Who are the best Kiwi guitarists? Russell Baillie and Graham Reid take their picks and strum.


Have guitar, will party. That may now seem a quaint notion about Life in New Zild, especially in a musical age where digital nous is supposedly replacing dexterous digits.



But the six-string remains our national instrument - it's not because we liked Engelbert Humperdinck that his B-side Ten Guitars became a national party anthem.



You'll see guitars being strummed on an All Black bus ("Baby, I got les sacre bleu blues ..."). They're everywhere from Gore's Golden Guitars to Auckland art galleries, where Michael Parekowhai's intended ironic comment in his recent installation Patriot, Ten Guitars didn't stop the matching adorned instruments from looking simply fantastic.



Tonight, the second annual World Series Guitar Festival twangs from the stage of the Aotea Centre, featuring some fleet-fingered imports - Martin Taylor, Tommy Emmanuel and Michael Fix - and locals Graham War-drop and Gray Bart-lett. They will also be giving away a Guitarist of the Year Award to an up'n'comer.

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A good time then - and yes, it's an excuse for yet another pre-millennial list - to contemplate who have been our best fretpersons.



We've taken the view that technical proficiency is not everything. As our list shows, sometimes it's not anything. And while there are plenty of Kiwi guitar stars who have a live reputation, many have left precious little recorded evidence. So, all that taken into account, here's ten guitarists who make us dance, dance, dance ...



Ben Tawhiti


Why: At the one-minute mark of Haka Boogie by Morgan Clive with Benny's Five (1955), Tawhiti starts a steel guitar solo which, by some mystery of the cosmos, pulled together Hawaiian style and Chet Atkins country. If this had caught on internationally, Tawhiti might have been a bigger influence on George Harrison than Chet. Then where would we be?



Peter Posa


Why: White Rabbit (1963) - Posa got there first with this echo-heavy piece of instrumental pop precision. Best bit: the shivering pause and echo 41 seconds in. Full marks for elegant simplicity.



Billy TK of the Human Instinct


Why: A decade ago Human Instinct were reissued in Germany on limited-edition vinyl. The Germans apparently still admired this almost-forgotten 60s axeman, but most who heard him put him in the same league as Hendrix and Clapton. For the evidence, the album Stoned Guitar (1970).



Kevin Borich, La De Das


Why: For two classic 1966 signature riffs, Don't You Stand in My Way or How is The Air Up There? Memorable? You need less than two seconds to recognise either. As elemental as the Stones' Satisfaction. Borich went on to become a blues-rock guitar-slinger of quite some repute across the Tasman.



Hammond Gamble


Why: Gamble, a master of blues-based rock, reserved his finest playing for live performance and for Streettalk or solo albums which eschewed extended solos or flash. But listen to Who Did All This To Me from his 1980 self-titled solo album and you'll hear an economic, understated guitar solo teetering on the edge of an ice flow.



Dave Dobbyn


Why: Be Mine Tonight (the original) and the solo which enters at fully four minutes in. Maybe not his greatest guitar moment - there are parts of his Twist album which vindicate his selection - but certainly the most enduring.



David Kilgour


Why: The man who with the Clean helped to kickstart the whole Flying Nun aesthetic. Too many great moments to count, mostly live, and the Stephen side-project album was also a lost gem. But Fish is a guitar song so nagging that Gray Bartlett even covered it for the Clean tribute album.



Or for more recent evidence we also like the slash'n'jangle solos across the seven minutes-plus of Chop Me in Half from David Kilgour & The Heavy Eights (1997).



David Mitchell, the 3Ds


Why: One of two guitaring Davids in the 90s Dunedin outfit (though both originally from Auckland), the bespectacled, frizzy-haired Mitchell once described his playing as "emptying trashcans" throughout the band's songs. His loopy lead lines and explosive chords - check out firecracker singles like Hey Seuss, Outer Space or the slow twisted lurch of Dust - made him a cacophonous delight. The funniest man on six strings we've ever bred.



Martin Winch


Why: After years of fine jazz and studio playing, Winch got his dues with an MOR album, Espresso Guitar, which was better than dismissive critics might have allowed.



Check his treatment of Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman where he marries blues, Spanish and jazz yet keeps it within the mainframe of intelligent MOR. Selling in, not selling out.



Neil Finn


Why: Like Dobbyn, his way with a song has somewhat put his instrumental skills in the background. But Finn is the master of the delicately shaded but evocative chord pattern, the deceptively simple hook (the opening motif on Weather With You) and sure can let rip (witness Suffer Never from the Finn album) in grandly psychedelic fashion when the mood takes him.



* Someone cruelly ignored? If you've got a favourite New Zealand guitarist, tell us why in 100 words or less and we'll compile a second top 10 from your suggestions. Post to Ten Guitarists, Features Department, NZ Herald, PO Box 32, Auckland. Fax (09) 373 6430.