I’m pretty excited to write this one! I am not even feeling any time pressure or even the slightest bit concerned that it was published exactly at 10:00 Eastern. I think this is a good thing.
Besides, I wasn’t here. I sneaked away for the early morning hours. I checked on the blueberry harvest and stole about a half hour to fish a little trout stream that nobody appears to know about. Which is exactly why I’ll not be disclosing the location!
Either way, I’m pretty damned excited to write this and that’s refreshing. As I said yesterday, I believe my creativity bone is on the mend.
If you don’t know what I’m doing, why the hell are you even reading my site? I’ve explained it… Not only that, I’ve explained it 22 times already!
The wholly-unqualified, mentally-stunted, short-bus-riding, window-lickers that call themselves “journalists” while being barely capable of coherent thought, got employed by a company called Rolling Stone Magazine. How do you know they’re unqualified? They put Jimi Hendrix as the greatest guitar to every play the guitar.
They’re wrong by my definition and with my metrics. Frankly, I’m far more qualified to offer an opinion than the mentally handicapped RSM journalists.
It’s my opinion that “Greatest Guitarist” should be an objective statement, inasmuch as is humanly possible. Words like “passion” or “soul” have no place in this. Words such as “popular” or “like” are also not important for this.
If you want to make a list that takes those qualities into account, call it Greatest Artist, or something similar. Calling Jimi the Greatest Guitarist is a disservice to those of us who have spent ungodly hours learning to play and is a figurative slap in the face to those who have mastered the guitar.
You don’t have to agree. However, your disagreement should be predicated on your understanding of the topic and your qualifications to actually offer an opinion of merit. If you don’t agree, feel free to explain why.
If you seriously disagree, you can make your own damned list. I’ll even help you get it published. My argument stands on its own and I’m very comfortable defending my conclusions. On top of that, I’d actually really just like to see you all taking the time to write and publish stuff! (I do have ulterior motives!)
If you want, you can see the people who have already made the list of guitarists better than Hendrix. I will tell you that it’s missing the last two, I’m pretty sure. I haven’t gotten around to updating it – but I’ll get there.
I’ve made some effort to place these guitarists carefully into their positions. I’ve tried to rank them according to ability, but that’s really subjective. My method has sort of been based on how difficult they are to replicate.
This means you can swap these artists around on the list. You can take the one in tenth position and swap them with the one in fourth and, at the end of the day, the main point remains the same. The point is that they’re more skillful than Hendrix ever was.
I also don’t know every single guitarist. Some of the previously featured guitarists are actually from recommendations from people like you. There are even more recommendations and I’ll get to them – as this list could go on for quite some time. (There were/are many guitarists more skilled than Hendrix.)
If you have a recommendation, don’t hesitate to contact me. If you want to recommend a guitarist for inclusion, please use that link. Using that link will keep them all in a central location and means that I’m more likely to consider them for inclusion on the list.
I spend a great deal of time (far more time than I spend writing) researching these guitarists. I know who they are but I’m not an encyclopedia and I don’t know all the little details for every artist. I make an effort to ensure that the information is factual and scour multiple sources.
If you spot an error, please let me know. If you need a citation, please let me know. One recent contact was about using the work for an academic project and wanted me to show them where I got the data. If you need such, do not hesitate to contact me.
I suspect this is going to be a very long article. You have been warned.
This next guitarist has quite a long history. I’m excited to write about him, because he’s been on of my greatest motivations. I’m hesitant to say he was an influence – but I was motivated to sound like him.
You may not even like the kind of music this next musician is known for. To say that he influenced a generation is an understatement. To say that he wasn’t truly a master guitarist would be false. To not include him on my list would just be silly!
Without further ado, our next artist…
#23: Andrés Segovia Torres, 1st Marquis of Salobreña
Try as I might, I can’t find any record of a nickname for Andrés Segovia Torres, 1st Marquis of Salobreña! If you know of him at all, you probably know him as Andrés Segovia. But, if I had a name like that, I’d probably insist everyone call me by my full name!
Right now, you’re possibly rolling your eyes and saying, “Oh, TheBuddha… It’s just another classical guitarist. We already know they’re pretty much guitar deities. Your list should pretty much be just a giant list of accomplished classical guitarists, because they’re all better than Hendrix!”
(For some reason, you’re talking like me in my imagined conversation!)
And, you’d be wrong… Sort of…
You’d be right about classical guitarists. Surmising that they’re all better than Hendrix is also a good conclusion. But, Segovia was far more influential than you might know.
It’s a safe conclusion to say that a bitchin’ solo is pretty much the greatest thing to have ever been invented. However, a bitchin’ solo really doesn’t have as much awesomeness as a bitchin’ solo with a giant fucking audience.
