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6 Music Searches For The Axe Factor

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Mike Hanson Mike Hanson | 12:59 UK time, Monday, 8 March 2010

Recently guitar legends Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton co-headlined a show for the first time. This, after the news that a 'new' Jimi Hendrix album was due, prompted a discussion at 6 Music Towers about why these three continue to top 'Best Guitarist' votes, but contemporary fret-wizards are often overlooked. We started kicking names around, and realised that, wow, there are loads: Jonny Greenwood, John Squire, Johnny Marr. That was just the Johnnys. Let's do something about it, we said.


And so we came up with The Axe Factor - an endeavour to find the best guitarists of the last 30 years. Why 30 years? Because we had to draw the line somewhere. Limit it to ten or 20 years and you miss out on the likes of Johnny Marr. Make it 40 years and it gets unwieldy. Make it 'Best Ever' and we're back to 'Hendrix Best Guitarist Ever' shocker - the whole point is to find today's guitar gods.

So to do that, what would the criteria be? Well, year zero then would be 1980. To be included the guitarist in question needed to make his debut in or after that year. Also the guitarists had to be regular to the type of music 6 Music plays - so no Steve Vai or Joe Bonamassa. And influence mattered more than technical ability, hence the presence of The Edge. Love him or hate his band, you cannot deny that you know a U2 song as soon as you hear his guitar.

Even with these reasonable perimeters, people will still complain about our shortlist. It absolutely kicked off in the 6 Music production offices when we started drawing up the shortlist - you should see the indignant emails Gideon Coe sent. But it's inevitable that such lists cause controversy, and frankly, that's what fun about them.

It wasn't easy choosing just 40 guitarists. And it was tricky when there are two good guitarists in one band. Undoubtedly, we missed your favourite, but we couldn't include everyone. Some will notice that I'm not on that list, for instance. I came in at 43, ahead of Shaun Keaveny (that's the pair of us below), but behind 'that guy from EMF'. But while you might find that someone you think is good is missing, you can't say that those listed are not deserving (oh okay, you can and you will).


Nevertheless, scan our list of 40 guitar heroes and pick your favourite. Steve Lamacq will count down the Top Ten on April 9.

In the meantime, if you have ambitions to be a Guitar God yourself, look out for our online tutorials in Anyone Can Play Guitar. 6 Music's Tom Robinson and Huey Morgan have kicked it off. There will be more to come. Remember to turn it up to 11.

Mike Hanson is BBC 6 Music's Assistant Editor.

Related Links
6 Music's Axe Factor - cast your vote


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    No Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys? Noel Gallacher? but no Dan Auerbach? Scandalous.

  • Comment number 3.

    Really liked Tom Robinson's tutorial - he should have said he was using drop tuning i.e. a semi-tone below standard - makes it a little harder to play along to without re-tuning.

    BTW - what guitar are you playing? A Gibson 356 or 359 Custom? Nice....

  • Comment number 4.

    Amazed no Nick McCabe from [The] Verve, but Simon Tong? Run that by me again. Nothing against Tong but it wasn't his cosmic, loop driven, feedback swelling fret wizardry that gave the Verve their sound. McCabe is definitely NOT an Axe hero, but genius innovator on 6 strings? Deffo. Snubbed? Double deffo.

  • Comment number 5.

    Good enough list for me but it must be some kind of eversight not to include the genius of Will Sargeant from the Bunnymen. The guy is still writing some amazin licks of punk physchadelic pop guitar. Surely even Johny Marr - and especially the Edge - pale by comparison.
    Also, where is John McGeoch - is there a more influential guitarist on the guitar sounds of the punk influenced bands of the late seventies/early eighties and in some bands today.
    Stuart Adamson (OK I know Big Country were probably overly poppy and some dubious 80s like productions on some of their sounds - but c'mon not many better skilled guitarists than this favourite son of Fife.
    Still - Graham Coxon does it for me, but maybe with thanks to the bhoys I mentioned above.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    The usual irrelevant, patronising, narrow minded, list fetishist drivel. Complete with token 2 dead and 2 female representatives.
    That is not to disparage the talent (or lack of it) of the 4 lucky ones.
    Just to join in for a moment - Slash ! a great guitarist ? LMAO. Noel Gallagher ?
    Some of these people are at best just pop group members, not great guitarists.
    One glaring omission (amongst others) - Richard Thompson.

