I guess you could say that I’ve been writing these for 22 weeks now. Two weeks were taken off and so I’ve missed two. On the other hand, I’ve been saying this for decades – so I’ve really been working on this longer than that. Here is a complete list of guitarists so far featured.
But, even if we just count the twenty artists that I’ve featured, that’s still a long time in Internet years. How long will the list go on? I don’t really know. There are lots of guitarists who were better than Hendrix.
Some weeks, I get complaints from people who don’t seem to actually have any interest in learning what this list is about. They think I just hate Hendrix. They think there’s no such thing as a guitarist that is better than another.
Strangely, pretty much all of them choose to offer their opinions without having actually read the articles. I’m not absolutely positive what makes them do this, but I’m pretty sure they do this because they see this as damaging their egos. After all, I challenge a belief they’ve been told to hold and they don’t actually know what this list is for.
The reality is, It’s not easy to articulate the reasons for this list – unless I’m discussing it with someone who is either a guitarist or someone who is very interested in music. Most of the complaints come from people who don’t fit into either of those categories.
Each week, I try to explain it in new ways. Each week, I try to use new verbiage and express my thoughts and criteria. This week, I’m going to do no such thing. This week, I’m not even going to bother putting any great effort into it.
Why not? Because the people who argue aren’t actually going to read it. The people who already understand aren’t going to need to read it again.
So, a very short version is in order!
Rolling Stone is one of many magazines that has rated Jimi Hendrix as the best guitarist. From a technical standpoint, that’s not even remotely correct. It’s my assertion that the term best guitarist should be one of technical merit and not one based on popularity.
And, unless I’m with a bunch of other guitarists, few people seem to even understand what that means. I don’t know what they think it is that we do with our guitars, but I can assure you that we’re not equal in skill. Unfortunately, the possibly inbred, inebriated, know-nothings at RSM have shat out article after article that demonstrates their mental deficiency and have convinced people that Hendrix was not just a great guitarist, but that he was also the greatest guitarist.
They’re wrong. They aren’t just wrong, they’re leading otherwise nice people to believe horrible lies. Hendrix was a fine artist and his performances were astonishing. I love his music. I love his art. I love his statements. I love covering him. I love to take one of his songs and noodle on it for hours. He just wasn’t a very good guitarist – by my metrics and, frankly, my metrics are the metrics that should matter for determining greatness as applicable to the word guitarist.
Hmm… Okay, so that wasn’t nearly as short as I’d expected it to be! Well, it should be okay. By now, you know coming to this site means that you won’t be getting things that fit on a bumper sticker. Being verbose is kind of what I do!
I’d also like to take a moment to stress, now more than ever, that this list isn’t actually in any specific order. For the first ten, maybe the first fifteen, I was pretty good about placing them where I felt they belonged – in order of greatness and according to the metrics I’ve set for deciding this.
The reality is, you can switch these artists around. This is going to become more and more true as the list progresses. They all have just a couple things in common. They all played guitar and they all have played it better than Hendrix did.
So, you may prefer (or even objectively rate) Vai as better than Zappa. Feel free to rate them yourself. Feel free to use your own criteria and make your own list. If you do make such a list, feel free to let me know that you’re making it and I’ll give you some exposure to get you started.
Speaking of exposure… Our next artist is one who seems to suffer from an exposure issue. Oh, you know who she is – or you’re at least familiar with her. However, few people can name her and remember why it is they know her. Let’s give her some of the recognition that she’s earned.
#20 Jennifer Batten
In my research for my featured artists, I often look to see if they had a nickname that I can use in my articles. I found no such thing for Jennifer and I’m afraid that calling her Ax Wound is simply out of the question. So, let’s just agree to call her Jen.
She’s also the first female to make my list. Some of you are probably thinking that I included her just because she’s a female. Well, you’re wrong. If it helps, you can pretend she’s a man.
No, she’s included because she’s actually pretty damned good. In fact, if you go scour your favorite search engine, you’ll find people who give her accolades for being a pioneering woman and succeeding in a male-dominated industry.
Well, fuck that. We’re not sexists here and we don’t give a shit that she’s a female. What we do care about is that she can play guitar. And she can – and I will show you. So, enough of that silliness. Let’s do the important thing that it is that we do, and figure out why she’s better than Hendrix.
So, Wikipedia helpfully skips her age and date of birth. I scoured the ‘net and found out she was born on November 29, 1957. She was born in New York City, New York and is just a wee bit older than I am.
She began playing at the age of 8, when her father bought her a “killer red and blue electric.” Her earlier influences would include people like BB King and Jeff Beck. The Internet doesn’t tell me what kind of guitar her first guitar was, only that it was blue and electric. My presumption is then that it was what I’d probably call a toy guitar – but it was enough to spark her interest. Today, she’s a Washburn Artist and you may be interested in a previous article about Washburn.
This one actually stayed in school. In fact, she’d go on to graduate, in 1979, from the Guitar Music College Program at the famous Musicians Institute in Los Angeles. It was there that she was inspired to explore the two-handed tapping techniques as were being advanced by one Steve Lynch.
After graduating from music college, she would work in relative obscurity until the mid-80s when she’d audition for none other than Micheal Jackson. Besting some 100 other guitarists, and Jackson having had some formally good guitarists, she would do both rhythm and lead roles on his next few albums and on his next few tours.
