I began playing guitar way back in 1982. Sure, that was the time of Duran Duran, Culture Club and Wham, but my influences were a little different from that. When I say different, I mean 180 degrees out from that. You see, I wanted to be a rock star. Loud, aggressive and rebellious was my “cup of tea”.
So, who were the bands that fit that mold in 1982. Well, Van Halen, Judas Priest and Kiss come to mind. There were many more of them, too many to list. I would try my best to emulate them and listen carefully to each one to learn their styles of playing.
Over time, I would come to develop my own style of guitar playing, but I always knew where “my” style had its roots. So let’s take a look at the 7 guitarists that changed my life and we will also see their signature guitars that they were famous for playing.
1. Eddie Van Halen / Van Halen
My first and probably my biggest single influence was Eddie Van Halen. Eddie, along with brother Alex, David Lee Roth and Michael Anthony, were members of the band Van Halen. He has always been an innovator in the guitar world. He changed the way people approached guitar playing with his guitar solo “Eruption” from the band’s debut album Van Halen in 1977.
His signature guitar was one of his own creations. He combined parts from a 1958 Fender Stratocaster as well as various parts from his Gibson guitar with the result being aptly named “Frankenstrat”. This is his most famous guitar, although he has had several signature guitars throughout his career. The EVH Striped Series – Red and Black Striped guitar is a signature version of the original “Frankenstrat” that Eddie built. There were some cosmetic changes made in an effort to create a more widely accepted model. The original “Frankenstrat” is definitely one of the most iconic rock and roll guitars of all time.
2. Warren DeMartini / Ratt
Warren DeMartini of the hard rock band Ratt had a tremendous influence on me and my guitar playing. Ratt exploded onto the scene in 1983 with their hard-driving melodic songs and heavy beat. Their debut album “Out of the Cellar” was released in 1984 and reached multi-platinum status. It also spawned the band’s biggest hit of their career, “Round and Round”.
Warren also had many guitars that he was known for playing, but none more recognizable than his Charvel “Crossed Sword” guitar. He played this guitar a lot and can still be seen playing it at recent shows. He also played a “Snakeskin” Charvel quite often. Both guitars bring back fond memories for me.
3. George Lynch / Dokken, Lynch Mob
George Lynch was the lead guitarist of the band, Dokken. The band, fronted by singer Don Dokken, made an impact on the 80’s hard rock music scene with hits such as “Alone Again”, “In My Dreams” and “Into the Fire”. George found respect among other guitarist with his instrumental offering “Mr. Scary” on the bands 1987 release, “Back for the Attack”.
After the breakup of Dokken in 1989, George Lynch went on to form his own band, Lynch Mob. Here, he continued his legacy of incredible guitar playing, saturated with melodic phrasing.
George Lynch, like many other guitarists who have spent much of their lives on stage, has been remembered for several guitars he has played. The ESP George Lynch Signature Sunburst Tiger guitar is among the most popular along with the very distinct Skull & Bones model. Both are amazing guitars from ESP Guitars and are worthy of this great guitarist’s name.
4. Jake E. Lee / Ozzy Osbourne, Badlands
With the tragic and untimely death of Ozzy Osboune’s guitarist Randy Rhoads in 1982, the door was open for someone to step in and attempt to fill his shoes.
The tour that the band was on at the time of Randy’s death was finished by Bernie Torme (Deep Purple) and Brad Gillis (Night Ranger). These two guitarists were never intended to be permanent members. At the conclusion of the tour, the search for a permanent replacement began. They found their new member in Jake E. Lee, formerly of Rough Cut.
Jake’s playing style was a bit different from Randy Rhoads. He offered a punchier and slightly looser feel. He played for Ozzy Osbourne for five years before leaving and starting Badlands with singer Ray Gillen. Jake E. Lee is known as almost exclusively using his white “Charvel-ized” guitar with the black pickguard. He bought the guitar in 1975 and still plays it to this day. The Charvel Jake E Lee Signature Model is a quality reproduction of this amazing guitar.
5. Eric Johnson
When I first heard Eric Johnson play, I instantly knew that I was listening to greatness. Eric is one of the most respected guitarists in the world. He is an accomplished player on many instruments and plays in many genres of music. I recall listening to his debut album, ‘Tones’. I had never heard anyone that sounded like him. He plays with precision and finesse with an approach to the instrument that is almost surgical.
Although he plays several guitars, the one I visualize when I think of Eric Johnson is his Sunburst Fender Stratocaster. I have seen him play live twice and this is the guitar he played the most during these live performances. The Fender Eric Johnson signature model stratocaster was first introduced in 2005. Other variations have since followed, but this is the one that started it all.
6. Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan is renowned as one of the greatest guitarists to have ever lived. His Texas blues style with a southern rock edge gave him a sound that was new to the music world in 1983. His debut effort was entitled “Texas Flood” and showcased not only his talent, but also that he was a complete guitarist with many different facets to his playing.
Sadly, he was killed in a helicopter crash on August 27, 1990, at the age of 35. There is no telling how much more incredible music this amazing artist could have shared with the world.
Stevie’s main guitar was a Fender Stratocaster. The guitar was a combination of a 1963 body, a 1962 neck and 1959 pickups and he referred to it as his first wife or “Number One”. His Fender Stevie Ray Vaughan Stratocaster signature model was released in 1992 and was built to the specifications of his “Number One” guitar.
7. Nuno Bettencourt / Extreme
Extreme, a high-energy, funk-metal rock band from Boston, formed in 1985. The group was fronted by lead singer Gary Cherone. Guitarist Nuno Bettencourt, though not a founding member, joined the band in the same year. Extreme is best known for their upbeat songs “Decadence Dance” and “Get the Funk Out” as well as their acoustic ballads “More Than Words” and “Hole-Hearted”.
Nuno’s guitar playing is beyond amazing. I recall listening to Extreme’s self-titled debut album. Initially, I wasn’t overly impressed with the band as a whole, however, the guitar riffs and lead guitar solos were undeniably great. I later enjoyed the band in its entirety with their release of the album “Pornograffitti”. The songs were more consistent and Nuno’s playing continued to get better.
Nuno began working with Washburn guitars in the late 1980’s on the specifications for his own signature guitar. In 1990, they released the Washburn N4 Nuno Bettencourt Signature Series. This guitar has been his main guitar ever since. He has also endorsed many Washburn acoustic guitars throughout his career.
My Final Thoughts
As I created this list, I found myself remembering so many other guitar players that had a huge impact on me and my playing. Paul Gilbert of Mr. Big, Vito Bratta of White Lion, Reb Beach of Winger. The list goes on and on. The world has no shortage of guitarists that will amaze you and inspire you to be a better player.
Hopefully, you enjoyed finding out a little more about some of the guitarists that influenced me. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments section about some of your influences and who inspires you.
Until next time, Here’s to your journey!