotal in the transformation of the rock and roll movement; on his hit “Bo Diddley” and the b side “I’m a Man” he played variations on single chords only instead of the usual twelve bar blues pattern.

    Also during this period Charles Edward Anderson, otherwise known as Chuck Berry, was starting to popularize the rhythm and blues music in a way that had never been done before. His style influenced greatly rock and roll music and if anybody popularized the guitar solo, Chuck Berry must have been one of the first. His notable use of double stops in Johnny B Goode has influenced generations of guitarists. In addition we must not forget the three blues greats, the three kings, Albert King, B. B. King and Freddie King who would also encourage further development of the instrument. All three would, like Chuck Berry, popularised the guitar solo. Indeed, the great B. B. King is well known for his improvised soloing which is full of vibrato.

    An example of the twelve bar blues pattern. This is a chord pattern involving four bars based on the tonic, two on the subdominant, two on the tonic, one on the dominant, one on the subdominant followed by two on the tonic i.e. twelve bars in total.
    An example of the twelve bar blues pattern. This is a chord pattern involving four bars based on the tonic, two on the subdominant, two on the tonic, one on the dominant, one on the subdominant followed by two on the tonic i.e. twelve bars in total.

    The Sixties - Music gets Heavier

    The 1960s saw huge changes in popular music. Bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were generating huge amounts of fans not to mention great music. The Who were also breaking new ground. The Who’s guitarist, Pete Townsend was experimenting with feedback as was Jeff Beck and the Kinks’ Dave Davies. This was the decade that Jimmy Hendrix came into the limelight. If we watch a Jimmy Hendrix recording today it is quite spell binding. For the 1960s this must have been nothing short of magical. No one had ever played the instrument like that before. Hendrix was the first major guitarist to popularize the wah-wah effects pedal (he got the idea from Frank Zappa). His powerful playing of pentatonic blues scales with huge bends and virtuosic playing has probably made him the most influential rock guitarist ever. Ask most guitarists who influenced them and they will mention Hendrix. His solo version of “Star Spangled Banner” during the Woodstock festival is one of the great symbols of the 1960s. Hendrix had a formidable technique but the thing that marks Hendrix is the way he influenced the modern electric guitar. The electric guitar was no longer an amplified acoustic guitar but an instrument in its own right. Hendrix was an enormous influence on the birth of heavy rock music at the end of the sixties, however, one must not forget another major influence.

    A young guitarist Eric Clapton had been in the Yardbirds until 1965. Just as he left they had their first big hit “For Your Love.” To replace himself Eric recommended Jimmy Page as his successor but Jimmy refused since he had a lucrative career as a freelance studio musician. Jimmy in turn recommended Jeff Beck to replace Eric in the Yardbirds. Despite the influence of Jimmy Hendrix, Clapton was regarded as the top UK guitarist by many of the polls. After a brief spell with John Mayall and the Blues Breakers, Eric formed the power trio, Cream. This band was way ahead of its time. Like Hendrix, Clapton’s virtuosic playing and long solos paved the way for the rock guitarist. Eric’s nickname of “Slowhand” is a play on words. Often when Eric broke a string at a concert he would replace it on stage. The audience would slow clap Eric as he did this. One of his colleagues though, due to the fact that Eric could play fast, called him Slowhand. Eric certainly was not a slow player.

    Jimmy Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock in 1969
    Jimmy Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock in 1969

    Music gets really Heavy - Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Others

    Meanwhile in the Yardbirds Jimmy Page agreed to join as a bass player with Beck still on lead guitar. Eventually, however, Beck was fired and Jimmy went on to play the lead. After a while, however, the band started to lose popularity and changes needed to be made. The vocalist Robert Plant was recommended to Jimmy who in turn recommended his friend John Bonham for drums. With John Paul Jones as bass this was the beginning of Led Zeppelin in 1968.

