Guitar Player’s Guitar Superstar exists to evangelize extreme guitar playing to both the “in-the-know” community of guitarists and fans of guitar music who may not be players themselves. After seven years of presenting the event (first at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and later in San Francisco, and Livermore, California), I still agonize over whether it will run smoothly. This year, much of the angst vaporized after Truefire’s Brad Wenkos and Ali Hasbach offered to produce the show—which was a good thing, because, due to a scheduling conflict with the ballroom at the Nashville Renaissance (where GPGS was held), we had to drop the curtain before a 6 pm wedding. Visions of Spinal Tap opening for a puppet show danced in my head for days. Happily, the Truefire team conquered all logistics and time constraints to deliver a near flawless show that actually ended early. (In a humorous development, the early finish allowed many dressed-to-the-max female wedding goers to have their photos taken with the GPGS finalists in a photo booth set outside the ballroom by photographer Chuck Thompson. Weird.)
Larry Carlton was fantastic as the GPGS host. He was extremely warm and personable—so much so that it almost seemed the competition going on in his living room and we were his houseguests. Judges Muriel Anderson, Reeves Gabrels, and Carl Verheyen were awesome, and Gabrels and Verheyen actually stepped onstage to wow the audience with a totally improvised jam with the GPGS house band (guitarist Chris Leuzinger, drummer Craig Krampf, and bassist Dave Pomeroy).
The winner of Ampeg’s “Straight Up Tone” contest, Elephantgun, opened the show (and also played like the judges’ votes were tabulated), playing through the new GVT amps provided as backline by the company for the entire event.
The five finalists (selected by the GP staff from video entries uploaded to truefire.com) celebrated the stylistic diversity of Guitar Player. Wielding a Tom Anderson Hollow T Classic, Fredrik Halland slipped in-and-out of several styles throughout his rock-jazz-prog piece, Mark Kroos played solo-acoustic on a double-neck Ovation, Forrest Lee, Jr. threw down some supersonic country on his self-built solidbody (with B-Bender), Jeremy Ore unleashed a solo shredfest on his PRS Custom 24, and Arek Religa performed a muscular blues-rock number on his Ibanez. When the ferocious riffs had stopped ricocheting off the ballroom walls, the judges selected Kroos as the 2011 Guitar Superstar champion, with Halland grabbing second place, and Religa taking third. (We’ll post the GPGS performances soon, so keep checking guitarplayer.com)
Kroos won a feature article in Guitar Player magazine and a digital-distribution contract from Guitar Player Records/MI5 Recordings/Universal. He also took home a prize package from D’Addario, Godin, Love Pedal, Pigtronix, TC Electronic, and JamHub that is worth more than $4,000.
Halland won a prize package from D’Addario, Reverend, Love Pedal, Pigtronix, TC Electronic, and JamHub. A total prize value of more than $2,500.
Religa won prize package from Ampeg, Framus, D’Addario, Godin, Love Pedal, Pigtronix, and TC Electronic for a total prize value of more than $1,500.
However, there were no losers, as all finalists received gift bags packed with products from D’Addario, Delta Labs, EMG, Essential Sound Products, Levy’s Leathers, and SKB Corporation valued at more than $1,000.
A photo essay of the event will be published in the October 2011 issue of Guitar Player—watch for it in your mailbox and on newsstands.
Presenting Sponsors for Guitar Player’s Guitar Superstar 2011 were Ampeg, EMG Pickups, Framus, NAMM, and SKB Corporation.
Mark Kroos with Larry Carlton
Fredrik Strand Halland
The esteemed judges (left to right): Muriel Anderson, Carl Verheyen, and Reeves Gabrels.