As guitarists we are influenced by the guitarists we hear when we’re young. They are the the reason we first want to pick up a guitar (or a stand in for one – anyone for tennis?) As we progress and hear more our influences become wider, Friends and fellow players introduce us to players we haven’t heard or appreciated before. Here are some of the players who influenced me over the years. 

As a kid, long before I knew why I liked them or had any particular desire to play a guitar my attention was caught by the bands I saw on TOTP.  Glam rock was big back then so I’m talking, Marc Bolan, Slade, Sweet, The Glitter band. One of the first albums I bought was Rockin All Over The World by Status Quo. I was also a huge Elvis fan and an obsessional fan of the Beatles, both way before my time really. I wouldn’t claim any of these as influences on my playing. That would come later.

One day a friend and I were listening to some of his big sister’s albums and Deep Purple’s “Sweet Child In Time” came on. I was dumbstruck and think that’s the moment I became a guitarist. I didn’t actually care at that point who the guitarist was, just that the sounds he and that band made were the most exciting things I had ever heard. Later Ritchie Blackmore would become a major influence. 

When I Started To Collect My Influences

In the years that followed I very gradually acquired first an acoustic then an electric guitar and amp. I had no friends locally in the small village I came from who were interested in playing guitar, bass or drums . When I turned 17 and got my first car however my social life expanded vastly. I made a number of new friends who were musicians – mainly guitarists – and through them seriously expanded my influences. 

My best friend at the time was and still is a fanatical Ritchie Blackmore fan. He gave me tapes of all of the Purple albums and I studied Blackmore’s style intensely. Not just his playing style – a mix of classical, jazz and blues – but also his fuck you stage presence. 

Another fo my friends introduced me to the music of Neil Young. It wasn’t until years later that I fully appreciated his acoustic stuff but the chaotic, feedback drenched electric lead playing really soaked in. We all smoked a lot of weed in those days and certain guitarists and bands went hand in hand with that lifestyle. 

The late great, John Martyn was one. I saw him years later just before he died and his voice and guitar playing were transcendental (and no I wasn’t high!) Many hours were spent listening – and sometimes dancing to in forests – Steve Hillage’s Motivation Radio album. Frank Zappa, Black Sabbath and of course Pink Floyd were also firm favourites among the guitar fraternity.

Pink Floyd’s guitarist, Dave Gilmour has been the deepest influence on me from that crowd. His playing oozes taste and tone.

The Alternative Tuners

I also loved some of the better folky music a few of my friends introduced me to. Fairport Convention who I saw live twice, led to a deep appreciation of founder member Richard Thompson. I saw him play an unforgettable unplugged gig with his son Eddie in Glasgow’s Royal Concert hall and have been a huge fan ever since. His alternative tunings in particular have influenced my playing.

Of course we can’t talk alternative tunings – DADGAD in particular – without mentioning the influence ofJimmy Page. If I was forced at gunpoint to pick my favourite band of all time it would (probably) be Led Zeppelin. They were possessed, like all the best bands, of a unique chemistry. Jimmy Page was just one quarter of the formula but my god he’s good. 

On an entirely different level while we talk about alternative tunings is Keith Richards. His deceptively simple sounding riffs, sinuous leads and strutting rhythm playing are to the Stones what Jimmy is to Led Zep. Playing mainly in open G tuning with 5 strings, he’s a legend. In fairness you have to include Ron Wood here too. These guys weave a magical spell together.

Gun To My Head Favourite Influences

Where some of my friends and I parted ways musical influence wise, was over The Doors. A band who would be in my top 5 list in the hypothetical gun to the head decision I mentioned earlier. Their guitarist Robbie Krieger has, since first hearing Light my Fire, been one of my favourite players. While Jim Morrison gets the hero worship from The Doors, they were an incredible band. John Densmore in also one of my favourite drummers. Robbie possessed a fluid, laid back style – so Californian, west coast. His slide playing is to die for as are his jazzy, acid tinged, extended leads and riffs. He could also did the DADGAD thing beautifully in “The End” – a genius choice for the movie Apocalypse Now.

One day in 1984 my friends and I opened our copies of guitar player magazine to find a piece of floppy black plastic that changed everything we thought we knew about guitar playing. It was a recording of Steve Vai’s Attitude song which could be played on a turntable. 

This was guitar playing by an alien. I imagine it was what Hendrix must’ve sounded like to people in the 60’s.  I’m sure we all realised that we’d never play like that but we definitely all took something from it. I know I did. To this day I find Steve’s playing extraordinary but I can’t listen to a lot of it. His influence on me is inspirational rather than practical. He made me use the whammy bar more. I learned a few tapping techniques and studied modes. 

The Shredders

Steve Vai, by his own confession is probably part responsible for the shredding craze that dominated guitar music in the 80’s and 90’s. It seemed like every rock band worth its salt had a lightning fast, technically stunning guitarist. It got old fast for me. But when Guns n Roses appeared with their debut album in 87, we met Slash.

Slash brought back a little of the classic rock vibe with his rocked up bluesy, Les Paul and a Marshall approach. Sure the guy can shred but its all much more “digestible” for me at least than the space rock, instrumental genius of Vai, Satriani et al. I saw GmR twice in their hey day and they were simply wonderful. Slash is one of the few guitarists who’s solos’s I have bothered to learn (and forget) note for note.