    Jimmy Page’s playing was nothing short of incredible. Jimmy was influenced by the likes of Hendrix and Clapton and wanted to go down the same route of utilizing heavy riffs. He was also influenced by many of the great blues guitarists such as B. B. King and Elmore James hence the blues feel of many of Led Zeppelin's songs. If this was not enough then Page was also a formidable acoustic guitarist.

    Page’s playing was not the only talent that caught everyone’s attention. He was also well known for putting a lot of thought into production. He would often experiment with many new techniques; this was probably a result of his earlier studio career. One of his techniques involved recording with two microphones at different distances to create depth and a more “ambient” sound. He was also famous for playing his guitar with a violin bow as in the live versions of “Dazed and Confused” and “How many more Times.”

    At the beginning of the 1970s Jimmy was probably one of the first guitarists in the new “heavy metal” movement. Like the beginning of rock and roll the exact beginnings of heavy metal could be debated but Led Zeppelin was not the only band to enter this new genre. At about the same time as the break up of the Yardbirds another two other bands were starting to make a lot of noise.

    Ritchie Blackmore cofounded the group Roundabout with Wayne Blade in 1968. Shortly afterwards the name was changed to Deep Purple named after Ritchie’s grandmother’s favourite song. Ritchie was primarily classically trained but he was strongly influenced by rockers Hank Marvin and Gene Vincent. He also admired the fantastic country guitarist Chet Atkins, famous for his skillful picking technique. Due to these influences his playing mixed pentatonic and minor scales with classical styles. As a result of his classical training he was also not averse to plucking the strings with his fingers rather than using a plectrum. The introduction to “Smoke on the Water” is actually not played with a pick but plucked. Despite the fantastic successes of Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore was famously very difficult to work with. Following a break from Deep Purple in Rainbow he rejoined Deep Purple only to leave again.

    Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page were the two great guitar virtuosos of the early seventies. Both of them have influenced scores of rock guitarists and who knows where today’s music would have been without them. Despite this the story of the origins of the heavy metal genre is still not complete.

    In 1968 Tony Iommi, Terry Butler, Bill Ward and Ozzy Ozbourne were in a band called Earth. After a brief spell in Jethro Tull, Tony Iommi returned to Earth with renewed enthusiasm. Following confusion with another band called Earth the decision was made to rename the band Black Sabbath.

    Black Sabbath developed a whole new sound which was, partially at least, a result of an earlier accident. When he was seventeen years old, on his last day of work, Tonni Iommi had the tips of the ring and middle fingers on his right fretting hand crushed (Tonni played guitar left handed.). He thought about giving up music as a result but was persuaded to carry on by listening to a jazz piece by Django Reinhardt, a guitarist who played despite an injury to his fretting hand. After limited attempts to play right handed he fashioned two plastic fimbles to make up the ends of his two damaged fingers. To make playing easier he would later tune down the guitar by three semitones i.e. the E string was tuned to C#. This lower tone was introduced on their third album. It is often this lower sound that has been credited for their unique sound. However, the minor solo playing of Iommi gave them a very “gothic like” sound. Iommi was a great guitarist but to be fair he was not quite the virtuoso guitar player like Jimmy Page or Ritchie Blackmore. His “dark” style, however, had a profound influence on the heavy metal sound particularly later on in the 1980s.

    Together Tonni Iommi, Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore had helped to pioneer a whole new genre of music that had been, in turn, influenced by the likes of Jimmy Hendrix and Eric Clapton. Songs like Paranoid, Stairway to Heaven and Smoke on the Water have been imbedded into the history of the heavy metal genre.

    It is true to say that 1968 was a watershed for rock music. The birth of the three great bands Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple only gives us part of the story. The Beatles released their White Album and with it was the song “Helter Skelter.” Steppenwolf wrote “Born to be Wild,” which featured "heavy metal" in the lyrics. The San Francisco based band Blue Cheer released a version of Eddie Cochran’s “Summer Time Blues.” All these songs introduced a much heavier rock style.