  • Comment number 8.

    Needs more Nels Cline (Wilco).

  • Comment number 9.

    Agreed with Mcgibbon above re Nick McCabe - he's a brilliantly inventive and imaginitave guitarist.

    Also, Vini Reilly?

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Rhartt

    Actually I'm playing an Epiphone Sheraton II (a ES-335 style). Unfortunately, very little of 6 Music's nine million comes my way and I couldn't afford a real gibson (well, I probably could have, but the wife would kill me). It's a lovely guitar, though - great sustain. I also have a Fender Telecaster (1983 american made model) that I bought in 1984. I tend to keep it in an open G tuning.

    Shaun Keaveny, has a lovely Les Paul he just bought. He also has a nice Telecaster.

  • Comment number 11.

    For sheer genius of a guitar heart and soul in strong songs it is impossible to top Mike Peters (both as a solo artist and in The Alarm) and indeed Malcolm Jones of Runrig. It's inconceivable that they have been omitted.

  • Comment number 12.

    What?!!!!? No Richard Thompson!!!! Electric and acoustic super axeman.


  • Comment number 13.

    OK, so I know he's not all indy and all that, but where on earth is Stevie Ray Vaughan.

  • Comment number 14.

    My favourite guitarist plays with the most underated reggae band of all time. With the passing of the late John Peel they now rarely get bbc airtime, they always exite me when I see them live.
    A link to the live performance they did @ QEH for John Peel day 2005. Guitar breaks on tracks 3 & 4 (of 4).
    The best live band in the world !

  • Comment number 15.

    I agree with Anivegmin - the list is nothing but bland rubbish. Clumsy, sanitised and packaged by idiots at 6...Seriously, what would they know about 'best guitarist' and how they have the audacity to sit like judges over such an eye-wateringly contentious accolade. Why, for instance is Prince included on the list? The list that dictates that only albums debuted after 1980 can count? Prince debuted in the 70s. I wonder how that's explained.

    Then comes the cursory...'oh it's also not about technical ability' clause which means that any guitarist delivering work of more than 3 chords can't be included as the 6 musical palate would not be able to handle anything past that - it's a farce.

    I'd love to know who put the list together and what their credentials are. Or is it just the execs putting their favourite list together and shoving it down our necks. Ultimately the list is a diluted, easy to swallow, dumbed down, vacuous who's who of nothing...just players of pop riffs and that's it. A sugary sweet collection of uninspired and the uninspiring. Strummers that would not even get into the top thousand of the 'best' guitarists if it was polled properly. Problem is that NO ONE at 6 actually can understand music and what it takes to be a great musician which is sad considering they think they've got a handle on it all.

    Shame the BBC can't be more informed about who the REAL heroes of the guitar are so they have to come up with their cliquey little list of their favourites artistes, which they only air, and then because it's 6 they think the list carries integrity - it's actually embarrassing how many holes there are in that list. Still it's quite nice to know that the real guitar gods aren't on that particular list...they'd be deeply embarrassed.

  • Comment number 16.

    Public votes like this always create controversy, which is why it's always kind of fun to start them in the first place. Nothing stirs up a proverbial hornets nest like a top 40 "Best Guitarists of the last 30 years" when you include people who no-one has ever heard of - and let's face it, if they were THAT good then surely you would have heard of them...

