Which guitar players should I listen to?

“Which guitar players should I listen to?” “Who should I emulate?” I get these questions from students all the time.

Who floats your boat? Who tickles your fancy? Who do you wish you could play like?

The truth is, you are already drawn to the guitar players that you need to listen to or study. Whether it’s the tone they create, the image they represent or simply the way they make you feel when you hear them. We are all drawn to certain players, but that doesn’t mean it’s a relationship that’ll last the test of time. We grow and change, and so too does our taste.

I remember as a young child, I heard the intro to ‘Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress’ on a record at my parents house. It blew my mind! I just kept taking the needle back to the start of that intro and must’ve worn the thing out. The little hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention. My heart glowed. It was a strange feeling to get from music. I found a tennis racket and imagined myself playing that chuggy E minor blues riff to thousands. That was at seven! I didn’t even have a guitar for another 7 years.

You’re into what you’re into.

Don’t apologize if you don’t really get or understand all the fuss about Hendrix, or Jazz… or if you don’t like John Mayer.

At 7 years old, I heard the opening riff to this song and instantly connected with the guitar sound. 7 years later I finally got my first guitar.

I started out listening to my dad’s albums of ‘The Shadows’ and later got really into Dire Straits and Jimi Hendrix. I’d learn what I could by ear and from what an older school friend would show me. Then he would be like “Hey have you heard of Joe Satriani?” And Boom! I’m all into that. Then another friend would say, “have you heard the new Metallica album?” And on it goes.

I think it’s a good idea to listen to a large variety of music. I mean everything. Also play a little of everything too.

You are going to be drawn into certain aspects of playing. For example I loved the sound and feeling that Stevie Ray Vaughan had. I wasn’t a huge Blues fan, but Vaughan and Hendrix really exploded my head. I loved the wailing bends and note choices of Gary Moore. I loved the virtuosity and flare of Yngwie Malmsteen in my teens, and the way he controlled or played almost everything himself. But I’d also enjoy James Taylor and Stevie Wonder.

The characteristics of all of those players still live in my playing today, like genes in a bloodline handed down through the generations.

Your uniqueness is what determines the music you’re drawn to. Follow your heart and you’ll discover the musician you are meant to be.


  1. Dale

    Hi Mark… My first guitar influences were Cat Stevens, Neil Young, John Lennon, Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Steve Howe, and James Taylor.
    There are individual aspects of these guys technique, style, and feel, that hooked me into playing guitar, and away from the piano as a teenager in the early 70’s.
    Over the years, I’ve taken in bits and pieces of many guitarists that captured my attention, and I’ve found that if you’re listening, you might hear something that is… very interesting!
    Dale Gibson

  2. Kevin m. Rabbett

    Hi Mark, I have 2 sets of beginner guitar dvd’s , both are from Marty Schwartz , I am struggling with the way he teaches. It’s like I have to figure how to do things myself. Like switching cords fast or in the blues, some of the positions you have to put your fingers in are like impossible. It just seems like I suck and can’t move along fast enough.. Do you have any thought’s on this to help me .. thanks

    1. Mark McKenzie Post author

      Hi Kevin. My first thought is that you probably don’t suck as much as you think you do. My second thought is that it’s completely normal to fail when you’re learning something new – it’s actually preferable. It means that you’re challenging yourself and that is how you get better at this. About the practical problems you mentioned – learning chords and changing between them – I have some practical lessons that address these things in my free beginners course. If you haven’t yet, go sign up for it. And here’s the direct links to those specific lessons: http://jamorama.com/2-week-beginner-guitar-course/e-chord-plus-pressing-technique/ and http://jamorama.com/2-week-beginner-guitar-course/tips-perfecting-strum-chord-changes/. Let me know how you get on.

  3. Michael O Donovan

    Mark, thank you for keep me going even when the learning gets rough. You inspire me, keep the updates coming, they are very informative. Thanks again.

  4. Fred

    Stevie Wonder doesn’t play guitar! hahahaha. That’s funny. Good one! I know, it was a test to see if we were paying attention, right?

    1. Mark McKenzie Post author

      Hehe looks like you were awake Fred. I was actually referring more to Stevie Wonder’s musical style in general than his guitar playing. Superstition could be the riff of the century. Check out Jeff Becks version:

  5. Allan Hall

    All of these artists are awesome, and make a 65, year old like me keep working at just playing a guitar for my own pleasure.

  6. Daniel Sandlin

    It IS difficult to choose just a couple of people, whose playing influenced you the most!!
    Personally, I would have to say…Eric Clapton, Stevie RY Vaughn, and the Kings(BB, Albert, and Freddy)

  7. Tommy Guerin

    Nice piece, Mark, and one I’m sure that a lot of readers can relate to For myself, a broom and a mirror were all I needed to be a rock star- and may explain why I play left-handed to this day. A few guitarist’s that had me heading for the broom were Ronnie Montrose, Albert Lee, Eddie Van Halen, Pete Townshend, Walter Becker, Keith Richards, Steve Howe and Richie Blackmore. What I haven’t heard is the thousands of hours of practice that these guys put into becoming so great. I’m now 61 and can now look past the artistry and am starting to understand the dedication that they had and have to their art- and the sacrifices many of them made in order to send me to the broomcloset! Truly inspiring and daunting to know how much work lays in front of me only to become a little proficient.

    1. Mark McKenzie Post author

      I totally get it Tommy. I spent at least a year pretending to be Eddie Van Halen in front of my bed room mirror hehe

  8. john

    jeez,i gotta learn that song long cool woman in a black dress wow

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