See, a long time ago, guitarists would wander about (not entirely unlike a roving band of bards and merry thieves from a Dungeons and Dragons campaign) and play at various small venues, often called ‘salons’ but also inns, taverns, and other small affairs.
Segovia was doing that but made an observation that would change guitar forever. He reasoned that he could make more money if he played to larger audiences. This was, of course, preposterous and generally considered a bad idea.
And, like many guitarists on this list, he said, “Hold my beer and watch this.”
He then had some pretty miserable failures that polite people tend to refer to as ‘minor setbacks.’
But, he kept going… He kept going no matter what people said about his stupid idea. He was not a popular guitarist back then. No, in fact guitar was on a downward swing in Spain (we’ll get to that).
Then, he proved his point by doing a recital the Palau de la Musica in Barcelona, Spain. That venue seated about 1,000 people. He then stomped his way back to Madrid and filled the Ritz hotel to capacity. Then, to further prove his point, he went and played for Spain’s royal family.
In other words, he invented motherfucking arena rock – in the 1920s.
Sure, it’d take a while before we had bands like Aerosmith or Led Zeppelin filling arenas, but that sort of thing (specifically with a guitar at the front of the band – or, in this case, the solo instrument) can be traced back to him saying that he was gonna play bitchin’ solos to giant audiences!
Well, probably not exactly that – but you get the idea!
Oh, and he also could be credited with possibly being called the father of classical guitar. The classical musicians of the day didn’t want the guitar to be included in classical music and he was openly mocked and laughed at.
It’s quite possible that we’d have far less emphasis on the guitar, in any genre, if it weren’t for Segovia’s action. He is absolutely one of the most influential people in the history of guitar playing. If you see a professional classical guitarist, there’s good odds that you’re seeing someone he taught or someone that one of his students would teach. Yeah… Like, really good odds.
But, that’s nothing – compared to pretty much inventing arena rock!
So, who was this guy?
Well, Segovia was born in 1893, in Linares, Spain. He’d be sent to live with his aunt and uncle. He was understandably upset and his uncle would sooth him by strumming an imaginary guitar. In his autobiography, he says that experience was the first seed of music to be cast into his soul. He did have a way with words.
He is claimed to have had an innate musical ability and that his aunt and uncle soon noticed this. So, they sent him to learn a real musical instrument, namely the violin. Except, he didn’t much care for it and wasn’t actually good at it – and his teacher would pinch him when he made mistakes.
But, perhaps we owe that jackass teacher a bit of thanks, ’cause Segovia would bail on the violin lessons and (mostly) teach himself to play the guitar. In a book by Summerfield, this is the claim:
“There is not one classical guitarist alive today that has not been influenced by Andres Segovia.”
And, that’s pretty much the truth and may even be an understatement.
He did get a very small amount of instruction from an unknown itinerant guitar player, but that was largely insignificant. Instead, the family moved to Granada to to ensure he got a proper (regular) education.
It was there where he’d get his first guitar, somewhere around 1904. He was also able to get some rudimentary books on music theory and some guitar music.
He’d then practice with an otherworldly devotion and pretty much everyone telling him that it was a stupid thing to waste his time on. He was also influenced by things like the Alhambra Palace, which he’d later say was what pressed into him the importance of music and art.
In 1909, he had his first public performance. Just a few short years later, he’d be in his first professional concert – and would play Bach using his own transcriptions of the music. He’d be criticized heavily and his technique was not well liked. But, he’d not give up…
He’d keep playing and it just so happens that a fella by the name of Miguel Llobet was also pushing for the guitar to be considered an instrument in classical music. Miguel was a fine guitarist in his own right, but was also quite an excellent composer. He is better known for arranging pieces from people like Isaac Albeniz and his original compositions.
It’s important to note that there was a ton of push-back from this. The guitar was not usually considered an instrument for playing classical music. It had been moderately popular with certain styles of music, particularly in Spain, but it wasn’t generally being used to play people like Bach.
The guitar had, in the past, been pretty popular. Unfortunately, the guitar was not terribly difficult to make or very expensive. This meant that the common person could, if they chose, probably get a guitar. It’s because of this that the guitar lost its favored status and was considered an instrument of the lower classes.
There’s even a story of a famous lute maker producing guitars and selling them at low cost – just to ensure that people would see the common man playing the guitar, and playing it badly, so that its reputation would diminish and people would start buying his lutes again!
(The guitar has a wonderful history, and I’ve been slowly sharing some of that history with you in my articles. The above is actually just a snippet of the larger story that is the history of the guitar.)
