I just had a guitar lesson with Paul Gilbert. You probably haven’t heard of him. Here’s a glimpse of how SICK he is at guitar.

Technical Difficulties! (Is this at all impressive/enjoyable to anyone who has no idea what is going on technique-wise?)

Before Christmas break last semester, I was getting into a lot of YouTube videos featuring Paul Gilbert. His videos blew me away as I watched his alien-like fingers race across the fretboard in beautiful yet aggressively executed passages that injected a high dose of humility into my veins.

I saw on his official website that Paul was giving 3 VIP lessons in Anaheim in early January for a small number of students. Knowing I couldn’t afford the lesson, I gave up the idea until my dad said that he would pay for it as a Christmas gift. WHAT? PAUL GILBERT? YES! I applied, got a spot, and spent all Christmas break practicing constantly, knowing in a few weeks I would be jamming in the presence of a true guitar virtuoso.

There are a handful guitarists who are regarded as “virtuosos” who also manage to find mainstream success with bands or solo careers. Guitarists like Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan all pioneered new ways to manipulate the sonic possibilities of the electric guitar. Their originality and innovations led them to become icons in the world of guitar and household names.

Paul Gilbert isn’t exactly a household name. Outside of the guitar community or groups of music buffs, Paul Gilbert is relatively unknown. Paul isn’t alone though, there are THOUSANDS of amazing guitarists out there who are unknown in the public eye but lead successful careers as studio musicians, teachers, or solo artists.

The problem with much of guitar-centered instrumental music is that many technical masters of the guitar lack a certain creativity when it comes to writing and recording music. To a non-musician, the brilliance of being able to play lightning-fast arpeggios in a D-Mixolydian mode in an odd time signature doesn’t really appeal. For instance, I can appreciate how good Yngwie Malmseen is because his talents are freaking unreal, but I have a hard time listening to him for pleasure. A lot of other guitar masters write really cheesy songs with bland lyrics.

Paul Gilbert is a little different though. His whole philosophy is to make music enjoyable. Sure he does the straight up shred-your-face-off metal at times to satisfy guitar-geeks like myself, but he also explores many genres of music and was part of the band Mr. Big. I’m sure everyone has heard this song at some point: To Be With You. For real, when I told my roommate that Paul Gilbert was in this band, he started playing this song nonstop for two weeks and the chorus melody WOULD NOT get out of my head. It’s too catchy. Yeah, Mr. Big are kind of a joke now because they were a part of that late ’80’s hair metal thing, but its a very decent pop song and Paul isn’t showing off at all here. Just chords. Its cool when guitarists can pull back from showing off when it’s not appropriate.

But anyway, my lesson with Mr. Gilbert went very well. Watching him play two feet in front of me was mind-blowing. I learned a great deal of useful concepts that will benefit my growth as a guitarist.

I also got him to sign my guitar. The signature is smudged now because my hand rubs it when I play, but it looks cool nonetheless.

For this week, here are a few tunes from some insanely talented guitarists:

Guthrie Govan- “Waves”– I am learning this song now. REALLY difficult. Guthrie may be one of the best guitarists out there today. It’s shred, but this song is really gorgeous. Great clean tones and phrasing.

Paul Gilbert- “To Be With You”– Here’s Paul putting an electric spin on his Mr. Big megahit. All in the name of fun.

Tommy Emmanuel- “Classical Gas”– Tommy is THE master of the steel-string acoustic guitar. He’s performing at Pepperdine in Smothers Theater this sometime this semester. Go see him.