Brian May speaks out on Guitar Player Rankings, Mentions Kurt Cobain

📅 Published : - Author : Dan Kopilovic
📌 Posted under: Hodge-Podge

By now, most of you have probably heard about the Rolling Stones’s Top 250 Guitar Players of All Time list. These lists never make any sense – but this time is more obvious than usual that Rolling Stone did a particularly poor job of putting it together. In the words of the great Douglas Adams, “It has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”

The publication of the list resulted in a lot of criticism and feedback from the readers, which was likely Rolling Stone’s intention from the beginning, if you think about it. Controversial topics tend to grab more attention and generate more traffic to the source, as people are more likely to respond to them and create reaction videos.

Brian May in 2012. Photo by Mark Kent/Flickr
Brian May in 2012. Photo by Mark Kent/Flickr

But in all of that fuss, one person in particular ended up almost as a victim of Rolling Stone’s incompetence. Queen’s Brian May was ranked as the top guitarist of all time, beating out renowned artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. This led to a lot of arguing among the people bothering to comment on these things, and most definitely, Brian May caught a lot of that slack.

Rolling Stone’s Inconsistent Ranking

It is hard to deny that Brian May is one of the best to ever do it. However, the ranking he received in a recent publication is weird if you consider the fact that Rolling Stone magazine had previously ranked him at #39 in 2007 and #26 a few years later. It begs the question: what has changed from then to now that May suddenly became the best of all time?

Well, Queen’s music went through a rebirth of sorts, fueled by the hugely successful movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” which most of the public liked. So obviously, publications like Rolling Stone look at what’s popular right now, what people are talking about, what attracts clicks, and they go from that.

But Brian May – a gentleman that he is, responded to all of this in quite a calm and humble manner. When asked about his reaction to being named the best guitar player of all time, he simply said that this is not a competition, and you can’t simply say who’s best.

Everything like that I take with a pinch of salt, really. Because you can’t say who’s best. The nice thing about guitar playing is that everybody’s different. You can’t really rank people, and of course I got my favorites too.

But the fact that people put me in that position makes me smile, it’s a lovely feeling.

Brian May for SiriusXM
Brian May performing live in 2015. Photo by Mark Kent/Flickr

Nuno Bettencourt, Eddie Van Halen

Brian continued humbly talking about how he doesn’t consider himself to be the best guitarist – far from it, and that there are people out there who can do stuff on the guitar that he himself cannot dream of, mentioning Nuno Bettencourt of the band Extreme as an example.

He also mentioned working with Eddie Van Halen, and how impressed he was during their time together.

This was of course during their collaboration on Brian’s solo project called “Star Fleet Project”. The album that was released as a result of this featured May, Eddie Van Halen, drummer Alan Gratzer, bassist Phil Chen, and keyboard player Fred Mandel.

I’m not in the first million guitarist in the world. I know that it’s not a chance. There’s people I listen to every day who do things that I could never do. I just smile because it’s so beautiful and it’s so way out of what I could ever do. It doesn’t bother me because I don’t feel in competition – I just love the guy (Nuno) and I love what he does.

Same with Jeff Beck, same with Eddie Van Halen. We worked together and it was the most wonderful experience. My jaw dropped every time he touched the strings.

Brian May for SiriusXM

His Own Personal Guitar Heroes

Brian went on to mention that, like most of us, he has his own personal heroes, which include Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck.

Of course, I still have my old heroes. Eric Clapton – he’s still my hero. Jimi Hendrix is still my
hero, of course, it’s always going to be that way. Jeff Beck to me is something so exceptional on the
outside, anything you could have imagined he did tell us his personal approach to guitar playing his technique.

Brian May for SiriusXM

Playing the Guitar is not a Competition, Kurt Cobain is an example

Finally, May explained what the essence of being a guitarist really is, how it has nothing to do with technique, and how there’s absolutely no competition. To May, playing the guitar is all about expressing yourself, and making it your own voice.

As a great example of this, Brian singled out Kurt Cobain and mentioned that even though Kurt was not considered a technical player, he wrote great music.

Kurt Cobain is often referred to as someone who was not very technical on the guitar. Nonetheless, the music that he wrote and played is still being played today, confirming Brian May’s sentiments.

All I ever did really was play the way I feel, and make the guitar my voice. I play like I would like to sing. I’m not the world’s greatest singer, not the world’s greatest guitarist either – thank you for saying so, but I can speak with the guitar. I can make it sing and that’s all I do.

I don’t think any guitarist should feel like they have anything to prove – it’s not a competition you know. Kurt Cobain is a great example. There’s not a lot of technical stuff there, you know, and he didn’t work that hard at being technical, and yet he gives us a legacy of some of the greatest guitar music of all time. So it’s not about that technique, it’s about what you put into it, what you feel and how that feeling gets across in your guitar.

Brian May for SiriusXM

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