“I copied – don’t be afraid to copy – and eventually something that I suppose that I would call my own appeared.” — David Gilmour
When Pink Floyd’s enigmatic guitarist David Gilmour was voted the greatest Fender guitar player of all time some years ago, beating out Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, he responded with the wry wisdom of a rock star who has seen and done it all before: “Best ever Fender player will come around again, and it will be Eric or Jimi or someone. You can’t believe that stuff. Much as I’d love to believe I’m the best ever Fender guitar player, it just doesn’t really make sense.” It was an interesting answer, to say the least, and one that perfectly described the Pink Floyd man’s calm and collected character.
Firstly, because it showed a star who has not only been in the limelight for the majority of his life but has seemingly let the spotlight bounce off him like a reflective pool. Secondly, because it showed the huge respect, he held for the two names mentioned in Clapton and Hendrix, without doubt, two of the biggest influences on his playing and two stars who would help him ignite his journey. But who are the other guitarists who influenced Gilmour to become one of the most adored guitarists of modern times? We’ve collated some of his recent interviews in which he has claimed some of his favourite players of the instrument to make a perfect playlist.
“When you start out, you copy,” Gilmour told Uncut about the salad days of his own career, confirming that while his sound is unique his influences run deep. “Trying to be too original when you’re too young is possibly not the best thing. But I learned copying Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix. All sorts of people.”
Let’s start with the first two names on most people’s lists, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. There is simply no doubt that by the time Gilmour joined Pink Floyd in 1968, replacing Syd Barrett, he had been wildly influenced by the pair of guitarists — everyone had. When Hendrix joined Clapton for a jam session at Regent St Polytechnic, the scene was lit up, and the two rulers of guttural blues guitar were firmly anointed. Clapton’s influence on Gilmour can be traced further back to his work with Cream, but after this performance, Hendrix burst on to the swinging London scene with a burning passion and intensity.
It’s hard to deliberately remove artists such as Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix from their influence over an entire music world. To suggest that they aren’t a part of Gilmour’s foundational stepping stones to his own greatness is misguided, at best. A similar overarching influence on the guitarist has to be the duck walking maestro himself, Chuck Berry.
Arguably the Granddaddy of rock ‘n’ roll, Berry’s influence can be heard across all of Gilmour’s contemporaries and, considering his adoration for the early rock; it’s hard to see Gilmour not calling Berry a favourite. Another name from the past often included in Gilmour’s list of favourites is Hank Marvin of The Shadows. Another member of the ‘foundational players’ list, Marvin is often cited by Keith Richards as a favourite too, particularly resonating with the British public through The Shadows, who were as big as The Beatles in many parts of the country. Of course, that band had a bit of an influence on him too.
“I really wish I had been in the Beatles,” Gilmour once shared in the Mojo interview. “[They] taught me how to play guitar; I learnt everything. The bass parts, the lead, the rhythm, everything. They were fantastic.” It makes a case for another of the selections in Gilmour’s list, the incredible talent of George Harrison. Though not always thought of as one of the greatest, largely because he was somewhat sectioned off to his own style, Harrison’s contribution to The Beatles has wildly influenced Gilmour.
Gilmour’s never been afraid to show his admiration for The Beatles, and you can be sure that while McCartney has become a fast friend of the guitarist, it was Harrison’s idiosyncratic playing that captivated Gilmour initially and began his love affair with the instrument in a pop sense. Another utterly unique guitar player is the fantastic Jeff Beck, the guitarists’ guitarist. The Yardbirds were one of the hottest bands around as Gilmour was making his way around the London scene, and there’s no doubt that Beck was one of the primary leaders of that scene; with his compelling performance, he captivated a generation and David Gilmour too.
Gilmour has always been a charitable man and once took part in the largest auction of guitars ever, giving away the majority of his collection for a good cause. As part of the huge auction, he was asked a series of questions including “who inspired you and how did you manage to grow out of their shadow to sound so original?” Gilmour’s response is simple and the only answer a true artist can give: “So many players inspired me. I learned from Pete Seeger, Hank Marvin, Lead Belly, Joni Mitchell, John Fahey, Roy Buchanon, Jeff [Beck] and Eric [Clapton] and dozens more. I copied – don’t be afraid to copy – and eventually something that I suppose that I would call my own appeared.”
Perhaps the biggest influence on David Gilmour was the man he would eventually replace in Pink Floyd, the wildly talented and sadly misguided Syd Barrett. The two friends had been jamming together since 1965 as they took their guitars and began to trek across Europe, busking for their food. Barrett’s style and performance were undoubted guidelines for Gilmour, showing him how to accurately master the vibrato and manipulate his strings. While Gilmour was at first brought into the Pink Floyd fold to help out Barrett, essentially allowing him to become a reclusive writer while Gilmour performed, it soon became apparent that Barrett wasn’t ever going to recover. It’s hard to see this as anything but the most momentous occurrence of Gilmour’s career.
Below, you can find an introductory playlist to some of Gilmour’s favourite guitar players but there’s one great thing to remember about the Pink Floyd man; while the below certainly influenced his playing style, nobody comes close to David Gilmour. His sound is so wholly unique that to suggest he has lifted someone else’s style is an affront to his creativity. However, like any good player, Gilmour has always acknowledged those around him who have inspired him to become a better player.
Catch a playlist of David Gilmour’s fvaourite guitarists below and be inspired!
Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour’s favourite guitarists:
- Eric Clapton
- Jimi Hendrix
- Jeff Beck
- Chuck Berry
- George Harrison
- Joni Mitchell
- Hank Marvin
- Pete Seeger
- John Fahey
- Roy Buchanan
- Lead Belly
- Syd Barrett