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I can’t play the guitar, I’ve never been in a band and I can barely read music.
Yet for years, I was up there with the best of them when it came to presenting arguments about who really was the best guitarist in the world.
Of course, I’m not alone in delivering unequivocal verdicts despite my own lack of technical expertise.
It all started in sixth form at school around the time that Sounds held their annual poll, which of course, featured `the best guitarist’ category.
Back then, the top contenders were Jimmy Page, Richie Blackmore, Michael Schenker and Eric Clapton and healthy debate would invariably degenerate into rows as we discussed the respective merits of the leading protagonists.
When, in 1979, Sounds announced that Rainbow’s Blackmore had topped the poll, the news was greeted as concrete proof by those who’d voted for him that the Man in Black really was indeed the best in the business.
A few years ago, the Guitarist magazine carried a similar poll of the 100 greatest guitarists, only this time, the electorate was slightly more elite. They asked professional musicians, record producers and bona-fide music journalists for their opinions.
I can’t remember exactly where Blackmore finished but it was well outside the top 30. The winner was Jimi Hendrix, followed by Page, Clapton, Beck and Randy Rhodes.
So that’s that then. The Sounds’ poll was a dud. How could it not be when it’s electorate consisted of starry-eyed adolescents, the vast majority of whom couldn’t play guitar, hadn’t been in a band and struggled to distinguish a crotchet from a minim?
In contrast, the technocrats had spoken and proclaimed Hendrix the greatest guitarist that ever lived. End of the debate.
Well, not quite. For if there’s one thing that I’ve learnt over the years, such polls, whoever votes in them, always have been and always will be subjective. There never can be one definitive winner.
I could talk all day about the guitarists I admire and of course they include Page, Blackmore, Clapton and Beck.
But I’m also enchanted by the melliflous tones of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, the dexterity of Eddie Van Halen and of course the bluesy brilliance of Peter Green and the younger Joe Bonamassa.
Only this week, I bought Mark Knopfler’s latest solo release, the double album Privateering and was reminded that the Geordie finger-picker had to be right up there in any personal poll of mine.
The fact is that for the vast majority of us our favourite guitarists correspond with the music we listen to.
For example while all of us can appreciate the genius of a classical guitarist like John Williams, it’s a fair bet that a Led Zep fan of a Deep Purple fan wouldn’t have him anywhere near the top of their list.
I’m told by those who know these things that Johnny Marrr of The Smiths should be a shoe-in for any top ten poll but because I don’t particularly like the band he’s in, I wouldn’t even consider him.
My list would belong almost exclusively to the schools of classic rock and blues because that’s the genre I listen to the most. I suspect it’s the same for most of us.
Deciding who’s the greatest isn’t a science or an exercise in meritocracy , it’s based on band and genre loyalty and personal preference.
There never will be a greatest-ever guitarist but because we, as listeners are all different, there always will be hundreds of candidates for the title.