Frank Zappa (Greatest Guitarists Of All Time #28)

By Neil Slaven

Mojo, June 1996

"It was Ravi Shankar meets the blues by way of Venus." Warren Cuccurullo

LITTLE OF WHAT FRANK ZAPPA accomplished as a songwriter, composer or guitarist was in the least bit conventional. "I think of him as a genre unto himself," said Mike Keneally, guitarist on the final 1988 tour. "The more skewed aspects of what he was doing were so unique to him that they just sailed right over people's heads."

Frank's first guitar influences were bluesmen Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown and Eddie 'Guitar Slim' Jones. That was just the start; as Warren Cuccurullo noted, "Frank's style was blues-based but not blues-bound."

From the earliest incarnations of the Mothers, his guitar solos gave notice of a teeming virtuosity, initially hampered by the rhythmic simplicity of the percussion department but later given flight by drummers Aynsley Dunbar, Terry Bozzio, Vinnie Colaiuta and Chad Wackerman.

"He didn't have any fondness for technique at the expense of ideas or regurgitating licks that you knew would get an audience off," reckoned Keneally. Zappa explored the farthest reaches of amplification and avidly tested the latest innovations.

He was also a master of feedback: "The disgusting stink of a too-loud electric guitar – now that's my idea of a good time." He was habitually modest about his ability: “I'm a composer, and my instrument is the guitar. I want to hear some music and the challenge for me is writing an instant composition while I'm playing.”

Zappa also invented 'xenochrony', a process used almost throughout Joe's Garage, whereby guitar solos in one tempo were grafted on to different rhythm tracks, creating musical worlds only he could inhabit. (NS)  

Guitar: Gibson SG, Fender Stratocaster

Highlight: Watermelon In Easter Hay 2:40 to 4:40