I’m a bit surprised the series has gone on this long. For me, things like this are temporary. They’re not something I usually set out to continue with great dedication. If you ask my *favorite* guitarists, those will change every day. Fortunately, this is about guitarists better than Hendrix.
If you don’t know what I’m doing, or want to see the complete list, click here.
Either way, I skipped two weeks (that I recall), and that means I’ve actually been at this for more than three months. Like I said, I’m surprised I’ve kept it going this long.on. But, this series has been fun to work on – so it continues.
I actually like the next guitarist on the list more than it may appear. I’d liked to have put him higher on the list, but that seemed really difficult to do and still justify my claim of attempting to be objective.
But, you really can play mix-and-match with this list. You can swap one out from one spot and put them in another spot. They’re all better than Hendrix and, after the top ten, they’re really hard to quantify.
And, our next guitarist is no different. Man, he made some shitty music. He made some great music – but much of it was just horrible. Horrible!
He’s one of those guitarists that many seem to either hate or love. Not many people are indifferent. I’m on the love side. I think he was awesome!
So, who is he?
#12 Frank Zappa
That’s right. I said it. I stand by it, too!
“Wait, did he even play guitar?” You might ask?
To which I’d answer, “Yes, yes he did. Sorta… Often… Maybe… Define play?” He certainly made a guitar make noises. Ol’ Franky did things with that guitar that are fantastic – and some are fantastically bad.
Unlike many artists, Frank Zappa is actually his real name!
You know what? Screw it. We’re going to mix it up a little this time. Press the play button:
Now, in the guitar universe, that’s known as a duel. Vai and Zappa have themselves a duel and Vai was soundly declared the victor. Right?
No! Wrong! Bullshit… Vai is full of gimmicks and is also a master of the guitar (and will be on this list – but not ahead of Zappa).
(I’m so going to get at least one or two emails for that last comment! Bring it! I stand behind my words!)
See, Vai cheated. Vai’s using all sorts of effects and, even worse, he’s probably high as fuck. Zappa? Nope…
Little known fact about Zappa… He was sober. He’d drink sometimes, but that was rare. He didn’t do drugs. He just didn’t like ’em. Of all the people on my list that you’d expect to be wasted, he was actually sober.
Unlike many of the musicians on my list, Zappa actually knew what he was doing. I’m not kidding! Really! Amidst the cacophonous onslaught of sound was actual music theory. If you listen, with just the right set of ears, you’ll hear it.
I ain’t even kidding! Seriously! The man was a musical genius.
The year was 1940. The place was Baltimore, MD. The event was Frank Vincent Zappa’s birth. His father was a chemist and mathematician, and worked with chemical warfare research. This probably had a bit of an effect on Frank, as he turned out to be a bit against authoritarianism. He also made a fuckton (scientific measurement, a technical term, read a damned book) of references to germs and germ warfare.
It should surprise nobody that he was a prolific artist. He did films, music videos, and even did cover art. In his career, the crazy bastard made more than 60 albums.
This seems important (I straight-up stole it from Wikipedia):
Zappa’s output is unified by a conceptual continuity he termed “Project/Object”, with numerous musical phrases, ideas, and characters reappearing across his albums. His lyrics reflected his iconoclastic views of established social and political processes, structures and movements, often humorously so.
The barely literate gibbons at Rolling Stone Magazine placed him at #22 in their list of the 100 greatest guitarists. So, if you want to know how wrong RSM is, the answer is 10. They are 10 wrong.
I’m not even sure how those drooling goobers have jobs, never mind ended up as a respected authority on these matters. I’m guessing it’s bribery and a giant conspiracy to keep the masses from knowing the truth about who the greatest guitarist is – and Wikipedia is probably in on it. But, I digress!
Spin Magazine placed him in 16th place. However, that was a list of 20 and their 20th entry was none other than Neil Young. As much as I love Mr. Young, he doesn’t belong on that sort of list. No! No, he doesn’t! So, they’re obviously morons. They’re just less moronic than RSM.
