“My hands are the true story of my personality. One hand looks glamorous, and the other is a real worker with broken nails”: Heart's Nancy Wilson on rhythm guitar, and the mistake acoustic players often make when playing electric

Nancy Wilson performs with Heart at the Rockford Speedway in Rockford, Illinois on July 27, 1980
(Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

As the golden age of shred – think tight pants, Super-Strats, and an emphasis on flashiness – recedes further into memory, boasting in guitar circles about your notes-per-minute count has become increasingly gauche. 

Indeed, though killer guitar moments abound in their voluminous catalog, many-times-platinum rockers Heart have always been known first and foremost as a ‘songs’ band, with guitarist Nancy Wilson leading the charge with ever hooky, song-serving playing. 

In a 1979 interview with Guitar Player, Wilson reflected on the importance of rhythm playing in her repertoire, and how she imbues it – her acoustic guitar playing in particular – with more than enough attitude to go 'round. 

“I’m mainly a rhythm player, and, on acoustic, I play really hard,” she told GP at the time. “My hands are the true story of my personality. One hand looks kind of glamorous, and the other is a real worker hand with broken nails.”

Wilson did, however, take care to note that that heavy-handedness didn't extend to her electric guitar approach, saying that she wished to avoid falling into what she cited as a trap many primarily acoustic players fall into.

“Acoustic players tend to overplay an electric – pushing down too hard on the strings and all that,” she posited, “so it’s really good for me to develop the discipline to hold back and have a lighter touch on electric.”

As for inspirations on the rhythm front, Wilson cited a few big names, among them two classic rock titans arguably known far better as soloists. 

“There are a lot of good lead players, but not a whole lot of good rhythm players,” Wilson said. “Oddly enough, I’ve never really emulated the Stones, but I think Keith Richards is a compelling rhythm player, and John Lennon is a lot like that, too. 

“John Lennon is an amazing rhythm guitarist – he knows how to be loosely tight. John Lennon has more soul than he can almost handle. David Gilmour and Jimmy Page are other incredible players who do both great rhythms and leads.”

Jackson Maxwell
Associate Editor, GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.

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