Oh, man… When I first started this project, I expected to get bored and quit – after about three entries. This list is actually the primary motivation that I had for even starting this site.
Those motivations and expectations have long-since changed. What was once a halfhearted attempt to show that it could be done has turned into this site, and all the effort that involves.
It’s usually pretty exciting for me to write the articles that make up this particular series. For some reason, I’m just not that excited today. I don’t know why. If I knew why, I’d change it!
Today’s entry onto the list of Guitarists Better Than Hendrix is a fantastic artist, and even an interesting character. I should be far more excited to write about ’em than I am.
Indeed, I was pretty damned excited when I started drafting and researching ’em. I’m not sure what happened, but I suspect that the excitement paled when compared to other recent events.
It’s probably not that it became less exciting, it’s that other events were much more exciting. For example, I’ve had a good time sharing EH’s experiences with her first new guitar but that doesn’t seem article-worthy and, besides, it’s Thursday and that’s the day we do the Guitarists Better Than Hendrix!
If you don’t know, a bunch of illiterate people got together and began snorting mounds of cocaine. The cocaine soon ran out, so they began sniffing glue. Those people, gainfully employed by Rolling Stone, declared that Jimi Hendrix was the greatest guitarist ever.
They’re wrong, of course.
I wouldn’t mind, but their ignorant gibberish has influenced millions of people. We now have many, many people who are convinced that Hendrix was the greatest guitarist – ever.
As a guitarist, I strongly believe that “greatest guitarist” should be a technical award. It should be based on quantifiable metrics. It should be objective – as much as is humanly possible. Sure, at the end of the day it’s still art – but it’s possible to be reasonably objective.
Y’all can call Hendrix things like, “Greatest Rock Artist Ever!” That’s fine. That’s not a problem. That’s subjective and doesn’t detract from the many people who have dedicated their lives to actually mastering their instruments and have managed to do so.
I’m not suggesting, or even implying, that I don’t like Hendrix. I’m absolutely not insisting you dislike him. I fucking love Hendrix! He just wasn’t a great guitarist in the technical sense of the word. He couldn’t even play the same thing twice – even if he wanted to.
Hendrix inspired, created, composed, and added to the wealth that is music history. He just wasn’t a very good guitarist.
No, your liking his music has nothing to do with it. Even my liking of his music has nothing to do with it. Our musical preferences have zero to do with this list. Words like “art” and “style” don’t even really have much of a place on this list.
I know… I’ve said much the same before. In fact, I say pretty much the same thing in every single one of these articles. Well, I’ve got to write a damned intro and it might as well be informative! Also, I get some of the same commentary and questions – every single week.
Strangely, some of those questions and comments come from people who obviously didn’t read the article. Let’s take a moment to make fun of them. Let’s all enjoy a moment of juvenile insulting those who don’t read the articles before commenting!
~waits a moment for you to get all your best insults out~
Done? Good. Fuck ’em. They’re not gonna read it anyhow! We can say whatever we damned well want about ’em!
Seriously… I’ve had (multiple) people actively refuse to read the article that already provided all the answers they wanted to argue about. They’ve neither taken the time or made the effort to learn and just want to argue. I’ve tried to figure out what things are like from their perspective, to understand their philosophy, but that is harder than it appears to be. I just can’t do it – and I’ve tried.
Do, please, feel free to let me know what sort of motivations they might have? I don’t really understand and I can’t really figure out how to put myself into their shoes or see things from their perspective? It’s one of those things that I don’t understand.
My guess is that they’re somehow emotionally invested in their understanding and opinions? Maybe they’re just not interested in understanding the topic? I’d like to think I’ve made it clear that I don’t dislike Hendrix, but they often seem to think that I do. I fucking love Hendrix! He’s just wasn’t a great guitarist in the sense of the phrase that I’m using.
Someone on Phuks once referred to it as “Hendrix worship.” I think that phrase might suit. Unfortunately, they deleted their account and I can’t actually credit ’em with coining the phrase. So, maybe it’s that people don’t want to admit flaws in their heroes? Maybe it’s that people want to maintain the illusion of perfection?
