Ever since the demise of the "Instrumentals Of Rock" radio program and Internet site in the mid-1990s, there has been a void in the world of instrumental guitar music.
This page is here as a testament to the music that continues to live and breathe in the rock, jazz, metal, fusion, acoustic, hard rock, shred, world, surf, blues and classical idioms, and will serve as common ground for instrumental guitarists of all styles.
From 1997 through early 2012, Guitar Nine had made it possible for instrumental artists to sell their music on CD from the site.
It would be difficult to name a popular guitarist who has not recorded instrumental works at some time in their career. Most guitarists like taking a shot at writing music unencumbered with vocals, and accept the challenge of bringing their favorite instrument to the forefront.
While instrumental music is readily accepted in the jazz, acoustic/fingerstyle and classical worlds, rock music has always been traditionally preoccupied with vocalists. However, in the mid-eighties, there was an explosion of rock guitar music, mainly due to the popularity of phenomenal guitarists like Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen, Mike Varney's Shrapnel label, Guitar World magazine's attention to the instrumental scene and other factors.
Instrumental music has always had its practitioners. In the late fifties, Link Wray pioneered the concept of the guitar-heavy instrumental record. with his classic tune "Rumble", while Duane Eddy released his instro, "Rebel Rouser" about the same time. In the sixties, we had the Shadows ("Apache", "Man of Mystery"), Booker T. and the M.G.'s ("Green Onions", "Time Is Tight"), and a number of surf bands including the Ventures ("Walk Don't Run", "Hawaii-5-0"), the Bel-Airs ("Mr. Moto"), the Chantays ("Pipeline"), the Surfaris ("Wipe Out"and Dick Dale ("Let's Go Trippin'", "Miserlou"). Lonnie Mack was also a key figure in the sixties, with his blues-tinged ripper "Wham" (later to be covered by Stevie Ray Vaughan) and a vocalless cover of Chuck Berry's "Memphis". While not known as an instrumental guitarist, even Jimi Hendrix got into the act with instrumentals such as "Trashman" and "Beginnings" off the "Midnight Lighting" CD, his bluesy "Jelly 292", and of course, his feedback laden version of the "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock.
Closing out the sixties, Miles Davis' 1969 album classic "Bitches Brew" introduced a jazz influence and extended soloing into the instrumental form. In retrospect, the late-sixties/early-seventies period didn't yield a large number of purely instrumental songs, but what was happening was audience acceptance of long, improvisational, instrumental jams, after the vocal section of the song had been introduced. Bands like Iron Butterfly with "In A Gadda Da Vida", Cream, and the Allman Brothers established that more extended compositions with long instrumental interludes could be commerically accepted in the radio marketplace. This lead to the eventual rise of progressive rock later in the seventies, which enjoyed popularity on FM radio stations across the United States.
In the seventies Jeff Beck found a sizable audience for his "Blow By Blow" and "Wired" albums. The albums released by the Mahavishnu Orchestra emphasized dynamic rock guitar playing and featured highly influential, improvisational work by John McLaughlin. Storming, funk-driven fusion records released by drummer Billy Cobham placed even more emphasis on rock guitar, as performed by artists such as Tommy Bolin and John Scofield. Lending even more of a rock edge to the instrumental guitar form was Gary Moore's early work with the British band Colosseum II, which stressed strong, prog and jazz-tinged song structures, masterful playing, and incredible solos alternately dizzying and pastoral. Let's not forget the contributions made by the Dixie Dregs ("Night Of The Living Dregs", "Dregs Of The Earth", "Unsung Heroes"), and Ronnie Montrose ("Open Fire") during the seventies.
Standing alone in the seventies was a Mexican-born guitarist out of San Francisco named Carlos Santana. His music straddled rock and Latin genres while allowing for fusion influences as he progressed with his career. Never one to shy away from instrumental music, almost all the Santana albums contained one or more instrumentals, from "Soul Sacrifice" off his 1969 debut to seventies gems such as "Samba Pa Ti", "Toussaint L'Overture", "Europa (Earth's Cry Heaven's Smile)" and "Aqua Marine". His 1979 fusion offering "Oneness Silver Dreams-Golden Reality" delivered 11 instrumental tracks out of 15 songs, and showed him capable of incredibly dynamic music. Santana has continued to deliver quality instrumental songs into the eighties and nineties, such as "I Love You Much Too Much", "Life Is A Lady/Holiday", "Blues For Salvador" and "Touchdown Raiders". The Santanacollections "The Best Instrumentals", Volumes 1 and 2 celebrate his conributions to the instrumental form.
After the explosion of Eddie Van Halen and "Eruption" onto the scene in 1978, and influenced by the potential for instrumental rock as evidenced by the Jeff Beck recordings, a handful of guitarists began developing their technique and recording instrumental cuts. For example, German guitarist Michael Schenker, after leaving the English group UFO, decided to place instrumentals on his solo albums such as "Bijou Pleasurette", "Into The Arena", "Ulcer" and "Captain Nemo", and played on the Scorpions instrumental "Coast To Coast" off of the "Lovedrive" album. In spite of the fact that his instrumental cuts were wildly popular among his guitar-playing fans, his first all-instrumental album wouldn't be released until 2000 -- his "Adventures Of The Imagination" CD, followed quickly by "2000: Dreams And Expressions".
