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Is Paul Simon One of the Most Underrated Guitar Players Ever?

Paul SIMON and George HARRISON; with Paul Simon, performing on Saturday Night Live in 1976
Paul Simon performing with George Harrison on 'Saturday Night Live' in 1976 (Image credit: Richard E. Aaron/Redferns)

Paul Simon is well known for being one of the greatest songwriters of modern times, having penned a multitude of iconic hits including “The Sound of Silence,” “Mrs. Robinson,” and “Bridge over Troubled Water.” But his superlative talent as a folk guitarist is often overlooked.

Emerging from the American folk revival during the 1950s and performing under the name Tom and Jerry, Simon and Art Garfunkel released their debut album as Simon & Garfunkel – Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. – in 1964. Soon after, Simon traveled to England in pursuit of a solo career.

During this time, he also produced one of the greatest folk guitar albums of all time: Blues Run the Game by Jackson C. Frank. Fellow American Frank was a regular on the British folk circuit in the mid ‘60s – a scene that nurtured several groundbreaking guitarists.

Davey Graham's 1962 co-release 3/4 AD

Davey Graham's 1962 EP 3/4 AD. In the early days, he was known as Davy Graham.  (Image credit: Topic)

Among these folk guitar luminaries were Bert Jansch and Davey Graham. Graham was perhaps the most influential of the bunch. Jansch’s cover of Graham’s acoustic instrumental classic “Angi” (spelled “Angie” on Jansch’s 1965 eponymous debut long-player) in turn inspired Simon to record the track (retitled “Anji”) for Simon & Garfunkel’s 1966 sophomore album, Sounds of Silence, following his return to the US.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, 1967

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, 1967 (Image credit: Bettmann/Getty)

In this clip filmed for television in 1967 at the UK’s Granada Studios, Simon is using a Guild acoustic to perform the number. According to Guild expert Hans Moust – who happens to be currently working on part two of his definitive publication The Guild Guitar Book – around this time, Simon was using a pair of special-order Guild F-30 flat-tops featuring ebony fingerboards along with rosewood backs and sides (as opposed to the regular F-30 specs of rosewood fingerboard and mahogany back and sides.)

Rod Brakes

Rod Brakes is a music writer with an expertise in all things guitar-related. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a journalist covering artists, industry pros, and gear includes writing hundreds of articles and features for the likes of Guitarist magazine, MusicRadar, and Guitar World, as well as contributions for specialist books and blogs. He is also a lifelong musician.