You have two people who are now pushing to bring the guitar back to the popularity that it once had. One should be more known for his composition and transcription and the other, Segovia, should be known for his composition, transcription, and playing ability.
I don’t want to labor the point, but basically Segovia stomped around the planet and did tours with classical troupes and played his guitar. He was openly mocked and laughed at, as I already mentioned. The establishment simply did not want a low-class instrument in classical music, for reasons mentioned above.
In 1922, he became a part of a story that I’ve already mentioned. He was largely a bit player, but he did have a hand in it.
Let’s go back and revisit Paco de Lucia. In there, if you remember, we covered how Paco bucked the flamenco trend and fused it with other genres.
Amusingly enough, Segovia would work with Manuel de Falla – whose goal was to preserve flamenco and prevent it from being influenced by modern music.
That seems more than a little ironic, when you contrast it with Segovia’s work to buck the trend in classical music! However, it’s explained easily enough. The reason was, as near as I can tell, that he was not yet all that famous and money was pretty tight.
Either way, he didn’t stick it out there long. By 1923, he was off to make his first visit to Mexico. (He’d already made a tour of South America, in 1919.) It was while he was there that he impressed a guy named Manuel Ponce. Ponce was so impressed that he’d later compose pieces specifically for Segovia.
Life moves quickly!
Just a year later, in 1924, we find him in Germany and picking up his first guitar from the famous luthier Hermann Hauser. The thing is, I could probably write at least two articles discussing just this topic – the guitars used by Segovia. I’m not sure I can stress exactly how significant Segovia was to classical guitar.
In 1928, he did a tour of the United States. That so impressed Heitor Villa-Lobos that he went and composed Twelve Etudes – just so that Segovia could play it.
Are you noticing a trend yet?
I could keep writing this stuff. The list goes on and on and on. Seriously, it just keeps on going. For the sake of brevity, we’re going to assume that you’re noticing a trend.
The dude played such awesome guitar that famous composers changed what they did – just to give it to him to play. The established classical music cabal pissed and moaned, mocked, and humiliated him – but he just kept on playing sweet-ass guitar. Eventually, he’d be so damned popular that they had to concede that he was fucking awesome and guitar regained its popularity in the classical music genre.
That’s STILL not everything!
Classical guitarists, the limited few there were, had historically plucked the strings with their fingernails. This is actually limiting and it was Segovia who intuited (and probably because he had no formal training) that you could use both your fingertips and your nails. Some others, less popular, would play using the fingertips and keep their nails trimmed short.
What did this do? Not only does playing with both your nails and tips (depending) allow you greater flexibility and the ability to create more tones, it also enables you to give the instrument greater volume. When you see what you think of as the standard classical guitar right hand position, that’s because of Segovia. That angle of attack is because it enables you to use both your fingertips and nails, either together or separately.
Nylon strings on a classical guitar?
Up until the end of WWI, guitarists used “catgut.” Contrary to popular opinion, catgut is not actually made from cat guts. However, it’s slightly more disgusting. Catgut is made from the intestines of various animals, often pigs or sheep.
Not only is it disgusting, there’s a pretty good chance that the musicians were actually having to make their own catgut strings. That is, for the most part, a lost art.
If your guitar re-stringing process doesn’t involve the slaughter of animals and laborious (and disgusting) process of cleaning shit out of intestines and then carefully drying and twisting them? You can thank Segovia.
Yup… He was the (maybe) first person to endorse the use of nylon strings for classical guitar. We’re not exactly sure if he was the first – but he was absolutely one of the first. Notably, this was also still while the classical music mafia hated him.
I’m kinda disappointed that there aren’t any spy stories and assassination attempts from the classical music establishment – but history doesn’t tell us of any.
It doesn’t stop there…
Having been snubbed by the classical music establishment and now gained some popularity, he decided to nail the establishment to the wall and settle the dispute once and for all.
He decided he’d teach.
He didn’t just teach one student. He taught many – and did so all over the world. He was quite a bully and would insist that students learn his way or get the fuck out. Some people say that this stifled classical guitar innovation, and that’s probably a legitimate complaint.
But, in order to stifle classical guitar innovation, you had to have taught a metric fuckton of people – and he did. Oh, did he… By now, we’re on the third generation of people who can trace their guitar instruction back to him.
Then, to top it all off, he kept doing this! He lived to be 94 years old, dying in 1987! He wasn’t done kicking the classical music mafia in the teeth. He had them pinned on the ground and had held them there for decades. He continued to smash them in the teeth.
By the time the 1960s had rolled around, and Segovia already being advanced in age, he was teaching people and giving master-classes all over the world. He kept this up – until his final classes were given during the 1984 summer session at UCLA!
