Great news for anyone still awaiting the guitarmageddon: April marks the release of Steve Vai’s Where the Other Wild Things Are — and Jeff Beck’s Emotion & Commotion. In honor of what we hereby declare National Shred Month, we celebrate the six-string wankery both men have helped unleash upon the world with a look back at the biggest cheeseballs in recent acrobatic-guitar-soloing history. Start practicing your guitar face now.
Imagine Halloween’s serial killer Michael Myers. Now picture him wearing a KFC bucket as if it were an old-fashioned top hat. And brandishing nunchakus like a death-metal ninja. And performing with a severed head named “Herbie.” Still not collapsing into giggles? Then bask in the glory that is Buckethead’s “Jordan,” an acrobatic tour-de-force of hammer-ons and pull-offs so synapse-snappingly complex, Xbox created its own “Kick the Bucket Award” for those who’ve mastered it on Guitar Hero II. Too bad the genius who wrote it is so egregiously ridiculous even Ozzy Osbourne refused to work with him. “What happens,” the Oz man wondered, “if one day he’s gone and there’s a note saying, ‘I’ve been beamed up’?”
Has played with: Guns N Roses, Bootsy Collins
Cheeseball cred: One of the only guitarists not fired from the lineup on GNR’s Chinese Democracy.
Spoiling his crazy-dude rep: Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea once called him “sweet and normal.”
As the High Priestess of Guitar Shred, Katherine Thomas is faster than a fat kid on a Hostess SnoBall run: She can play “Flight of the Bumblebee” at 300 beats per minute! But that’s not the only thing that makes her “special.” She’s also quite talented at gargling blood, flogging puny mortals with her dominatrix whip, and enraging your commie-pinko friends: Her 2002 album Wagner’s War, a no-holds-barred response to September 11, includes songs like “Punishment,” “Humiliation,” and a cover of that tender Nazi classic “Flight of the Valkyries.” Then again, the girl can rock a camouflage bikini, and her online followers (the “Kat slaves”) think she’s just the soldier America needs. “In a sadomasochistic sort of way,” says one fan, “[she] loves her country.”
Has played with: Herself.
Cheeseball cred: Ranked among “The Ten Fastest Shredders of All Time,” alongside Yngwie Malmsteen
Totally spoiling her crazy-lady rep: She studied classical violin at Juilliard.
Vinnie Vincent was such a guitar-soloing egomaniac, he got kicked out of the band known as the Vinnie Vincent Invasion. He was also fired from KISS. Three times. Once for “alleged unethical behavior”: Hopeful fans have speculated that he was axed for wearing women’s clothing, but really, both bands were probably tired of him (a) insisting on playing his guitar with a samurai sword and (b) repeating one extremely irritating chord for two and a half minutes (as he did on the song “Invasion”). Gotta hand it to the guy: he might not have been reliable, but he sure was consistent.
Has played with: KISS, the Vinnie Vincent Invasion
Cheeseball cred: He wrote KISS’s “Lick It Up”, forever immortalizing Gene Simmons’s tongue.
Spoiling his crazy-dude rep: He was once a staff writer for Happy Days.
So he sometimes performs in a Tarzan costume. And, yeah, his signature guitar doubles as a gun holster that carries a working revolver. And, it’s true, he once wrote a book called Blood Trails II: The Truth About Bowhunting. And maybe he threatened to kill the president with a machine gun. But you know what’s even crazier? The guys claims he’s never done drugs.
Has played with: The Amboy Dukes, Damn Yankees
Cheeseball cred: Writing a song called “Wang Bang Sweet Poontang,” and referring to it during live shows as “a love song dedicated to [name of the city’s] pussy!” (That’s how the band Nashville Pussy got its name.)
Spoiling his crazy-dude rep: He’s a Republican.
Ever looked at a guitar and thought, Why is there only one neck on that thing? The same idea has crossed Rick Nielson’s mind. That’s why he asked Hamer to create this behemoth. At 28 pounds and 36 strings, it’s the Hydra dragon of electric guitars. We just hope that Mr. Nielson remembers those less-fortunate musicians who can only afford four necks. Sucks for you, Pat Metheny.