He’s actually self-taught, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t know what he was doing. He was composing classical pieces in high school. You were worried about Pokemon (strangely, spellcheck knows that’s a word) catching and he was composing classical music. He also played percussion in a band.
There’s just so much that I could say about Zappa. It’s actually too much – I’d end up being here all week and the article would end up so long that you’d not bother reading it. See the linked Wikipedia page, if you want. It’s really, really interesting.
Here… I’m going to try to sum it up with a short story.
Have you ever heard the song, “Smoke on the Water?”
The year was 1971. TheBuddha was just a wee lad and Zappa was performing in a casino in Switzerland. Well, an idiot audience member decided an indoor venue was an appropriate place to set off a flare. This, of course, burnt the place to the ground and destroyed all of Zappa’s gear.
That’s what the song Smoke on the Water is all about. See kids? It’s fucking educational to read this series!
A week later, an audience member shoved Zappa off the stage – down onto a concrete floor. They were pretty sure he was dead. That broke a bunch of bones, fucked up his back, smashed his head, and crushed his larynx. (I spelled that right on the first attempt!) Also, that is why his voice is different on all albums after 1971.
By the way, a year later he went on tour with a 20 piece band he called the Grand Wazoo and, sometime later, a smaller band he called the Petit Wazoo. In other words, I’m pretty sure he had brain damage. Nobody sane tours with a 20 piece band. Nobody…
That actually kinda sums up Zappa’s career. He was possibly insane and very, very good at playing guitar.
By now, if you did what I told you to do, the music should be reaching back to where Zappa is playing again. See, in 1982 Guitar World had this to say about him:
Zappa is such a multifaceted talent that his guitar playing is often overshadowed by his compositional ability when it’s not being completely swamped in a misreading of his personality, but the fact of the matter is that he is one of the greatest guitarists we have and is sorely unappreciated as such.
See, what Zappa is is a great composer. But, that’s not important. Well, it is – and it’s why he’s on the list, mostly. He’s also master of the bitchin’ guitar solo.
I’m not kidding. Zappa is recognized as one of the greatest guitar solo players to have ever walked the planet. In fact, in 2007, GW said this:
By no stretch of the imagination could Frank Zappa be considered your average, everyday guitar hero. Sure, he possessed a capacity for blinding speed and could zoom around the fretboard with abandon, but it was his unique approach to guitar solos in general that made him such an iconoclast.
As much as I’d like to cover his life, it’s just too much information for what I’m trying to accomplish. So, we’re going to skip to the rest and I’m going to just start sharing some music.
Oh, did I mention that his timing was so good that he could take live shows and dub them into studio mixes – and you’d never know the difference? Well, he could… Yeah…
Ol’ Hendrix couldn’t play the same thing twice, and Zappa played it exactly right – pretty much every time. Yes, yes I did just say ‘right.’
Feel free to hate this next one, but it’s a technical masterpiece.
If you don’t like this next song, I’m pretty sure you have no taste. But, if you listen carefully – and with just the right set of ears, you’ll hear musical genius and you’ll hear a master guitar player at work!
Yeah… That’s Frank Zappa – and that’s why he’s on this list. If you’re not a performing musician, you may not realize how difficult it is to pull that off live. It’s possible, but you’d better be tight – ’cause if you fuck it up, it’s obvious.
As you know, I like to leave you with one for the road. I know, I already gave you one early – but this is a special one and you’ve probably never heard it. This one speaks more to his musicianship as a composer and the tightness of the band – this is live.
It’s gonna take you a minute… I’d listen – it’s funnier than hell.
Enjoy! Listen to it all!
I get a kick out of reading the comments and I enjoy writing these. I don’t know all this stuff off the top of my head – I learn some new stuff too. I’d like to thank you for the encouragement and thank the person who intitially gave me the inspiration for these. So, let me know what you think and until next time…
Shut up and play us a song!