    So, hating to disappoint - who the hell are Bob Mould, Carrie Brownstein, Robyn Hitchcock and Russell Lissack (who are Bloc Party) to name a few ? I'm sure they are pretty talented if they're mentioned, but come on !!! And then of course there's Prince... WTF ! James Dean Bradfield... ???

    This would have perhaps had some credibility if a list of 200+ had been created, and the let the license fee paying public have a vote to narrow it down to a shortlist. With names of nobodies on there, but missing such obvious ones like Jerry Cantrell, then you are going to get slated and deservedly so.

    Still with such a blind and hopeless list of 40 (of which maybe even half that are worthy if I'm feeling generous) Joey Santiago has just stolen my vote ahead of Mike McReady, and only because I bought Surfer Rosa 3 times (2 tapes got worn out, but the CD still lives on!).

    Public poll to narrow such things down next time BEFORE the vote please...

  • Comment number 17.

    I agree with the outcry about the non-inclusion of Nick McCabe, pretty damn outrageous. If not the most technically gifted (although as good in this respect as at least half of those on the list) he is definitely one of, if not the, most innovative and creative British guitarists of the last 20 years. He can also do it all - big rock sound or more subtle and well placed riffs - just listen to the diversity of his playing on the Verve's albums- also his live playing is constantly improvised.

    Also I don't think that you can have a vote including so many contemporary guitarists (ie from the 2000s) when the most important factor is 'influential'. Albert Hammond Jr? Yeah Yeah Yeahs? Bloc Party? I like these bands but they just haven't been around long enough to justify their guitarists' inclusion...

  • Comment number 18.

    As already commented on by someone else, where's Nels Cline?

  • Comment number 19.

    I don't understand the comment about the guitarist having to be 'regular to the type of music 6 Music plays'. Looking at the list pretty much all genres of music are included and in my opinion it seems that inclusion of Kirk Hammett and Slash allows for the inclusion of Steve Vai. Equally why should it have been tricky when there were two guitarists in one band? James Hetfield is probably as influential for is his rhythm playing as Hammett is for his lead playing. Surely it should have been possible to include both?

  • Comment number 20.

    Face lit up when I saw a guitar special, but then dropped when I saw the line-up.

    How a list can include one trick ponies, and not include Joe Satriani, Frank Zappa or many of the world class blues guitarists who inspired and even taught many of the other leading guitarists in the world.

    Even the guitar gods worship Joe Satriani, shame on you.

  • Comment number 21.

    I'm with you Sukhothai.. although while the gods worship Satriani, Satriani is giving a foot massage and feeding grapes to Nick Harper.

  • Comment number 22.

    As great as these guitarists are, and they are regardless of some comments, there are guitarists that all guitarists want to be, who have influenced everything around them and they seem to be missing. Robert Fripp, Adrian Bellew? Alex Lifeson? Yngwie Malmsteen? to name a few. I am curious how this list was come to as the lack of the above, and we could and Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimmy Hendrix, Bonnie Raitt, Lita Ford and arguably the greatest female guitarist, Jennifer Batten. Just wondering.

  • Comment number 23.

    I was going to vote for my favourite guitarist but he wasn’t in the list.
    Oh dear. Never mind Steve Morse.

  • Comment number 24.

    Who came up with this lame list?
    No Michael Romeo or Nuno Bettencourt for a is scandalous and from a Brit point of view how can you not even consider Brian May when you have Gallagher and Jack White and James Dean Bradfield who only strum a few chords.
    I agree with so many posts on here and I'm not voting.

  • Comment number 25.

    No David Gilmour or Mark Knopfler....!!!!

  • Comment number 26.

    i agree with some of the comments about names that have been omitted..however two that should be included in my opinion are David Gilmour and Mark Knopfler...two who can certainly play a few chords than some listed!!...

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 28.

    Seems an odd list - 'type of music normally played on 6'....but then anything from the last '30 years', in fact anything the guys putting together actually like and have heard of by the sound of it.....