Has played with: Cheap Trick
Cheeseball cred: Using his custom-made beast, he can make Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” sound like a goddamn Joe Satriani song.
Spoiling his crazy-dude rep: He appeared in the movie Daddy Day Care.
There’s no denying that this Swedish show-off is technically one of the best electric guitarists of all time. There’s also no denying that he’s one of the silliest. Yes, that’s a Donald Duck decal stuck to his yellow Stratocaster, and he plays that thing the same way Liberace played his glitter-bedazzled piano: with laughably serious, I’ve-been-practicing-so-hard-mom! arpeggios; piratelike billowy shirt cuffs; and facial expressions that say, “Shhh! I’m trying to make my lips touch my eyebrows.” Of course, looking at his album covers, it’s clear those facial exercises help him stay Zen after a long day of slaying dragons with his guitar, melting glaciers with his fiery solos, and watching his guitar spontaneously combust owing to highly explosive awesomeness.
Has played with: Are you kidding? No one’s worthy of augmenting this guy’s chops!
Cheeseball cred: Showing up Joe Satriani and Steve Vai as a member of G3, the G4 summit of living guitar gods.
Spoiling his crazy-dude rep: The guy sold out a 1983 show at London’s Marquee club in minutes — but only because fans thought they were buying tickets to a secret Bruce Springsteen gig.
He’s no Yngwie Malmsteen, but he doesn’t need to be: The dude owns a $30,000 diamond-encrusted guitar necklace that actually works like a full-size guitar. So what if he doesn’t have the chops to play “Stairway to Heaven” on the world’s tiniest six-string? The world’s tiniest violin weeps for him.
Has played with: the B-list boy band Natural.
Cheeseball cred: Performed a medley tribute to the Bee Gees on ABC’s Disco Ball in 2003.
Spoiling his crazy-dude rep: The fact that he never had a crazy-dude rep.
Without Satriani, we wouldn’t have Steve Vai, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, or Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. (Satriani, a former guitar instructor, taught them all.) Then again, we’d also never have “Borg Sex”, Satriani’s tribute to the erotic life of Star Trek’s kinkiest cybernetic organisms. Or Satrianian album titles like Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock. Or solos so unnecessarily complicated, they require custom-made guitar pedals that look like miniature time machines and appear to be named after lost Wu-Tang members (the “Satchurator,” the “Ice 9,” the “Big Bad Wah”). Most of all, we’d never have Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” which copped its melody from a Satriani song. Imagine a world without those things. Is the sun brighter? The flowers sweeter smelling? Sad that you’re not there right now? Blame Joe Satriani.
Has played with: Mick Jagger, Deep Purple
Cheeseball cred: He played guitar on Spinal Tap’s “Break Like the Wind.”
Spoiling his crazy-dude rep: He kinda looks like Stewie from Family Guy.
This German–industrial metalhead founded a band whose singer intentionally, repeatedly sets himself on fire. (A licensed pyrotechnician, Rammstein front man Till Lindeman was badly burned while making the explosives-filled video for “Rammstein.”) So it’s no surprise that Kruspe falls on the flaming oddball side of totally ridiculous. This is, after all, the same guy who shreds on “Mein Teil,” a tribute to a man who cut off his own genitals and ate them. It’s the same guy who advocated to make Rammstein’s “Pussy” video into a porn movie and, when asked if the clip’s naked-man parts belonged to him, replied, “No comment.” Though perhaps we shouldn’t make fun of him: After being “slandered” by one music editor, he handcuffed the guy to a chair, loaded him up with pyrotechnic equipment, and left to go play a festival.
Has played with: Rammstein
Cheeseball cred: Performed “Feurer Frei!” for Vin Diesel in the movie XXX.
Spoiling his crazy-dude rep: He once had a plushie toy made in his image.
Seven words: He nevereverever wears a shirt.
Has played with: Extreme, Satellite Party
Cheeseball cred: He made that signature guitar-slapping move famous with “More Than Words,” inspiring such hair-metal luminaries as Weird Al and the Love Guru.
Spoiling his crazy-dude rep: He looks like he escaped from the New Moon wolf pack.