101 Greatest Moments in Guitar History 1984 - 1991

March 14, 2005

Spinal TapMichael Hedges - Breakfast in the FieldJoe Satriani - Surfing with the AlienNirvana - NevermindThis Is Spinal Tap Tells It Like It Is, 1984

When this rockumentary premiered, it took the guitar to a whole ’nother level. With brilliant song parodies that spoofed everyone from the Yardbirds to Kiss, Tap brought together everyone who had ever loved or hated guitar rock. And Christopher Guest, as the Jeff Beck-inspired Nigel Tufnel, showed off amps that went to 11. That’s one louder, innitt?

Rising force Released, 1984

You could make a case that Yngwie Malmsteen’s moment came when he appeared in the Spotlight column in the February ’83 issue of GP. But the first time most guitarists heard him was on his solo debut the following year. And the tune that knocked them down was “Far Beyond the Sun.” Shred just doesn’t get any shreddier.

Aerial Boundaries Released, 1985

In many ways, Michael Hedges is to the acoustic guitar what Hendrix and Van Halen are to the electric. Hedges’ stunning blend of unusual tunings, rhythmic smacks, two-hand tapping, slapped harmonics, and mind-bending fingerpicking—all seamlessly integrated into his self-described “violent acoustic” style—completely redefined solo-acoustic guitar.

Run-D.M.C. Teams Up with Aerosmith, 1986

The rap/rock fusion that Run-D.M.C. created on their first two albums (with killer guitar work from Eddie Martinez) got kicked into high gear on Raising Hell. When Joe Perry and Steven Tyler guested on a cover of “Walk This Way,” it brought rap into the suburbs and resurrected Aerosmith’s career. “This huge groundswell had started from the first two records,” says Martinez, “but it really came together on ‘Walk This Way.’ It paved the way for the Beasties, Rage, Kid Rock—all those guys.”

Surfing with the Alien Released, 1987

The only disturbing thing about the spectacular success of Surfing with the Alien—which made Joe Satriani a bona fide guitar hero overnight and put instrumental rock guitar near the top of the charts for the first time since Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow—is that no guitar album has come close to matching its success since.

Tech 21 Debuts the SansAmp, 1989

Emulating the sounds of a bunch of different amps is commonplace today, but it was a revolutionary idea in 1989. And when Andrew Barta designed the Tech 21 SansAmp, the golden era of direct recording began. Barta carefully dissected how and why classic amps break up, and he put those characteristics in a compact, solid-state stompbox that you could plug right into a recorder. With its eight character switches, the SansAmp provided an unprecedented amount of control over the distortion spectrum, and made it easy for guitarists to go direct with tones reminiscent of Fender, Marshall, Boogie, Ampeg, and Vox amps.

Ibanez Goes For 7, 1990

The 7-string guitar wasn’t a new concept when Ibanez unveiled their Universe 7-string. Jazzers such as George Van Eps, Ron Eschete, Lenny Breau, and Bucky Pizzarelli were pioneering 7-stringers, and Teutonic proto-shredder Uli Jon Roth devised his 7-string Sky Guitar in the early ’80s. But when Steve Vai and Ibanez’s Rich Lasner put their minds to devising a production line 7-string solidbody, the sound of modern rock changed. The Universe really took off when a band named Korn—and its two guitarists Brian “Head” Welch and James “Munky” Shaffer—began harnessing the model to get a subterranean rumble (often tuning the Universe’s low-B down to A). For a time, every new metal band seemed to be playing 7-strings, and manufacturers such as Schecter, ESP, Fernandes, and, of course, Ibanez, rode the rumbling wave for years.

Nirvana Kills hair Metal, 1991

September 24, 1991 is the day that ’80s hair metal died, grunge reached the masses, and millions of kids began playing guitar, writing songs, and exploring the whisper/scream dynamics that still dominate rock radio. On that day, with the release of Nevermind, Niravana’s Kurt Cobain proved that you didn’t need chops if you had conviction.

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