    Two words.(as Hendrix has passed away) .....Ritchie Blackmore......

  • Comment number 29.

    Its bad enough ignoring Hendrix, Beck,Clapton but to not have Derek Trucks on the list is pathetic.

  • Comment number 30.


    Dave Gilmour was the 1st name I thought of when "Guitar Legends" was mentioned. Well, joint 1st with Jimmy Page. I had to read the 'criteria' for the 6Music nominations to see that it was about guitarists from last 30 years - though, as mentioned by other peeps, this is pretty much nonsense, as I haven't even heard of half of this lot.

  • Comment number 31.

    There are some awful omissions from this list.
    When thinking of great guitarists you would have David Gilmour, Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler near the top of any list. Gilmour's solo on Comfortably Numb is one of the greatest pieces of playing I have ever heard. To have some of the names on this list and not the above three is very strange!
    Also another highly under-rated guitarist is Brian May. Freddie Mercury may get most of the credit for Queens success but the 'Queen sound' was mostly defined by Mays guitar playing.

  • Comment number 32.

    "supernatural guitar skills" the quote from bbc website for Richard Thompson's Walking on a Wire review. I take it we might get a chance to vote for him in the best otherworldly guitarists rather than the mere earthlings listed in this current vote of guitar b listers

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 34.

    Will someone please expalin why you would exclude the great guys out do to age! I mean lets list the greatest car designers after 1980 as well.

    Sometimes I wonder who the BBC gets in these rooms to come up with these ideas?

    Who was the greatest leader GWB or TB? Oh and those are your only options.

    Needless to say I think I will give it a miss!

  • Comment number 35.

    An annoyingly incomplete list populated with some very questionable entries. If you want to view a guitar master of our generation - the reference from wiki reads as follows:

    Eric Clapton, Chet Atkins, Les Paul, and Joe Satriani all say that he is the best they have ever heard

    Check out Guitar Boogie by Tommy Emmanuel on youtube as an example of a true talent.

  • Comment number 36.

    Blimey, after reading the list of 'great guitarists' I thought I really am getting old as I hadn't heard of half of 'em and all the guitarists I would have voted for are not there anyway! Fortunately, after reading the comments here, I feel a lot better.
    Now, shall I vote for 'the Edge' or perhaps not.......

  • Comment number 37.

    "DennisTheViking wrote: have Gallagher and Jack White and James Dean Bradfield who only strum a few chords."

    Not listened to much of Jack White's work, then Dennis? The guy's a simply astonishing talent. (Kind of agree on the other two - Bradfield's more of a riff-man, but not really earth-shattering)

    Personally though, I'm bemoaning the absence of Angelo Bruschini.

  • Comment number 38.

    I don't get it. A vote on the best guitarist that leaves out all the best guitarists? This really a vote on who is the best guitarist of all the guitarists other than the really the good ones. You don't want to include Hendrix, Clapton or Beck because they would win? That's just plain silly.

  • Comment number 39.

    Oh, and another thing, this time from the original article:

    "...influence mattered more than technical ability, hence the presence of The Edge. Love him or hate his band, you cannot deny that you know a U2 song as soon as you hear his guitar."

    A guitar sound which is actually due to a specialist effects unit developed by a genuinely influential guitarist; Michael Brook.

  • Comment number 40.

    Well...mine would be Robert Quinne (RIP) - Lloyd Cole, Lou Reed, Richard Hell...and what of Tom Verlaine?....Noel Gallagher?!?!?! Surely a mistake...

  • Comment number 41.

    Got to put in my shout-out for Billy Gibbons, pretty much looks like BBC6 have put together a young persons list to me.

  • Comment number 42.

    Interesting list of candidates, but who on earth put this list together? There are clearly some major players from the past 40 years missing, and some questionable candidates present. A list of guitarists not compiled by a guitarist maybe? Sorry, can't vote.

  • Comment number 43.