After departing Jackson’s band, she had some solo work and got the chance to tour with none other than her idol, the above mentioned Jeff Beck. It’s important to note that neither of those two bands were even going to consider performing with anyone less than spectacular.
She has since authored some book, made more music, played with even more people, and produced 3 guitar instructional DVDs. In other words, she’s remained productive.
Her list of books are Two Hand Rock and The Transcribed Solos of Peter Sprague. The three DVD lessons are entitled Rock Sauce for Lead Guitar, Rock Sauce for Rhythm Guitar, and 50 Ultra Intervallic Guitar Licks You Must Know. You can find copies of them, if you’re interested, by making use of your favorite search engine.
What stands out most is her technical competence, the use of two-hand tapping, and her versatility. When I say she’s played with other people, I mean she’s not just played with them – but she’s crossed the genres and shown an ability to play guitar with most every type of music out there.
One thing holding her back, and one of the reasons she wasn’t higher on this list, is that her body of solo work isn’t really very high. I’d have liked to have seen more original compositions but the examples she has given us show us that she’s quite adept at it.
As for technical merits, she’s hard to beat. She’s most famous for her two-handed tapping which was pretty novel at the time she was doing it. I won’t call her the pioneer of such – but I’ll say she’s absolutely perfected it. From sweep picking to arpeggios, to deep string bends and pitch perfection, she’s got it all and listening will tell you how much she’s practiced to get there.
She is lacking a distinctive sound, a sound all her own – other than the two-handed tapping which I don’t think most non-guitarists will notice. If you hear Slash play, for example, you know it’s Slash. At the same time, this isn’t actually a bad thing – it shows how truly versatile she is.
But, enough about that… Let’s do what we all came here to do. Let’s actually hear why she’s on the list.
This first one is one that I play but struggle with. The fluidity with which she pulls this off is astonishing. What will actually matter is that she’s doing this not with picking, but with a mix of the two-handed tapping that I mentioned above.
*grins* What, you thought she was on the list simply ’cause she had a vagina? Get the fuck out of here with that silliness!
I can’t really say she pioneered that style. I can’t say that she brought the classic techniques to metal. I can’t say that she made that. I can sure as shit say she mastered it and does it better than others. I can also say she was very pioneering in that space, taking it to new levels – and innovative in the inclusion of maximizing the tones one gets from pulling off while hammering on.
If I had to pick a signature sound that belongs to her, that’d be it – but folks probably won’t recognize it unless they’re a guitarist or attempt to read the tab.
You don’t think that’s a one-off, do you? No, let’s see her with one Mr. Jeff Beck and she’s doing the more complicated portions – and gets credit for composition, which is something I’d like to see her do more of.
Yeah, that’s live.
Did I mention a relatively obscure fella by the name of Micheal Jackson? Well, if you’ve ever tried to cover him, you’ll understand the difficulty involved and the high level of expertise required to be on the stage with him.
Like him or not, we can’t realistically deny the talent involved in the people who made the musical parts of his performances and albums. Well, guess what she did? Oh, wait… You don’t have to guess. I already told you. Damn it! Well, here – use this as a jumping off point and have a peek at what she did.
That might also clue you in as to why so few people do a very good job at covering MJ. Granted, ain’t none of us able to dance like him – but the music was actually really good and really complicated.
Now, you might wonder why she’s not a household name. The reality is, she hasn’t ever really been that prolific, aside from her work with other artists. She and I have some similarities in that we seem to like playing stuff we didn’t compose. She’s a bit different in that she tends to adapt them to her own style, while I strive for completely faithful replication.
Can I cover her? Yeah, pretty much. It’s a lot like work and finding accurate tab is pretty difficult. There isn’t really a lot of call for it, so it’s not something I pursue for stage performances. Then again, I can cover most anyone, so long as you give me enough time to learn. I’m not really great at composing and I don’t have much of a call to put my own unique spin on covers, so that’s just not something I tend to do.
Where did Rolling Stone put her on the list? They didn’t. She’s not even on the Guitar World list. She only gets put on lists of “Women Who Rock” or that sort of shit. That’s a damned shame, because she’s a hell of a lot better than Hendrix ever dreamed of being.
You know, for all the claims of magazines being male dominated and the lack of inclusion of her on the list… Nah, I’m not going to go there. But, if you’d like to write them a nasty email, I’ll certainly understand!
But, the reality is that I don’t care that she’s got tits. I care that she can play her guitar. I’d like to think that I’ve demonstrated that and that I’ve demonstrated that my list is as unbiased as is humanly possible. She ain’t here ’cause she’s a female, she’s here because she can shut up and play us a song.
Now, you know I like to leave you with “one for the road.” More astute readers will realize that I sometimes save the best for last. Well, I didn’t. Nope… In fact, I don’t really care for most of this next piece of work. I consider it valuable only because it shows her familiarity with so many styles and techniques.
The reality is, most of it was ruined by the sound guys. It might also be drugs. I’m not really sure. However, if you ignore the atrocious sound and watch with the volume turned a bit lower, then you’ll find some expert use and some real gems. But, like gems, they’re pretty rare. You have been warned!
So, there you have it. Yet another guitarist better than Hendrix. This list will continue for the foreseeable future as there’s many guitarists who were better than he was. Some of them you’ll know about and others will be new to you. This time, it’s one I think you should have already known about but might not have known you know her. Until next time…
Shut up and play us a song!