    There were other groups that started in the late sixties too. 1968 saw the beginning of the Canadian group Rush a brilliant progressive rock band. The early seventies saw the birth of hard rock giants Aerosmith and ACDC. Gary Moore had just started his solo career in 1973 and later would start collaborating with Phil Lynot. Moreover in the mid 1970s Judas Priest featured the excellent twin guitars of Glenn Tipton and K K Downing. They were described by Zakk Wylde as the ultimate twin guitarists. By rejecting the blues influence of previous heavy rock bands they added a different style of music to heavy rock. Just in case that was not enough Motorhead were trying their best to speed up things up a bit.

    In the mid seventies heavy rock music went into a sharp decline. Punk rock was starting to take over; by 1976 bands such as the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and the Clash were becoming increasingly popular. This could have been thought by many as the death-knell of the heavy rock style. Fast virtuosic melodic playing was now replaced by simpler music containing aggressive anti establishment lyrics. One should not be too negative about the punk movement. The music was good and often excellent. Moreover punk rock would influence many heavy rock bands including the aforementioned Motorhead.

    Robert Plant (left) and Jimmy Page (right) performing during their North American tour in 1977.
    Robert Plant (left) and Jimmy Page (right) performing during their North American tour in 1977.

    The Virtuosos - Van Halen and Randy Rhoads

    In 1977 Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman, of Warner Brothers Records saw a little known band perform at the Starwood in Hollywood. They were so impressed with Van Halen that they offered them a recording contract. Van Halen’s first album, also called Van Halen, was a major success for a first album and is still highly regarded as a hard rock album. Included on the album is the guitar solo “Eruption” which featured Eddie van Halen’s incredible two finger tapping technique. Here Eddie would use the fingers of his picking hand to tap strings rather than pluck them. The bands success was attributed not only to Eddie’s guitar wizardry but also to David Lee Roth’s flamboyant style.

    Edward van Halen started music by playing classical piano. He decided to play the drums whilst his brother, Alex, played guitar. Apparently frustrated that Alex kept playing his drums Edward decided to take up guitar. Rock history has probably never been more grateful (although who knows what Alex could have done!). In addition to his enormous talent Edward was a real technical pioneer on the guitar. Without Eddie it is not sure that the guitar would be played in quite the same way. Contrary to popular belief he is not the first to have used two hand tapping but he certainly took the technique to the next level. Eddie also popularised right hand glissed taps, tremolo picking, artificial harmonics and whammy bar phrasing. Edward’s technique in some ways helped the survival of hard rock guitar and popularised the guitar solo.

    Following a string of successful albums, Van Halen produced probably their most famous album, 1984. The surprise on this album came when Jump, probably their best known piece, featured Eddie on keyboards. Despite this the album contains some superb guitar work which also includes the solo to Jump and the inimitable riff to Panama. Unfortunately the arguments that had been developing between Roth and the rest of the band caused them to separate. The rock world was once again shattered. However, the group was quickly reformed with singer Sammy Hagar. Their new album was released in 1985. There are many die hard fans who believe that the departure of Roth was the end for Van Halen. Nonetheless, the production was improved giving a cleaner sound to the music and more keyboards were introduced, something that Eddie had been keen to do. The title track to the album “5150” has a fantastically complicated guitar solo. The solo demonstrates Eddie’s ability to string together a myriad of electric guitar techniques. Moreover, the solo still sounds melodic. Van Halen had never had a number one album before “5150” but many of the fans will claim this was due to better marketing. Eddie also wrote and played the infamous guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” for the album “Thriller.”