    Some very surprising omissions. Adam Jones (tool) is one of them. A good list nevertheless.

  • Comment number 44.

    I agree with ITSED - where is Steve Morse in this list? Allan Holdsworth? I do hope that 6 Music read this and decide to change the parameters of the poll. Ultimately if they don't change it I would urge everyone NOT to vote. Any poll that severely restricts the voters in such a way is not right.

    I suspect that once the results are in 6 will parade them as a true representation of the 'Best Guitarist (over 30 years)' and then use it as an excuse to pat themselves on the back and start shoving the respective player's discography down our throat under the guise of 'Well our listeners have voted so it they must be the best...' Are you listening 6??

    Once again boycott this poll until it is redone more reflectively of the instrument and its players

  • Comment number 45.

    In response to everyone bemoaning the lack of Clapton, Gilmour, Knopfler and countless old blues players, come on people, be fair to the BBC6 team who compiled this list and read the criteria they've set themselves and the reasons behind it.

    This list has been compiled precisely because people can't move on past that same old tired list of dinosaurs, legendary guitarists though they may well be.

  • Comment number 46.

    Erm No Guthrie but Noel Gallagher!?!? The list of guitarists that should be on here goes on and on...

    But seriously.... No Guthrie?

  • Comment number 47.

    I tell what is interesting is the negative response this list has garnered. I haven't seen one positive comment...

  • Comment number 48.

    How can you have a greatest guitar palyer of the last 30 years and then have terms and conditions to it. Its not a case of voting for the 40 picked but look at who isn't on the list from the past 30 years Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Randy Rhodes, Andy Taylor, Vernon Reid, Steve Morse John Sykes shame on you

  • Comment number 49.

    Neil's spot on....and why is it called the Axe factor?? The term 'Axe' is used predominantly for lead guitar and is especially metal skewed...We need to boycott this until it becomes a serious poll with serious choices. There are literally tons of other guitarists people have mentioned on here that would merit inclusion therefore the right thing to do is include them now...or ask for names and then create the poll off the result of that. Right now the last people who should be suggesting the names seem to be in charge of it and that means non-guitarists; anything else than the current state of this nonsense. Where's Frank Gambale??? Come on 6 we want some answers

  • Comment number 50.

    This is a silly question what is best? Best guitar music performed by the composer or technical playing or influential style

    But harmless fun anyway- I haven't heard all these players.I'm sure most of them are terrific and a few of them are really in because they have written some great hooks for guitar. However if I could be Joe 90 for a day (giving my age away) and magically absorb the skills of one player it would have to be Tommy Emmanuel. I haven't heard anyone who compares with him in terms of beauty and joy of playing on the one hand, and excitement born of virtuosity on the other. For balladic beauty and feeling check Youtube Angelina/Since We Met/Bella Soave as examples; for exciting virtuosity try Guitar Boogie/Tall Fiddler/Classical Gas; for listening to someone who sounds like Pink Floyd -the whole band not Dave Gilmour-and armed only with an acoustic guitar try Initiation. Is he the best? That would be answering the silly question but I suspect if he played in front of this list and the host then asked for the next volunteer to do his stuff there would be a hell of a lot guitarists trying to avoid eye contact. It's a privilege to know of him, his music, and to have seen him play live.

  • Comment number 51.

    Wot? No Fripp?

    Vacuous drivel if there ain't no Fripp.

  • Comment number 52.

    As Neil so rightly put, this is a completely unfair poll. The terms and conditions are silly. It shouldn't be called the best guitarists from the last 30 years because lets face it.... It's not.

    The poll should be called "Our favourite pop guitarists that have featured on BBC6 in the last 30 years"

    " The Axe Factor - an endeavour to find the best guitarists of the last 30 years"
    Huge contradiction here.
    " Also the guitarists had to be regular to the type of music 6 Music plays - so no Steve Vai or Joe Bonamassa. And influence mattered more than technical ability, hence the presence of The Edge. Love him or hate his band, you cannot deny that you know a U2 song as soon as you hear his guitar. " (More like as soon as you hear the silly amounts of delay).