As I write this I’m remembering more guitarists I love! Writing about Slash reminded me of an interview of his where he mentioned the late, great Rory Gallagher. My Blackmore obsessed pal and I saw the legendary Irish player live twice. Both times he literally played until his fingers bled. The first time we saw him was the modest, Ayrshire rock venue, The Ayr Pavilion. We shouted our appreciation so loudly from our balcony seats that Rory gave us the thumbs up and shouted “Cheers lads”.   

The Story Of The Blues

And Rory reminds me of a couple more players in the Blues category so lets linger there a while. No discussion of blues guitarists can avoid Eric Clapton. Many players cite him as an influence. Surprisingly this includes Eddie Van Halen. Less surprisingly perhaps, Slash. For me Clapton’s influence on me goes back to what I consider his hey day – the Cream years. A few memorable tunes aside its been mostly downhill from there.

A much better player in my opinion was Stevie Ray Vaughn. Clapton himself admitted (as he did when he first heard Hendrix) that when he first heard SRV he felt like retiring. Ironically he was accidentally responsible for the Texan’s death: He graciously gave him his place on the helicopter that was ferrying players to a festival stage so that he wouldn’t miss his slot.. A storm blew up and the helicopter crashed killing all on board. 

Like Rory G, SRV played a beat up old Strat with incendiary prowess. Those guitars got dragged around the stage, stood on and thrown around but sounded incredible. Both players sadly were fuelled by chemicals but both revitalised the blues genre with inspired playing and flash performances. 

Before we leave the blues I have to mention an unsung, largely unknown hero and huge influence on me.  A group of us frequented a couple of Glasgow venues where a quite amazing character and his band played regularly. He was Big George and they were The Business. Big George and The Business played a mix of classic blues by the likes of Big Bill Broonzy, Buddy guy and Muddy Waters and original songs. George was an awesome blues guitarist and singer who channeled Jimi Hendrix and Alex Harvey in equal measure.

Mr Hendrix

George, no stranger to drink and drugs died in a house fire not long ago. He had been starting to gain a reputation on a bigger International stages before a stroke put an end to that. He played a Squier Stratocaster through a Peavey combo amp for most of his career but the sound he could produce from the was the equal of any vintage Fender or Marshall. I had the pleasure of jamming with him once and partying with him and the Biz many times. Sadly missed.

Incredibly we have moved from Glam rock, Folk, blues, metal and all points in between but have only mentioned Jimi Hendrix in passing a couple of times. Lets sort that out.    

I’m certain that all of the guitarists I have mentioned, in fact most guitarists will cite Hendrix as an influence, inspiration and hero. Lets face it, he was deserving of the often over used word awesome. Just watch his performance at Woodstock if you can find it for confirmation of that. In that single performance he blazes through pretty much every technique possible on a guitar. You can hear where he has influenced everyone from Deep Purple to Radiohead. 

Since then many guitarists have taken some of these ideas much further. But Jimi was, above all else an originator. He pulled sounds out of guitars and amps that had never been dreamt of and which were perfect for the heady days of the late sixties. Somewhere even now, a young guitarist will be hearing a Hendrix recording for the first time and will be inspired. 

Lest We Forget

In 40 years of playing I have heard, loved and been inspired by many great guitarists. It would be impossible to cover them all. As we approach 2000 words its time to wrap this up. I’d like to do so with a brief mention of several more who I haven’t devoted enough time to.  

Mark Knopfler. His playing on Sultans of Swing alone os a masterclass in gorgeous, tasteful playing. 

The Edge (David Evans): I was late to appreciate U2 and therefore the Edge’s playing having been a bit of a rock and metal snob as they began their climb to world domination. Although the use of delay in Guitar playing is hardly new, The Edge took it somewhere else.  

Peter Buck. I was a late comer to REM who I now consider one of the best bands of all time. Buck’s understated yet ingenious playing has been a definite influence on mine. Even for the just the EBow stuff I give thanks.

Jeff Beck. A player who’s work I have never for some reason delved deeply into yet. Every time I see him play I’m amazed and make a note to investigate further. A friend of mine – the guitarist from 60’s Glasgow band The Blues Poets who’s farm we used to rehearse at – once paid me the huge compliment of saying I reminded him of Jeff Beck. Speechless especially as I can’t claim him as influence.

Zal Cleminson: Known as much for his scary clown face paint as his great playing with The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Zal also played with Nazareth and as a session player for many including Midge Ure and Elkie Brooks. 

Barrymore Barlowe and Martin Barre: Apologies for lumping these two great players together. I do so as both played in another of the bands that would make my gun to the head “best ever” decision tricky, Jethro Tull. Just fabulous rhythm and lead guitar players.

As a guitar player you should be open to a multitude of influences. These are just some of mine and they’ve all influenced me in different ways. With very few exceptions I’ve never been one to learn other people’s work note for note. I’ll learn what scale is Ritchie playing there or what settings does Edge use on that delay. Over time it all seasons a soup you could stand a spoon up in.


I'm Dave Menzies a digital entrepreneur, photographer and guitarist. I live on the Argyll coast of Scotland. My partner and I write, record and produce our own music and videos in our home studio. I love to help individuals discover the lifestyle freedom offered by the digital world and guitarists to develop their own style.