    In addition to Eddie there was another guitarist preparing to take the world by storm and put rock guitar firmly back in the limelight. When Ozzy Osbourne decided to audition the little known Randy Rhoads for his new project in 1979 Randy did not have to play for long before Ozzy signed him up. “Like God entering my life” is how Ozzy described that moment. Ozzy was probably impressed by Randy’s heavy guitar style employing many classical elements. Randy was strongly influenced by classical music. His style has probably influenced scores of professional guitarists including the great Yngwie Malmsteen. Unfortunately, in 1982 Randy was killed in a plane accident whilst on tour. Rock lost a fantastic virtuoso. It is not sure whether Randy would have continued playing rock music. He was so interested in classical music that he had been taking classical guitar lessons; he had thought seriously about becoming a classical guitarist. If the great virtuosos of the seventies were Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore then the virtuosos of the eighties must be Eddie van Halen and Randy Rhoads.

    Edward van Halen Playing in New Haven in 1977
    Edward van Halen Playing in New Haven in 1977
    Randy Rhoads
    Randy Rhoads

    The Two Great Steves-Steve Vai and Stevie Ray Vaughan

    To say that Eddie and Randy were the great virtuosos of the eighties is actually a slight simplification as there were a handful of other talented guitarists preparing to take on the music world. For example at the end of the seventies Steve Vai had boosted his career by sending Frank Zappa guitar transcriptions of his (Zappa’s) work and also tapes of his own guitar work. Zappa was so impressed he hired Vai to play in his group. Vai was so good he would often challenge audiences to bring sheet music which he would then site read. Vai actually went on to work with David Lee Roth following his parting from Van Halen in 1985. It was clear that Roth obviously liked his virtuosos. Like Edward Van Halen and Randy Rhoads, Vai was not averse to stringing together a huge number of techniques. Vai would later popularise music based completely on guitar solos.

    The eighties also saw the significant rise to fame of the talented blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. Vaughan was a blues player rather than a heavy rock guitarist, but his playing would profoundly affect the guitar world including that of hard rock.

    Vaughan had been playing at the end of the sixties through the seventies often with his older brother, Jimmy, who was himself also a talented guitarist. Vaughan had been asked to play with David Bowie but had refused on the grounds that he did not want to be a pop artist. The album Texas Flood, which was brought out in 1981, sold over a million copies. Vaughan’s ability was not purely reserved for the blues as he also liked to cover some Jimmy Hendrix tracks such as Voodoo Chile Slight Return. His playing of Hendrix was described by one critic as better than Hendrix himself. Vaughan gave blues a new feel. His playing can often be incredibly fast playing of pentatonic blues scales but, more to the point, can involve incredibly complex timing. Vaughan also had an incredible voice to go with his slick playing. Unfortunately Vaughan was a chronic alcoholic. As a “pick up” in the morning Vaughan would often drink a whisky into which he would dissolve a gram of cocaine. Eventually years of hard living saw him into rehabilitation.

    To be fair there are many other guitarists who also helped to bring hard rock and heavy metal through the late seventies into the eighties. Alex Lifeson of Rush, the fantastic Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Angus Young of ACDC and Ace Frehley of Kiss amongst others helped to ensure the survival of the style. The guitarist Gary Moore was also making his mark during the 70s with his characteristic hard rock style. Iron Maiden were spearheading the new wave of heavy metal. Like Judas Priest they were popularizing the twin guitar style. Moreover Brian May, David Gilmore and Carlos Santana were demonstrating that guitar solos could be just as melodic as the vocals. There is a band, however, that took the style to an unprecedented level.