That’s about 80 years of direct influence. My guitar teacher had studied with Segovia, by attending some of his master-classes. That’s why my attack is not the straight on attack, but from an angle where using the left side of my fingers enables me to use both the fingertips and the nails, both simultaneously or separately.
I have every reason to believe the claims made by my instructor, but it’s amusing to note that there are many claims about his tutelage that are falsehoods. In his own words:
“All over the world I have ‘pupils’ I have never met.”
The first classical guitar scores I would labor over? Those would have been arranged for him, arranged by him, or possibly arranged by someone he taught.
And, pretty much nobody ever includes him on their list of greatest guitarists. Rolling Stone probably doesn’t even employ a writer that can spell his name. You will find him appropriately on a pedestal in publications like Classical Guitar Magazine. Even though he was the first classical guitarist to get a gold album, he’s not very well known outside of the classical guitar fans of today.
He’s received tons of recognition elsewhere, including having an asteroid named after him. The list of his awards is too long to mention, but he did get a Grammy for lifetime achievement in 1986 and has ten honorary doctorates from various universities around the globe. There’s also more awards, competitions in his name, and scholarships in his name. If you scroll up and read the name I gave for him at the top, you’ll learn that he was awarded nobility by the King of Spain, which is a hereditary title.
In other words, he was important and recognized as such – even if it was a pretty rough start. His influence on the guitar and classical music are without doubt. His hand has reached out and influenced modern music in many ways, including the popularity of the guitar. He can even be heard in neo-classical metal and, known or not, influenced many of the guitarists already on this list.
And people think Hendrix was a better guitarist… When I point out the lack of technical ability that Hendrix had, they’ll change their argument to how he was influential and innovative. Frankly, Hendrix’ innovation and influential accomplishments pale in comparison to Segovia and that’s why Segovia is on my list.
Do I really need to prove it by posting videos of his music? Do I really need to? I mean, is there any doubt? I don’t think I need to – but I’m gonna do it anyhow! Grab some headphones but be aware that there’s no bitchin’ solos. Instead, the whole work is pretty much a bitchin’ solo and it’s pretty hard to think of anything more awesome than that.
It’s so hard to choose! First, this is a piece by the above mentioned Albeniz. It is properly known as Leyenda but is often referred to as Asturias. It was erroneously given that title when published by some German dude in like 1911. He’d also place it in the wrong suite and the music isn’t even remotely similar to the more folksy music from the region known as Asturias. Instead, it’s a piece with the Andalusian flamenco signatures written all over it. However, the name has stuck.
I have a hunch that Segovia could have learned to play Purple Haze, but Hendrix could never have learned to play that!
This next example is Segovia putting three pieces together. They’re Bach’s Prelude for Lute, Sonatina by Toroba, and Sor’s Variations on a Theme of Mozart. The latter is often referred to simply as Variations.
I will happily acknowledge that you may not actually even like this style of music. That’s not required and you’re encouraged to enjoy what you enjoy. But, I’m pretty damned confident that he played better than Hendrix!
Now, how about some more Bach? This is Gavotte I & II and this is his own arrangement. If you consider his advanced age, it makes the precision and speed all the more impressive.
There… I’d like to think those demonstrate my point quite nicely. A list of greatest guitarists is absolutely incomplete without the inclusion of Segovia, regardless of one’s personal taste in music. It’s not a list of favorite guitarists, it’s a list of great guitarists.
So, I think I might be on the mend and my creativity bone is rapidly healing. We will see, but it seems pretty likely. I was looking forward to writing this article – but not quite enough to actually do it ahead of time and have it scheduled for prompt publication. I’m getting there…
And, indeed, this article was pretty enjoyable to write. I suspect many of you aren’t familiar with him and many don’t know the history of guitar very well. His influence is pivotal and profound. I absolutely encourage you to take a peek at his other work, and maybe someday trying to learn a piece. It’s complicated but worth the work, because the results can be spectacular.
I’ll leave you with one for the road, but this is actually a documentary about him. I’ll have to confess that I’ve not yet actually watched it! I didn’t discover that it existed until earlier today, when I was picking through the videos that I’d include in this article. So, I’m going in blind – but I hope you enjoy it!
In closing, while I’ve been in a bit of a finicky mood lately, I do enjoy writing these articles and I thoroughly enjoy your comments. It’s great to be able to bring these things to your attention and to try to share what I know before I die.
I probably should have started writing these a number of years ago, but I didn’t really have the motivation. You provide that motivation. If there were no people reading and commenting, I’d probably have stopped already. But, the site has become far more than I’d expected it to become. Your questions, comments, and ideas are always welcome. Until next time…
Shut up and play us a song!