Perceptions of contemporary guitar music are closely entwined with popular music, which relies heavily on electric guitars. Electric guitars and bass guitars are awesome. Who wants to live a world without Smoke on the Water?
But of course, the guitar’s history far pre-dates the rise of the electric guitar. Paying tribute to the emotive power and skill of acoustic guitarists, here are 15 amazing acoustic guitar solos from different genres that you really must hear.
- Starting with classical guitar, here’s Andrés Segovia – THE classical guitarist maestro – with an acoustic guitar performance of a variety of Bach sonatas for violin and cello, as well as a Bach sonata for the lute, which only makes sense. If you want to hear Bach as you never have, here’s your chance. If you want your Segovia straight, here he is performing Leyenda, by Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz.
- Christopher Parkening is celebrated as one of the world’s preeminent virtuosos of the classical guitar. The Washington Post called him “the leading guitar virtuoso of our day, combining profound musical insight with complete technical mastery of his instrument.” Listen to Parkening, performing a duet with David Brandon, on Spanish Dance No. 1.
- The “First Lady of Guitar,” AKA Liona Boyd is well known for playing and compositional chops in classical guitar. Here, she’s performing her work, Moorish Dance. If you think you can keep up, you buy her sheet music for this song here.
- Now for something completely different…Chinese guitarist Xuefi Yang is known for playing songs written for Chinese instruments with an acoustic guitar, somehow channeling the unique sensibility of classical Chinese compositions with the timbre of the guitar. In this performance, Xuefi plays a Taiwanese song, “Spring Breeze,” during which you can also hear a hint of her skill in Spanish classical guitar.
- Calling himself a modern-day troubadour, Estas Tonne plays formal concerts and impromptu street appearances like this performance of “The Song of the Golden Dragon” at a busker festival in Bavaria, Germany (2011). He plays a classical guitar style, heavily influenced by Gypsy and Flamenco music.
- Staying abroad, here’s Montenegrin guitarist Miloš Karadaglić, is an award-winning classical guitarist, performing a short prelude by Brazilian classical guitar composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.
- Belgian-born Django Reinhardt, a Romani-French jazz guitarist and composer, is considered one of the greatest musicians of the twentieth century. He was the first jazz talent to emerge from Europe and remains the most significant by far. If you don’t know about him you should! Check out his three-fingered lighting here.
- Paco de Lucia, a Spanish virtuoso flamenco guitarist, composer and producer, was a proponent of the new flamenco style. He helped legitimize flamenco among the establishment in Spain, and was one of the first flamenco guitarists to cross over successfully into other genres of music such as classical and jazz. Here is a great performance from 1976 of Entre dos aguas.
- Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy performs Lucie Mae on the Jimmy Kimmel Show back in 2009. A blues guitarist extraordinaire, Buddy Guy has mentored and influenced other guitarists on this list like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, and many other guitar greats.
- While we are on the topic of blues, let’s not forget John Lee Hooker, known to music fans around the world as the “King of the Boogie.” Hooker endures as one of the true superstars of the blues genre, widely recognized for its impact on modern music – his simple, yet deeply effective songs transcend borders and languages around the globe. Check out his strumming madness on “Mississippi Delta Blues.”
- It may be an electric-acoustic guitar, but no list is complete with out the strumming of the legendary B.B. King paying his beloved instrument, “Lucille.” Here’s one of his amazing solos performed live in 2001.
- On to some rock and roll! Jimi Hendrix may be most famous to today’s audiences for his electronic guitar rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” at the Woodstock festival in 1969. His electronic repertoire is far more extensive than that and worth a regular listening. Yet here’s a rare recording of the rock guitar legend playing “Hear My Train A’Comin” on an acoustic 12-string guitar. So you don’t distracted by the jacket, awesome as it is, stretches of this video are close-ups of Jimi’s hands working the strings.
- Proof that sometimes the acoustic version of a great rock song makes for an even better rock song. Here is guitar master Eric Clapton in his famous 1992 MTV Unplugged cover of “Layla,” which outstrips his original as a member of Derek and the Dominos, first released in 1970.
- Another great performance of a rock star legend covering his band’s own song as an acoustic version is Slash, along with Myles Kennedy, performing the Guns n’Roses rock ballad, “Sweet Child O’Mine.”
- Last, while not an acoustic performance, we can’t pass-up an opportunity to share video of Prince and Tom Petty performing George Harrison’s great song, While my Guitar Gently Weeps. Did you know that Prince was considered one of the greatest rock guitarists after Hendrix? Such a mash-up of legends no longer with us makes this clip priceless. Enjoy!
Top photo of Django Reinhardt at the Aquarium jazz club in New York, NY. Photo by William P. Gottlieb, courtesy of the Library of Congress's Music Division. ID gottlieb.07301.