    Stevie Ray Vaughan
    Stevie Ray Vaughan

    Let's Speed Things Up - Thrash Metal

    We should now backtrack slightly to the 1980s; 1981 to be precise when Lars Ulrich decided to give up a failing sports career in tennis. He was already playing drums when he posted an advert in a local newspaper. Soon afterwards he met James Hetfield. Along with Cliff Burton and Dave Mustaine they formed the band Metallica. After a few recordings the often violent behaviour of Dave Mustaine caused him to be understandably fired from the band. He was replaced with Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett. In the meantime Dave Mustaine went on to form rival group Megadeth. Rock music had become more aggressive with faster playing riffs employing the dark gothic feel of Black Sabbath. The new sub genre of thrash metal had been introduced. Metallica went on to form a string of successful hits including Fade to Black and Master of Puppets. Their album “…And Justice for All” included the hit single “One.” Despite the album’s success it was criticized for poor production. In 1990 the band employed Bob Rock to help produce their next album. Rock had been previously responsible for producing music for glam rock bands such as Motley Crue, the Cult and Bon Jovi. After a year in the studio the result was three ended marriages and Metallica’s Black Album. If anything this is one of the best known metal albums ever. The album contains four pieces of music that are amongst the best known in rock history, namely “Enter Sandman,” “Sad but True” and the ballads “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters.” Metallica’s Black Album gave them enormous commercial success and a much wider audience. As with Van Halen’s change with 5150, many original fans felt ousted by the change in direction for a cleaner sound and more accessible music.

    Metallica’s success is probably due to the talents of all its members, however guitar wise they have something very rare. Kirk Hammett is an impressive lead guitarist. However, James Hetfield is probably one of the best rhythm guitarists ever. Kirk Hammett’s clean fast aggressive soloing is often accompanied by the incredibly fast rhythm guitar of James Hetfield. The scale structure of their music is often based simply on intelligent use of the pentatonic blues and minor scales (similar in some ways to Black Sabbath). Moreover Kirk's employment of double stops shows a clear influence from Chuck Berry. Many times he likes to bend the double stops to create a very aggressive part of his soloing as in the solo for “Sad but True.” and at the beginning of his masterpiece solo in “The Unforgiven” just after the very bluesy interlude.

    Megadeth were also helping to push the thrash metal movement along with Anthrax and Slayer. Like Metallica twin guitars featured heavily in a lot of Megadeth's music. As well as the heavy guitaring the snarling vocal style of Dave Mustaine gave an altogether unique style.

    Kirk Hammett
    Kirk Hammett

    The Glam Rock Movement and the Origins of Grunge Rock

    The beginning of the 1980s saw a number of changes in many groups. It was not only Van Halen that would introduce more keboards on their albums 1984 and 5150. Rush decided to go for more keyboard based compositions on their album “Permanent Waves” although keeping hold of their heavy rock style. Sadly ACDCs Bon Scott died in 1980 after a night of heavy alcohol consumption. He was replaced by Brian Johnson. Their subsequent album “Back in Black” is one of the highest selling albums of all time.

    Van Halen were probably the spark that lit the glam rock craze at the beginning of the eighties. Bands like Motley Crue were playing very well produced music and wearing make up as well as garishly outlandish outfits. A glam rock band known as Pantera were playing Van Halen and Kiss covers. However, in the mid 80s they were also starting to succumb to the thrash metal influences from the likes of Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax. Part of their success was down to Darrel Lance Abbott who was then known as Diamond Darrel. Diamond Darrel’s incredible technique caught the guitar world by storm. Influenced by the likes of Ace Frehley, Eddie van Halen, Randy Rhoads he was an amazing player. He would use Randy Rhoads style arpegiated chords along with Billy Gibbons (of ZZ top) style slide guitar with pentatonic blues scales. In fact Diamond Darrel was so accomplished that he even earned the respect of Steve Vai.

    The mid 80s saw the rise of a second wave of glam metal. This included the bands Holly Wood Rose, L. A. Guns, Poison and the Swedish group Europe. Europe, of course, topped the charts in several countries with their hit “Final Countdown.”