The thing is, this list doesn’t make Hendrix any less influential. It doesn’t make him any less a brilliant composer. It doesn’t make him any less a fantastic artist and absolutely stunning performer.
His ability to wow an audience is something I personally study to this day – and that’s kinda how I know he wasn’t actually a great guitarist. It is from this study that I’ve had the chance to observe his work and realized that he was unable to replicate his own work and could actually observe the limits of his understanding. To put it another way, he couldn’t play the same thing twice.
It is that he was able to accomplish all those thing with just a very limited skillset that is fantastic and something that should be celebrated and understood. If anything, Hendrix should be celebrated and be considered an inspiration because he shows that it doesn’t require that you master your instrument to make good music.
‘Cause he sure as fuck didn’t master his instrument.
No… He set it on fire. There’s a difference!
(Oh, man… If y’all knew how much I chuckled when writing these… I crack me up!)
So, let’s move on and actually see which guitarist is given the accolades this week!
That, ladies and gentlemen is Sir Richard Thompson.
“TheBuddha, are you fucking kidding me?” You are asking, in my imagination.
“Nope.” My imagination is happily responding to your figment. “You’ll see!” I reassuringly say. “You’ll see!”
No, I don’t actually intentionally pick obscure guitarists because of their obscurity. They’re obscure because they’re not really given the accolades they deserve, ’cause stupid people keep saying shit like Hendrix was the greatest guitarist!
I’m trying to fix that!
“What about my favorite guitarist, I know they’re better than Hendrix?”
Yeah, we’ll get to them. I only do one guitarist a week – this is probably gonna take years. There are literally hundreds of guitarists who can be called better technical guitarists than Hendrix. If you don’t like the order I’m doing them in, write your own damned list!
In fact, you’re encouraged to write your own list. Hell, I’ll even help facilitate it! I ain’t scared. Shit, I’ll even provision server space to enable you to do just that.
“Get on with the damned article!” You say! You’re a pretty demanding figment of my imagination. But, you d have a point. Off we go!
Who is this guy?
This dude is so awesome that they knighted ’em. He’s an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
Why haven’t you heard of ’em? It’s probably a combination of a piss-poor music history teacher and that other musicians have taken the attention that he deserves.
While many, many musicians are multi-instrumentalists, he’s the first one that I’d give that title to and is the first one on the list. Remarkably few musicians play just a single instrument, but only a handful are actually really adept at them all. It’s that limited subset that I refer to as ‘multi-instrumentalists’ even though, technically speaking, it’s probably a good assumption to think of every musician as being able to play more than one instrument.
Sir Dick is one of them, but we’re going to simply concentrate on his guitar work. After all, it’s a list of guitarists better than Hendrix and his ability to play a hammered dulcimer is cool, but not actually relevant.
Dick was born in Notting Hill Gate, London. He was born in 1949 and came from a family with some musical tendencies, but no notable musical abilities. His father was an amateur guitarist, but not one of any great skill. In fact, this is what Dick had to say about his father’s guitar ability:
“… a bad amateur player … with three chords, though, unfortunately, not C, F and G.”
But, that doesn’t mean his father didn’t have a role. In fact, it’s pretty evident that his father did have a big role.
Back in the 1930s, his father had seen Django Reinhardt perform. His father was keen on playing but, as stated above, really wasn’t very good at it. No, I mention his father because it was his influence on Dick is important.
His father had a nice collection of jazz and traditional Scottish music.
If we also look at the era, we’ll see that young Richard Thompson was exposed to American rock n roll music, as well as the bands coming out of the UK at the time.
For those that understand the history of music, you’ll recollect that American blues was also insanely popular in the UK at this time.
It wasn’t just rock, either. No, he appears to have been heavily influenced by the West Coast rockers. So, you have jazz, blues, rock, and traditional Scottish music as influences.
Which has to be just about the most batshit insane combination of musical influence – ever! I’m not even sure how the hell that worked?
Frankly, I’m fucking baffled. Given my understanding of music, including music theory, I might actually be more baffled than you are!
There are many things I don’t understand. This is one of them.
This means that trying to pin down Thompson (I grew weary of calling him “Dick”) is damned difficult. Trying to assign him a genre is damned near impossible. Wikipedia is no help. None!
