- Who's the greatest guitarist?
- I'm pretty certain there is not such an animal. You see, worthy guitarists and worthy artists, in general, create works of art that are unique... Being unique, there's no common basis that allows comparing them. That's why awards are such bullshit! And that includes Grammies, Oscars and Nobel prizes.
- But there must be a certain selection.
- Let's say there are guitarists that are worth listening and guitarists that are not worth listening. That's all. Look, there are a few guitarists that each of us listen to. Maybe tens of them. I'm sure that there are thousands that are on the same level but we can't reach them all. Most of them are anonymous, the music industry is a tough and unjust business.
- Then, what makes a guitarist worth listening?
- Kids think it's speed and virtuosity will always sell. On my opinion, though, it's musicality. David Gilmour, Michael Hedges and Steve Vai are very different one from the other but the three of them are worth listening.
- What's "musicality"? Can it be defined?
- No. Anyway, I can't. However, anyone can hear when a guitarist makes music and when he makes his homework.
- Is there something that can help musicians achieve musicality?
- Beyond natural talent and serious musical courses, tone and licks.
- Really? Those licks that we learn every day?
- Yes. It's not only their quantity, it's their quality too.
- Why licks? Why do we, guitarists, have to learn them?
- Not only guitarists learn licks. All improvisers do. To understand why, think about the way you speak. You don't consider any letter by itself. Before you say something, you think in whole words or even expressions. It's the same with musicians. When you play a solo, you don't think about each and every note, you think about licks.
- I see. There are thousands of licks out there, how can one learn them all?
- Apprentices learn lots of licks. Each solo is built, in fact, with licks. When you make your own music, you have to figure your own licks. And that's the beautiful part of it.
- How can you say about a lick if it's good or not?
- If you remember it, it's probably good. For instance, it was enough for me to hear only once Deep Purple's Highway Star and I remembered the following:
What do we have here? Blackmore took the basic lick:
and ran it again and again through the chord changes.
- I get it. You take a lick then you can build a whole solo.
- No, you'll never have solos built on one lick only. It's also important how you start and how you end a solo. Many people consider Page's solo in Stairway to Heaven as one of the greatest. It starts with a striking lick.
and ends with a striking lick that leads to the coming part of the song:
It's funny, the same guitarists that wrote great riffs, created great licks too. And one more thing: solos and licks have to serve the song and that's what you must have in mind when you improvise or conceive a solo.