    Despite all that i did decide to vote for Prince as i think he's often overlooked even though he's a fantastic musician.

  • Comment number 53.

    Carlos Santana is technically an amazing guitarist and certainly better than any on the voting list there! I don't really like his music that much, but seeing as we are talking about greatest guitarists from the last 30 years, he should be in there. He may have spanned a few decades but had some hits in the 90s...

  • Comment number 54.

    It amuses me (as a guitarist who writes for a magazine that periodically runs this sort of poll) how uptight people get over these things. "My favourite isn't there! How can you include that charlatan! This isn't real music!" and so on. It's just a list of someone else's tastes... why should it match yours exactly? What's more, it's a list of the sort of players who would be heard on 6Music; granted, that probably makes it a pretty meaningless poll in the wider world of "guitar", but no one's forced to join in :)

  • Comment number 55.

    Mike has also joined in the discussion about the Axe Factor list on the 6 Music message board here

  • Comment number 56.

    As a devoted fan of guitar music over the last 40 years the artist who has impressed me the most with his versatility and mastery of the instrument,both accoustic and electric, is without a doubt Tommy Emmanuel. His live performances are simply stunning and I am at a loss to explain his virtual absence from both radio and tv.I live in hope that this may change and that his talent may be brought to a wider audience.Pity he is not on the list!

  • Comment number 57.

    ... what!!! No Derek Trucks, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Joe Bonamassa, Yngwie Malmsteen, Eric Johnson, Paul Gilbert, etc, etc, ... are you having a laugh?

    A bit misleading to call this 'The Axe Factor', you should have called it 'The Pleasant Pop Guitarist Factor' (... apart from Slash)

  • Comment number 58.

    no Richard Thompson - producing some of the most amazing songs & guitar work in the last 30 years. No 17 in the Rolling stones table.

    (+1 to comment about Stevie Vai and Joe Satriani)

    too many lightweights...

    no vote

  • Comment number 59.

    Strange list, no Eddie Van Halen? no Angus Young? no Steve Harris? I take it whoever put this together has never been to a rock concert in their lives.

  • Comment number 60.

    Influence or technical ability -there's only one Stuart Adamson. Johnny Marr, John McGeoch and Will Sargeant; maybe, perhaps, yes.

    The Edge would qualify but as a member of Universal Unit commonly known as U2 he's merely an instrument in God's own toolbox, innit?

  • Comment number 61.

    John Frusciante = God
    From Greg, x.

  • Comment number 62.

    "So to do that, what would the criteria be? Well, year zero then would be 1980. To be included the guitarist in question needed to make his debut in or after that year."

    The Edge: first chart success September 1979.

    That would be year -1 then.

  • Comment number 63.

    I like all sorts of lists, so thank you, Beeb. I've got two more names of excellent guitar players to ad, both of whom were not even mentioned in the comments thus far. These fellows are firstly the late Chris Whitley, who could play a electrified dobro like Satan (while singing like Jesus), and secondly the very much alive and kicking Marc Ribot, who might be a little too much an experimenter to be called a pop/rock guitarist, but who did great things for Tom Waits on his best albums (Rain Dogs, Swordfishtrombones, etc), and still produces some incredible noise with his jazz metal trio Ceramic Dog, and also in several projects of John Zorn. Anyway - keep the lists coming!

  • Comment number 64.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 65.

    A very small list for such a good guitarists we have.

  • Comment number 66.

    Just want to comment again on this re-iterating just how good guthrie is Check out this This is a man who plays (in his own composition) in the style of each and every winner of the UK Guitar mag 'Guitar Techniques'readers poll awards. If that doesn't prove just how amazing he is then what does?

    Oh and he also has his own virtuoso unique style too!


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