Monday, November 11, 2013

Notable Guitarists with a College Degree

     In the windows of a Guitar Center in Carle Place, NY - at least as it was a few years ago, as I have not been to the store in quite a while - there are/were on display a few large posters of some of the more famous guitarists: like Clapton, Hendrix, and Page. As I was walking into the store that day, I wondered how many of these iconic players had a degree in music. To be honest, I didn't think any of them had earned a degree in music (at least in their younger years), but I was curious about how many of the other scores of notable guitar players might have.
     Well, here it is about six years later, and I have finally done a little research into the matter.
My work is of no great scholastic merit. The data is derived almost entirely from Wikipedia, which is reliable enough, but by no means an absolute authority. Not only is it possible that some information on Wikipedia is wrong - in that someone was said to have earned a degree when they didn't, or that someone was said not to have earned a degree when they in fact did - but it is also possible that some bios simply had nothing to say on the subject of formal music education. In other words, some of the players I looked into might have indeed earned a degree without any mention of it being made on their Wikipedia page. Keep in mind, however, that I was not so superficial as to rely exclusively on any direct mention or omission of the subject. I did not simply assume that a given player had not earned a degree because nothing was written about it. Instead, I looked to see if an assumption of no college education was consistent with the details of their early years. For example, if nothing was mentioned about college for a given player and that the same player was said to have been gigging and/or touring a lot in their late teens to early twenties, I found it reasonable to assume that said player had not attended college.
     The list of guitar players I am using is taken from Guitar World's Top 100 Guitarist's of All Time Reader's Poll. Whether or not this is an accurate reflection of who indeed belongs in the 'top 100' is not relevant to this inquiry. All of us can look at this list and not only opine about who should be ranked higher or lower than who, but also who should be on this list and isn't, and who shouldn't be on this list but is. But for the purpose of this inquiry, understand that ranking is irrelevant - we're only looking for who has a earned a degree and who hasn't. As for who is and who isn't on the list, all we need do is take this particular list of one hundred of the most influential guitarists as a sample of the many more such players we know to exist.
    For now, this is nothing more than a descriptive account of who among a certain slice of our musical demographic does and does not have a degree in music. I also included additional information on whether or not they look lessons, as well as if they studied any other instruments before picking up the guitar. I make no judgements here about the value - or lack of - such experience. The list encompasses all 'electric' genres: rock, metal, country, jazz, and blues. Simply take it for what it is.
     If you think some information about the guitarists listed below is incorrect, or if you know a certain player to have experience where none was listed (e.g. did in fact have lessons where none were listed), I would appreciate your input (as well as a source please). However, I am not interested in including any other guitarists who are not on the list. This list represents an unbiased sample (at least by me) of the many available players. I do not wish to distort the ratio of 'formally educated musicians' to 'informally educated musicians' by adding every guitarist who did attend college that this list failed to include.

College Degree Lessons Prior Instrument
Music Other
1. Van Halen Piano
2. Brian May Math & Physics Piano/Ukelele
3. Alex Lifeson Viola
4. Jimi Hendrix
5. Joe Satriani X
6. Jimmy Page
7. Tony Iommi
8. Stevie Ray Vaughn
9. Dimebag Darrell
10. Steve Vai
11. Randy Rhodes X
12. Dave Mustaine
13. David Gilmour
14. Les Paul
15. Duane Allman
16. Robert Johnson
17. John Putrucci
18. Zakk Wylde
19. James Hetfield
20. Ritchie Blackmore X
21. Angus Young
22. Slash
23. Paul Gilbert Guitar Institute of Technology … degree?
24. Buddy Guy
25. George Harrison
26. Vernon Reid NYU
27. Frank Zappa
28. Eric Clapton
29. Billy Gibbons
30. Chet Atkins
31. Dickey Betts
32. Django Reinhardt
33. Mark Morton ????
34. Mark Tremonti
35. Warren Haynes
36. Kirk Hammett
37. Jerry Cantrell
38. Buckethead X
39. Jeff Beck
40. Keith Richards
41. Michael Schenker
42. Carlos Santana
43. Yngwie Malmsteen
44. Chuck Berry
45. John Frusciante
46. Jason Becker
47. Eric Johnson
48. Joe Bonamassa X
49. Alexi Laiho
50. Dave Murray
51. Allan Holdsworth
52. Joe Walsh
53. Rick Nielsen
54. Jerry Garcia
55. B.B.King
56. Lindsey Buckingham
57. Tom Morello Social Studies
58. Steve Lukather X
59. Son House
60. John Lee Hooker
61. Steve Howe
62. Chuck Schuldiner
63. John McLaughlin Piano/Violin
64. Albert Lee
65. Pete Townshend
66. Alex Skolnick X
67. Johnny Winter
68. George Lynch
69. Kerry King X
70. Michael Angelo Batio Music & Comp at Northwestern
71. Jeff Loomis
72. Steve Morse University of Miami
73. Rory Gallagher
74. Ted Nugent
75. Joe Perry
76. Al Di Meola Berkley, Boston … completed education?
77. Andy Summers Piano
78. Chris Broderick Classical Guitar Uni. of Denver
79. Gary Moore
80. K.K.Downing
81. Nuno Bettencourt
82. Robert Fripp
83. Glenn Tipton
84. Malcom Young
85. Jeff Hammeman
86. Peter Frampton X
87. Synyster Gates
88. Neil Young
89. Kenny Wayne Shephed
90. Robin Trower
91. T-Bone Walker
92. Ace Frehley
93. Gary Rossington
94. Albert King
95. Jack White
96. Mark Knopfler English
97. Tosin Abasi Atlanta Institute of Music
98. Derek Trucks
99. John 5
100. Wes Montgomery

     Based on the data above, as little as 4% to as many as 7% of the worlds most noted guitarists have earned a degree in music (in the area of 10% if non-musical degrees are included). Additionally, 9% took lessons, and only 5% played an instrument before picking up the guitar. Since I cannot attest to the absolute the accuracy of the source data, these numbers might be slightly off from the actual figures. But they should be close enough. Something that strikes me as odd, though, is that none of those listed as having earned a degree are listed as having had lessons or having played a previous instrument. I find it unlikely that someone would have gone on to collegiate level training without first having had formal training of some kind. Not impossible, of course, but unlikely. So it's reasonable to infer from this that the % of those who had lessons or played a previous instrument is indeed higher.

     Regarding comments ... as I wrote earlier, I am only interested in corrections/modifications to the players on this list. What significance these numbers reflect is not the aim of this piece, so I will not publicize comments not germane to the topic.

     A top 100 for bass guitar is coming soon.

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