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Prince is the Greatest Guitar Player Alive

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

UPDATE: Prince Dead at Age 57

There. I said it.

With my sincerest apologies to fans of Eddie Van Halen and Eric Clapton, I say without hyperbole that no person currently breathing air can play the guitar with more passion, ferocity or raw ability than Prince. There is simply no comparison.

Jazz legend and Prince collaborator Miles Davis may have said it best, likening him to a combination of Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Marvin Gaye and Charlie Chaplin.

Rolling Stone named him number 33 of their 100 Greatest Guitarists, which I consider an affront to the man in purple.

While lauded for his decades-long music career, which netted him ten platinum albums and 30 top 40 singles, Prince is rarely recognized for his astounding musical abilities, let alone his guitar playing.

Prince produces all of his own music and performs the majority of the instruments on every recording. He recorded what is widely considered the greatest power ballad of all time, the 8:41 long “Purple Rain,” and he topped it off with an epic solo deserving of the soaring anthem.

But it isn’t just his ability to shred guitar solos with the dexterity and technical proficiency that makes him great. He can create a funk and a groove better than anyone. He adds nuance and subtlety to densely produced tracks. The power behind his playing is his ability to channel raw emotion through the instrument, to truly speak through his guitar.

As evidence, I present a performance from the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Prince performs “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in honor of posthumous inductee George Harrison alongside Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Harrison’s son Dhani.

A generally lifeless and dull performance is set on fire around the 3:28 mark, when Prince strides onto stage and proceeds to melt the face off everyone in the building.

Notice the shock and admiration on Dhani Harrison’s face around 4:45. Adding to the mystery and the allure of his playing, at the end of the song, Prince throws his guitar seemingly into thin air and saunters confidently off stage.

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