Four session guitar icons you need to know
07.04.2021

Four session guitar icons you need to know

Words by Nick Brown

Explore the technique of Steve Lukather, Paul Jackson Jr. and more.

Session/studio guitarists may not receive as much limelight as some of the more ‘visible’ guitar heroes, but their playing and skillset is equally as refined and has provided the licks, solos and riffs to countless tunes in a huge range of styles.

The ability to play for the moment and both read and/or create parts is a real skill that takes a nuanced approach. Adept at navigating songs in multiple styles, these players have a command of the instrument as well as an understanding of the tones needed – and often several contrasting parts within a single song.

Summary

  • While they mightn’t receive the same acclaim as lead guitarists in stadium rock acts, session guitarists are renowned for their studio chops and vast theoretical knowledge.
  • These players are often tonal chameleons and are technically fluent with playing in a myriad of styles.
  • Players such as Paul Jackson Jr., Steve Lukather, Brent Mason and Tommy Tedesco are perfect examples of what a great session guitarist should aim to be.

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Here’s a small selection of some of the finest players you’ll hear (but possibly won’t see).

Paul Jackson Jr

Muted funk picking, small chord voicings, rock styled solos, spacious moody tones and whatever else – Paul Jackson Jr can and has played it.

A staple of the ’70s/’80s/’90s with artists such as Chicago, Barry Manilow, Luther Vandross, Kenny Rogers, Madonna, Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Michael Jackson, Jackson 5 and Lionel Richie, he is still very much in demand today live, in the studio and as an educator. 

Steve Lukather

One of the founders of rock band Toto, Steve Lukather has seemingly done it all in the music world.

Whilst best known as a highly influential rock guitarist and songwriter he has also played on a huge number of recordings for artists like Michael Jackson, Boz Scaggs, Aretha Franklin, Lionel Richie, Earth Wind and Fire, Quincy Jones, Donna Summer, Joni Mitchell, Rod Stewart and more.

Working through the heyday of LA session goodness in the ’80s and early ’90s Lukather had some mega rigs with the chops and musical sensibility to back it up. 

Brent Mason

A finer picker it would be hard to find with Mason’s ability to burn through country, bluegrass and western swing. Thinking of him solely in this capacity is doing him a disservice however, as he is capable of beautiful musical depth and creativity.

Moving to Nashville early in his career Mason has forged a reputation as one of the most in demand guitarists of all time (twice voted CMA musician of the year, Grammy winner, Musician’s Hall of Fame member). Alan Jackson, Shania Twain, Neil Diamond, Brooks and Dunn, Chet Atkins and so many more have utilised his talents with Mason playing on over 1000 albums.

His three pickup Tele is legendary, and recently, Fender released the Brent Mason Signature model based on his original guitar with its non typical middle pickup, push pull pots and special wiring. 

Tommy Tedesco

Often hailed as the most recorded guitarist in history Tedesco made his name in Los Angeles during the ’60s/’70s/’80s.

Playing Jazz, Rock, Pop and everything in between he was known for his musical flexibility recorded with artists such as The Beach Boys, The Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Frank Sinatra, Quincy Jones and Kenny Loggins.

Another member of the Wrecking Crew, he recently garnered further recognition with the documentary of the same name highlighting the influence and sheer amount of recordings they played on. 

Dive back into last month’s guitar lesson focusing on comping here.