Michael Hedges

Ask most electric guitarists, “Who was the next Hendrix?” and they’ll justifiably stump for everyone from Eddie Van Halen to Robert Fripp. Ask who was the Hendrix of the steel-string acoustic, though, and there’s typically one contender: Michael Hedges.

Sure, the Oklahoma native’s folk-influenced, Peabody Conservatory-refined, world music-encompassing works were on a different planet than Jimi’s psychedelic blues/R&B hybrid, but both artists shared a common denominator: They pushed the technical, aural, and artistic boundaries of their instruments light years beyond what had previously been attempted or imagined.

Hedges’ discovery by Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman—who had his “head torn off” by the guitarist’s logic-defying fretboard techniques and multi-layered solo compositions—meant his records were usually relegated to the new age bins. However, the breadth of Hedges’ artistry was not so easily classifiable. Shrugging off conventional labels altogether, Hedges jokingly referred to his music as “new edge,” “acoustic thrash,” or “heavy mental.” Sadly, like Hendrix, Hedges was taken from us too soon. He died in a car accident in 1997, at the age of 43.


Aerial Boundaries, 1984

It’s not hyperbole to call this the greatest solo-acoustic record ever made. Partly because Hedges’ kinetic use of chord hammer-ons, customized altered tunings, and fretboard tapping/slapping make it sound like there are several guitars playing at once, but mostly because his chops never overshadow his brilliant compositional skills.

Live on the Planet, 1987

This live, panoramic snapshot of Hedges’ artistic oeuvre finds him playing ethereal duets with fretless bassist Michael Manring, offering hip interpretations of tunes by Dylan, Lennon, and Sheila E., and seemingly morphing into a one-man string consort on his 11-string Dyer harp-guitar.

Oracle, 1996

After experimenting with vocals, drum machines, and keyboards on his previous outings, the sudden return of a handmade instrument stolen in 1982 sparked Hedges’ renewed focus on instrumental acoustic music. “Jitterboogie” and his reworking of Zappa’s “Sofa #1” rank among his finest solo guitar performances.


Breakfast in the Field, 1981

Recorded live to stereo, Hedges’ debut marked the subtle, yet undeniable beginning of a musical revolution. Although not as fully realized as Aerial Boundaries, Breakfast in the Field’s “Layover” and “The Funky Avocado” put the music world on notice that the steel-string acoustic could be more than just an accessory for coffee-house folkies.

Taproot, 1990

Inspired by the writings of Joseph Campbell, Hedges conceived Taproot as an “autobiographical myth told through music and non-literal imagery.” The CD certainly ranks as his most evocative and emotionally charged.

Torched, 1999

Posthumously released albums assembled from unfinished demos can be awkward affairs, but this collection of primarily vocal-based songs suggests that the artistic relationship/friendship Hedges forged with David Crosby and Graham Nash was coaxing him to higher levels of songwriting.


Watching My Life Go By, 1985

The tunes are solid, the lyrics are thoughtfully written, and Hedges’ voice is pleasant enough. Unfortunately, Hedges the instrumental composer set the bar so high that Hedges the tunesmith had a tough time measuring up.

Platinum and Gold Collection, 2003

While the dozen tracks chosen for this greatest hits CD are among Hedges’ finest, your one-stop shopping needs are better served by the more expansive Beyond Boundaries: Guitar Solos.