In fact, Wikipedia helpfully says they’re classified as, “English folk, British folk rock, hard rock, alternative rock.” Which is about as clear as mud. Thanks, Wikipedia!
It’s not their fault, really. I can’t really classify ’em and I’m kinda, sorta, maybe an expert. I guess this is just what happens when you give someone those sorts of bizarre combinations of influence and then give them a long career and artistic freedom?
The end result is pure awesome.
I want to share some quotes from Joe Boyd:
He can imitate almost any style, and often does, but is instantly identifiable. In his playing you can hear the evocation of the Scottish piper’s drone and the melody of the chanter as well as echoes of Barney Kessel’s and James Burton’s guitars and Jerry Lee Lewis’s piano. But no blues clichés.
There’s also this gem:
And there was this group of very nice Muswell Hill grammar school boys and a girl playing American music. Leonard Cohen songs, and Richard Fariña songs, and Bob Dylan songs, all being done in a kind of West-Coasty rock style. And then came the guitar solo, and Richard just played the most amazing solo. He played a solo which quotes from Django, from Charlie Christian, you know, an incredibly sophisticated little solo. And that really amazed me, the breadth of his sophistication… and so, you know, at the end of the gig I was in the dressing room saying ‘would you guys like to make a record?’
Which is kinda how he got his start.
If you read that last quote carefully, you can see that his recording career is predicated on him playing a bitchin’ solo!
Usually, at this stage in the article, I tell you all about their music career. I tell you who they played with, how they got there, why they got there, what they made, and things like that.
This time, that’s not going to happen. No… No, I’m not doing that – and you can’t make me! Why? Because this is already going to be long enough and to do so would result in an article that took several weeks to write and would take you a great deal of time to read it.
To demonstrate this, and why I’m not gonna do it, I will give you this link.
In other words, his discography is so large that even Wikipedia decided it was too long to put on his main entry page and has a second page dedicated to it. He’s worked with many bands and done a ton of solo work, in a career spanning over 50 years.
His first recordings were with a band known as Fairpoint Convention which, curiously, reminds me of some sort of fan group for an ISP. Until recently, my ISP was known as Fairpoint Communications!
I’m not sure you needed to know that, but now you do!
Seeing as I’m not going to tell you about that chunk of information, I’m going to use this space to tell you about the guitar work.
If you’d like to replicate his electric guitar, he doesn’t actually use anything too outrageous. He’s fond of the single-coil sound and, as such, you’ll usually find him with a Strat. In his very early days, he used a Gibson Les Paul with the passive single-coil P-90 pickup but he moved onto the Fender Stratocaster and has, for the most part, stayed there ever since.
It should be noted that he uses a couple of custom guitars but they’re still aiming for the single-coil bite. His pedals largely consist of modulation and vibrato effects.
It’s a little more difficult on the acoustic side. Just a little… It’s not too bad.
He’s used a number of acoustics over the years and his earlier preference was for a Martin 000-18, but he’s now mostly used guitars built by the luthier George Lowden.
On that same acoustic side, he uses both a pickup and a condenser microphone. Then, to make it a bit more difficult, only one side of that (the pickup) is often fed into a delay pedal and Uni-Vibe. So, his acoustic work is a touch more tricky to replicate – but still within reach.
For those that don’t know, the Uni-Vibe is a phase shifter that creates both vibrato and chorus effects. You may know the sound from Hendrix, Pink Floyd, or Robin Trower.
But, if you don’t have access to a Uni-Vibe, you can generally get a sound that is “close enough” with any adjustable chorus pedal. It’s not so distinctive that it can’t be replicated with other effects. There’s no reason to go out and buy a Uni-Vibe specifically.
Anyhow, his style is rather distinct and his playing is absolutely magnificent. He makes great use of the entire fingerboard, absolutely has an understanding of theory, and plays complex patterns that will give you hints at instruments other than guitars.
His soloing is complicated to the point where it becomes difficult to step into the music and anticipate the next series of notes. This unpredictability has different results than many other guitarists achieve. Where they may seem almost ham-fisted, as though they’re smashing against a creation wall, his solos are often described as “delicate.”
