By Nate Jackson
Hey, we can all appreciate a quality guitar god. Anyone who considers themselves a fan of music knows the joy of watching their favorite axe man/woman go on a tear and destroy the crowd with their fast-fingered prowess, signature style and lush mane of flowing hair. It’s the textbook rock-n-roll sexy factor that has been selling concert tickets, signature guitars, and posters for decades. But when you’re a world-class guitar player and you know it, there’s a fine line between sexy and, well, douchey. You know, that rocker who poses on his knees for just a little too long, gives us just a little too much “O” face during every solo and is hell bent to show us all how many guitars he/she can play at once. History (namely the 80s) is full of these guys, but Douchey Guitar Player Disease (a/k/a DGPD) is still a scourge on the music industry today. With that in mind, we’d like to present our list of the Top 10 Douchiest Guitar Players of All Time.
10. John Mayer
If there’s one current artist who revolutionized the art of the sour face while playing even the simplest of riffs, it’s John Mayer. Despite his destiny to supply us with music suitable for dentists offices and local pharmacies the world over, dude is an undeniably accomplished jazz shredder. But for the love of god, when your face alone is able to upstage your playing (and B.B. King who is sitting right next to him in this clip), it’s time to settle the fuck down. Check the tape at 6:20. Did he just jizz in his pants?
9. Yngwie Malmsteen
This guy was the most technically accomplished guitarist to come out of the 80s. Period. He also gave us the runs. No, not those runs. We mean the lightning-fast, neo-classical wankery that had this guy thinking he was the second coming of Bach, only with guyliner and better hair. While Sweden has turned out its share of douchey metal madmen in tight leather pants, Malmsteen is arguably the most extreme caricature of the Euro guitar god.
If you’ve ever come home drunk at 4 a.m. and stared at infomercials for a half hour, chances are you’ve seen this guy. Your first thought: “Who is that mysterious man in black and how did he learn to play guitar like that?” Turns out that dashing axe man in the bolero hat and shades is none other than Esteban, lord of the Spanish guitar who is about as overly suave and mystical as they come. So suave he doesn’t even need a last name. Aside from the overwhelming cheese factor in each of his videos, there’s the fact that a white guy from Pittsburgh (real name: Stephen Paul) would commandeer a Spanish name and go parading around like a wannabe Zorro. Fail.
7. Rick Nielsen
Remember the days when one neck on a guitar seemed sufficient? Well, if you’re Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen, apparently the art of 80s FM power pop requires a lot more. Known more for his wacky guitars than his actual ability to play them, the most famous images of Nielson are of him holding his five-neck behemoth custom built by Hamer. At age 66, we’re a little worried he’s gonna throw his back out trying to play this thing if he hasn’t already. And c’mon, what does it really add to anything he plays in the band? Can you say “over compensating”?
5. C.C. DeVille
Of all the shredders in the L.A. glam metal scene, watching C.C. DeVille on stage always felt like we were getting a one-way ticket to Clown Town. Still one of the most egregious 80s cliches in the rock world today, the Poison guitarist was not just a douche for his playing and his looks, his behavior and addictions definitely gave him the reputation of being among the biggest egomaniacs to ever pick up a guitar in the 80s. And when you can look like the bigger douche when standing next to Brett Michaels, well, you deserve to be a shoe-in for this list. Whether it was stumbling around high on stage, getting in fist fights with band members off stage, his ability to be taken seriously as a guitarist is due only to the fact that the dude can riff for days. In this clip he appears to be so impressed with himself that he pissed his pants.
4. Joe Satriani
If he didn’t come off as so quiet and low key, the god father of cheese ball 80s guitar lines might even deserve an even higher place on this list as the founder of the wankfest that is the G3 tour. Have you ever seen the world’s most accomplished guitarists get on stage and spit riffs on each other for hours on end? That’s basically what this is. Aside from his history as a guitar teacher who instructed some of the most over-indulgent head bangers in the world (Kirk Hammett, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, and more) Satriani is probably one of the few people on this list that can say he had a douchey song that had an indirect influence on douchey, award-winning music decades later courtesy of Coldplay. You may remember the copyright infringement suit Satriani filed against the band in 2008 over their song “Viva La Vida,” which won “Song of the Year” at the 2009 Grammy Awards. Turns out the central riff in that song sounds a lot like his exponentially cornier 2004 track “If I Could Fly.” Both parties settled out of court. One final note: Anyone who listens to his music in the car will automatically feel like they’re in the movie Top Gun.
3. Michael Angelo Batio
In the pantheon of double guitar-playing riffmeisters, none are equally as spell binding and laughable as Michael Angelo Batio. So much so that winning the Guitar World reader’s choice poll for the “Fastest Guitarist of All Time” in 2011 almost feels like an insult. Who else could they possibly have picked to even compete against MAB’s lightning fretwork in the first place? There is no competition. Somtimes riffing on as many as four guitar necks at a time, Batio basically made an entire career on being a selfish prick who didn’t want a rhythm guitarist stealing his spotlight. The next time you wanna laugh hysterically, check out the guitarists series of instructional DVDs called Speed Kills which also doubles as a manual on how to look like you just stepped off the Sunset Strip in 1984. Oh and when you watch him double teaming two shafts, er, necks on his guitar in this clip, try not to let your head explode.
2.Eddie Van Halen
Ask any show-stealing rockstar in training what their most influential song is and see how long it takes them to say “Eruption.” This could very well be the douchiest, most soulless, over-indulgent solo in American rock-n-roll. And in case you were wondering, you can play every meandering, nonsensical note in this entire 11-minute opus, but if you can’t pull it of while sliding across a catwalk stage, then face it, bro … you’re just a wannabe douche.
1. Steve Vai
Sure, plenty of guitar players can overplay and look really intense doing it, but until Steve Vai, we’ve never seen a guitarist actually manage to go up his own ass while playing a triple necked guitar with legs crossed. You can almost feel how insignificant he thinks you are with every note he plays. You are blessed to hear him even turn his amp on. If these facial expressions alone during the entirety of this six minute clip don’t earn him the top spot on this list, then PLEASE, tell us who deserves it more.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 6, 2013