    This second wave of glam metal would go on to producing a different style of music. The former Hollywood Rose members, which included Axl’ Rose, formed Guns ‘n’ Roses. Although Hollywood Rose were a glam rock band Guns ‘n’ Roses steered away from this course towards an altogether heavier sound. Since Tracii Guns, the lead guitarist, did not turn up to one of the rehearsals he was replaced by Slash. In 1987 they released Appetite for Destruction their first album. The album lingered in the charts for a while. Welcome to the Jungle the first released single from the album gained popularity after having received some airtime on MTV. Following this Sweet Child o’ Mine was released and went to the top of the US charts. Sweet Child o’ Mine was apparently Slash’s least favourite song. Notwithstanding the guitar work in the song is nothing short of a masterpiece. If there was ever a melodic solo that means something then this is it. Slash did not just play a lot of notes quickly, that fitted in with the key signature of the song, he created another voice for the song. Slash’s reputation as a guitarist had been superbly demonstrated. Another great song with a solo was November Rain from use your illusion (1991). The song, which included an award winning video, is the longest song ever to reach the US top 10 at 8 minutes and 56 seconds. There are two solos in this song and both of them once again proved that if anyone can produce real melody in a solo it is Slash. Slash’s signature, apart from his top hat, is a 1959 Gibson Les Paul standard which he has used for every single recording since Appetite for Destruction. Like Edward van Halen, Slash also had the good fortune to work with Michael Jackson in 1990. Slash’s playing appeared on the album “Dangerous” in particular the songs “Black or White” and “Give in to me.”

    The hard rock guitar world should actually be grateful to Michael Jackson since he worked with some impressive musicians and experimented with many different styles. Inadvertently he must have influenced the popularity of the hard guitar riff by working with the likes of Eddie van Halen and Slash. We must add the talented Jennifer Batton to this list. Her version of Rimsky Korsikov’s Flight of the Bumblebee for the electric guitar is not for the light hearted.

    The 80s also saw bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam producing an alternative sound. Influenced by heavy metal and punk and characterised by heavily distorted guitars the style became known as grunge rock. The guitar sound was usually of a slow tempo and heavily dissonant. However, the complexity of the music was more reminiscent of heavy metal than punk. The fantastic song writing of Kurt Cobain will never be forgotten not to mention the incredibly powerful voice of Eddie Vedder. The grunge sound, however, was notable in that it rejected the virtuosic guitar solo. This would have a profound influence on guitar playing that would affect music well into the twenty first century.

    In 1988 Mick Jagger used Joe Satriani, a brilliant multimusician, for his first solo tour. He had previously taken up the post of lead guitarist in Deep Purple replacing Ritchie Blackmore. Satriani had been influenced by the likes of Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore and Jeff Beck. He had also taught some impressive students notably Kirk Hammett and Steve Vai. The guitar world must at least be grateful for that. Vai was partially responsible for Satriani’s fame (that is in addition to Satriani’s own talents of course). Vai always remembered his great teacher and raved about him in guitar magazines which eventually got him noticed. Together with Steve Vai, Satriani helped to develop the electric guitar further by taking the techniques popularised by the likes of Edward van Halen and taking them still further. Techniques include two handed tapping, legato and whammy bar techniques. He is also very skillful with alternate picking and sweep picking. Also like Vai, Satriani would go on to produce a string of albums devoted to guitar instrumentals.

    Another noteworthy piece of history is when Whitesnake took on Steve Vai in 1989. Adrian Vandenburg, the lead guitarist in Whitesnake subsequently injured his wrist meaning that Vai played all the guitar parts to the album “Slip of the Tongue.” Whitesnake had already had a lot of success throughout the eighties particularly with David Coverdale’s powerful vocals. Steve Vai gave a certain complexity to the music. The album was a huge success.

    In the later half of the eighties Stevie Ray Vaughan had started to recover from his alcohol addiction following rehabilitation. However during August 1990 whilst on tour he did a concert with Eric Clapton in Wisconsin. After the show he was taken from the venue by helicopter in very dense fog. A few minutes after take off the helicopter crashed killing everyone on board. It was a sad blow, not just for blues music, but for guitar music in general. Vaughan, however, had certainly lived long enough to leave his indelible stamp on the guitar world.