As the eighties progressed, a California heavy metal label, Shrapnel Records, began convincing a growing number of technically advanced guitarists to release all instrumental albums. A number of the releases featured neo-classical metal music, which blended the virtuosity, composition, mood and sprit of classical music with the power, aggression and attitude of heavy metal. Notable Shrapnel albums in the neo-classical style included Tony MacAlpine's "Edge Of Insanity", Vinnie Moore's "Mind's Eye", Jason Becker's "Perpetual Burn", Joey Tafolla's "Out Of The Sun" and Marty Friedman's "Dragon's Kiss". A young Swedish guitar player named Yngwie J. Malmsteen took the genre to it's peak with his largely instrumental,1984 neo-classical metal epic "Rising Force" on Polygram.
Shrapnel also promoted the idea of shred fusion with self-titled instrumental debuts by guitarists such as Greg Howe and Richie Kotzen. Cincinnati's David T. Chastain was also making noise with releases on his own label, Leviathan Records, such as "Instrumental Variations" and "Within The Heat". The technical gifts of these musicians were formidable, but it took a pair of New Yorkers of Italian desent named Satriani and Vai to really energize instrumental guitar in the late eighties. Joe Satriani's "Surfing With The Alien" received tons of airplay upon it's release (and subsequent word of mouth) in 1987, while Steve Vai's quirky "Flex-able" sold hundreds of thousands of copies with virtually no promotion and paved the way for his 1990 all-instrumental release "Passion And Warfare", arguably the richest and best hard rock guitar-virtuoso album of it's time.
Sensing that the tide had turned, and fans were ready for more instrumental music, Miles A. Copeland started the I.R.S./No Speak label in the late eighties and released CDs by ex-Climax Blues Band guitarist Peter Haycock ("Guitar And Son"), Ronnie Montrose (1991's "Mutatis Mutandis") and Steve Hunter ("The Deacon"), as well as the great "Guitar Speak", "Guitar Speak II" and "Night Of The Guitar" compilation CDs, which featured guitarists such as Tony Iommi, Alvin Lee, Randy California and Robby Krieger trying their hand at instrumental music for the first time. A magazine, Guitar For The Practicing Musician (now Guitar One), also started their own label, Guitar Recordings, and introduced the world to the instrumental talents of Blues Saraceno and Randy Coven, as well as produced three all-instrumental CD compilations of "Guitar's Practicing Musicians" (with artists such as Jennifer Batten, Buck Dharma, Jeff Watson, Vivian Campbell and Paul Gilbert). Alas, both labels found it difficult to survive in the 'anit-guitar solo era' which kicked off in the nineties, and are now out of business.
Another label with an instrumental guitar focus (unfortunately, also no longer with us) was Mark Varney's Legato. Mark, brother of Shrapnel Records founder Mike Varney, put out some excellent rock and fusion releases in the early nineties, such as Garsed/Helmerich's "Quid Pro Quo" and "Exempt", "Freudian Slip" by Kevin Chown (with Jeff Kollman), and the Jon Finn Group's 1994 release "Don't Look So Serious". Legato was also responsible for the MVP compilation series (which yielded "Truth In Shredding" and "Centrifugal Funk") featuring terrifying lead guitar work by guitarists such as Frank Gambale, Shawn Lane and Allan Holdsworth.
The late nineties found instrumental guitar music to be largely underground (as evidenced by the lage number of independent CD releases found on the Guitar Nine site at the time), but Shrapnel Records continues to thrive, operating new sub-labels such as Tone Center, which specializes in instrumental fusion. Artists such as Scott Henderson ("Vital Tech Tones") and Robben Ford ("Jing Chi") have found Tone Center a hospitable home, and have released multiple albums on the imprint. A new company, co-founded by Steve Vai and ex-Guitar Center chain founder Ray Sheer, called Favored Nations is recording a number of instrumental guitarists, with the intent of delivering music that's energetic and emotional, with performances by artists of the highest caliber. Just since the year 2000 they've put out CDs by Frank Gambale, Gregg Bissonette, Larry Carlton, Stuart Hamm and Dweezil Zappa, among others.
Instrumental guitar in the new millennium was still going strong, with a half dozen or so small labels around the world (Lion Music, Liquid Note Records, Progressive Arts Music, Hapi Skratch Records) releasing new albums to a small, but rabid and passionate, fan base.
Consider this: there are plenty of all-purpose, generic independent music sites out there on the Internet today. Instrumental music has typically been lost in the shuffle, bagged with music containing "banal lyrics aimed at teens by players who look like Vogue models", in the words of I.R.S chairman Miles A. Copeland. Instrumental music has a small but die-hard and fanatic following, and deserves its own focus and attention.