Which, again, I submit is pretty damned bizarre – and made even more bizarre when you look at the genres that his music is classified as being. You know, “hard rock.”
His music isn’t complex because he wants to show off. It’s not needlessly complex because he wants it to be. It’s complex because it need to be, in order to be as evocative as he wants it to be.
Really, he puts this bizarre combination of influences, styles, and gear together in a way that’s absolutely, astonishingly so, skillful. He’s been overshadowed by more popular guitarists for decades. His body of work is extensive and shows a versatility that is astounding.
And, it really is his versatility that stands out even more than his ability to make complex music with a great understanding of theory and why music works the way it does. It’s this ability to demonstrate a well-above-average technical ability, across many genres, that earns him this spot on the list.
So, let’s hear this musician who has languished in relative obscurity! Let’s hear why he made my list of Guitarists Better Then Hendrix!
I do wish the damned camera operator had spent more time focusing on the guitar, but that will have to do. I can play that – but I sure as hell can’t sing it at the same time.
As much as I’d like to digress and share some information about the bike known as the Black Lightning, this isn’t really the site for that. (It’s a fascinating story, as is much of the UK’s motorcycle history!)
But, for those of you who don’t play, it’s hard enough to just play the song. Even playing it well would be way beyond Hendrix’ ability. Singing at the same time is probably not possible for the vast majority of people, including many of the world’s greatest guitarists.
Side note: You can find similar guitar sounds at your local bluegrass open-mic/open-stage events. You will also find similar patterns, albeit at a different tempo, at a folk festival.
He’s somehow crammed traditional Scottish music into a modern folk song – and, if you listen carefully, you’ll find some tone changes that may remind you of jazz. I dunno why. I dunno the motivation. I do know that it worked.
Gotta tell you, there aren’t many modern-era folk songs played exclusively on a guitar that make me want to dance a Scottish jig, but this one does. It kind of reminds me of an Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) song.
That’s a compliment!
I should also mention that I have no idea how to dance a merry Scottish jig.
Sure… He can play like that – but I mentioned words like versatility and bitchin’ solos.
There you have it. Do I really need to go on?
I realize that you may not like his music, and that’s okay. What we like has not one damned thing to do with this list! Well, not much to do with this list. It’s about technical abilities, about the quantifiable.
As such, I’m pretty damned confident that he’s better than Hendrix would have ever been, even if Hendrix had been given 1,000 lifetimes to master the guitar! Yet, because his music isn’t popular, he will never be giving the recognition that he deserves by the music media publications.
At least the UK recognizes the gem they have in him. They made his ass a knight! (I kinda want to see him come on stage in shining armor, preferably with a big sword.) I guess, if you’re a knight, you probably don’t much care about being recognized by Rolling Stone?
I suppose, you may be wanting ‘one for the road.’ If so, I think this is a good choice – but there’s many, many good choices and I encourage you to have a peek and decide for yourself what to next enjoy. His music spans decades, genres, ideas, and ideals. You can pick and choose what you like, but I think it’s woefully inaccurate to consider him less skillful than Hendrix.
Finally… Today’s article is late. I have good reasons for this! They involve cows, horses, and a longer practice session than normal. I had to tuck some extra time into my practice session, in order to help the hoodlum get up to speed to do a recording tonight or tomorrow afternoon.
Yeah, she’s having some issues getting her fingers to behave and last week she had me tell the guitar thread denizens that she’d be recording something even more complicated for this week. This, of course, makes me chuckle. I have faith and she’s working extra hard at reaching her goals.
So far, she hasn’t asked me to help by recording a few parts for her. She’s hell bent on doing it herself.
Why do I tell you that? ‘Cause she’s one of the most motivated people I know. I find it infectious, and hope that some of that dedication is somehow translated into text and inspires you to work at the things you’re passionate about. She’s also more important than this site, so she gets priority access to my time.
It’s a lot of hard work, and not always as rewarding in ways that other people can understand, but there’s a sense of satisfaction when we get suitable results. It’s not altruism, it’s the sense of satisfaction and self that make it worthwhile. Until next time…
Shut up and play us a song!