    Slash Performing with the Nightwatchmen in 2008
    Slash Performing with the Nightwatchmen in 2008

    The Nineties - Guitar Solo goes out of Fashion

    In 1990 Megadeth employed the accomplished guitarist Marty Friedman. His characteristic playing of arpergiated chords and customised scales were fused into their thrash style. In fact it was the fantastic Dimebag (formerly Diamond) Darrel who was first offered the job of lead guitarist for Megadeth but he had turned it down. As a result Pantera decided to stick together and, with the album “Cowboys from Hell,” achieved major commercial success for the first time.

    Also in 1990 Gary Moore decided to go to a more blues based rock with “Still got the Blues.” With contributions from legends Albert King, Albert Collins and George Harrison this is arguably Moore’s most successful album. Moore had, by this time, already had a long career but this album was an altogether bluesier number as the title suggests. Moore, in much the same way as Stevie Ray Vaughan, gave blues that added virtuosity.

    In the 1990s grunge rock started to become very popular. Glam rock, however, started to go out of fashion as a result of this but also due to the success of heavier thrash metal especially the likes of Metallica and Pantera. It was at this time that a style known as Nu metal was introduced into the genre. Nu metal was an amalgam of grunge and hip hop. Influenced by bands such as Faith no More, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Nirvana it used sounds produced by turntables, sequencers and samplers. The first band to be attached to Nu Metal was Korn. Other bands included Limp Bizkit, Slipknot and Linkin Park.

    The overall guitar sound was now becoming much simpler. This was a trend that took hold at the end of the nineties to the beginning of the the 21st century. Many rock bands opted out of the guitar solo. Even Metallica decided to drop all of Kirk Hammett’s solos for the album St Anger in 2003. This decision was at least partly made by their producer Bob Rock to follow this fashion. During the film “Some Kind of Monster” Kirk Hammett had expressed his dislike of this decision. Critics of “St Anger” would also dislike the decision to drop the guitar solos.

    The wave of heavy metal known as Nu Metal was never fully embraced by the traditional heavy metal fans. Partially as a result of this the style started to decrease in popularity by about 2003. Notwithstanding some bands such as Slipknot and System of a Down did manage to survive.

    Death of a Genius

    There was some very sad news for rock guitar in December 2004. Whilst playing with his new band Damageplan in Ohio, Dimebag Darrel (formerly known as Diamond Darrel) was shot dead with three others. Another seven were injured as a result of a deranged former US marine. This was another sad blow to the music world. Many musicians paid tribute to the Dimebag including Eddie van Halen. He was buried with Eddie van Halen’s Chavel hybrid VH2. This is the black and yellow guitar that features on the front of the album cover for Van Halen 2.

    The return of the Guitar Solo

    As the 21st century moved on so did guitar music. In 2006 the Finnish heavy metal group Lordi became the surprise winner of the Eurovision song contest. This was the first time that Finland had won the competition. It was also the first time that a band had won both the semifinals and the finals of the competition.

    In 2008 Metallica brought out their album “Death Magnetic.” The album was a return to their original style they had before the famous Black Album. The album contains lengthy songs, powerful riffs and a return once more to the guitar solo. It achieved critical acclaim. Rock and roll giants ACDC also brought out their new album “Black Ice.”Indeed these bands along with others like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Aerosmith are already generating a second generation of fans.

    Also at the beginning of 2008 Joe Satriani and his super group “Chickenfoot” with former Van Halen members Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers drummer Chad Smith did their first performance in Las Vegas.

    Hard rock and heavy metal, despite their ups and downs, have been around since about 1968. At the time of this writing that’s just over forty years of great music. Since the fifties the electric guitar has gone from an accompanying background instrument to being of equal status to the vocals. Many rock guitarists are amazing virtuosos comparable in skill to classical music soloists. Finally it is worth noting that to end the song “The Day that Never Comes” from Metallica’s “Death Magnetic” there is a nice long twin guitar solo. It is once again safe for virtuoso guitar players to shred their hearts out.

    Metallica at the O2 Arena in 2008. From left to right: Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield and Robert Trujillo
    Metallica at the O2 Arena in 2008. From left to right: Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield and Robert Trujillo

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