What does it mean to be the best guitarist?

There was something else I was thinking about during my guitar lesson that I wanted to save for a separate post, namely this one.

During the guitar lesson on Thursday, me and the instructor got into a discussion about speed metal and its technically demanding nature (at least from what I understand or have heard), and about what makes a person the best guitarist (well looking back it was actually probably more about speed metal and how technical it is). He told me that music can be very technical and complicated, but that doesn’t automatically make that music good, and that you’ll always know what you want inside you and the better you get at playing your instrument the more chance you’ll have that finding real expression. As I recall, he also told me about how what makes the best guitarist isn’t necessarily defined in the same way, in that for many people you don’t have to do speed metal shreds to be considered the best. He told me about how Eric Clapton never did any of the shredding that I’d like to achieve, but was considered to be great  because of how good he was perceived to be at what he does. In the end, I think I came to a conclusion that a lot of times the title of best guitarist is all down to popularity, and I think he understood.

Remember, a lot of times, best is a matter of personal opinion, and in music, whether or not music is good is often hard to determine objectively (well, I assume that’s at least true for those not involved with music or versed in musical theory). Because of the role of subjective judgement, popular opinion often guides people into assuming who the best guitarist is based on who people like the most. I swear that’s the reason Slash tends to be considered one of the best, if not the best, guitarists ever. Don’t get me wrong, Slash is a great musician, but I think people tend to think of him as the best guitarist ever because lots of people like Guns N Roses (which is certainly one of the very popular examples of hard rock for many people). It’s probably the same for Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Steve Vai, and pretty much any popular guitarist especially in the world of rock. On an interesting side-note: the first two in my mind are examples of musicians whose status increased greatly after their respective deaths. That said, I kind of wonder what meaning the title of best guitarist has.

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