John McLaughlin

"Every day, I discover something utterly unbelievable when I play."
----By John McLaughlin

John McLaughlin is an English guitarist, bandleader and composer. His music includes many genres of jazz, and rock, which he coupled with an interest in Indian classical music to become one of the pioneering figures in fusion.In 2010 guitarist Jeff Beck called him "the best guitarist alive". The Indian tabla maestro Zakir Hussain has called him "one of the greatest and one of the important musicians of our times". In 2003 McLaughlin was ranked 49th in Rolling Stone magazine list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".

After contributing to several key British groups of the early sixties and making his first solo record Extrapolation (with Tony Oxley and John Surman) he moved to the USA where he played with Tony Williams's group Lifetime and then with Miles Davis on his landmark electric jazz-fusion albums In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, A Tribute to Jack Johnson and On The Corner. His 1970s electric band, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, performed a technically virtuosic and complex style of music that fused electric jazz and rock with Indian influences. Nobody was faster or more wicked on a fretboard, and he led his Mahavishnu Orchestra like a band of improvising outlaws hell-bent on making heavenly sounds.


John McLaughlin is a leading guitarist in jazz and jazz fusion. His style has been described as one of aggressive speed, technical precision, and harmonic sophistication. He is known for using exotic scales and unconventional time signatures. Indian music has had a profound influence on his style, and, it has been written, he is one of the first westerners to play Indian music to Indian audiences. He was influential in bringing jazz fusion to popularity with Miles Davis, playing with Davis on five of his studio albums, including Davis' first gold certified Bitches Brew, and one live album, Live-Evil. Speaking of himself in an interview with Going Thru Vinyl, McLaughlin has stated that the guitar is simply "part of his body," and feels more comfortable when a guitar is present.


McLaughlin has been cited as a major influence on many 1970s and 1980s fusion guitarists. Examples are prominent players such as Steve Morse, Eric Johnson, Mike Stern, Paul Masvidal, Al Di Meola, Pebber Brown, Shawn Lane, and Scott Henderson. His influence did not stop in the 80's, though; hardcore punk guitarist Greg Ginn of Black Flag cited Birds of Fire by The Mahavishnu Orchestra which inspired him to record more progressive guitar work and even record instrumental songs. Current players still hold him as highly influential, including Omar Rodriguez of The Mars Volta. According to Pat Metheny, McLaughlin has changed the evolution of the guitar during several of his periods of playing. McLaughlin is also considered a major influence on composers in the fusion genre.

In the early 1970s, McLaughlin played a SG doubleneck in his first years with the Mahavishnu Orchestra; the guitar, amplified through a 100-watt Marshall amplifier "in meltdown mode," produced the signature McLaughlin sound hailed by Guitar Player as one of the "50 Greatest Tones of All Time."


Although Jimmy Page famously played a SG doubleneck on stage when Led Zeppelin performed “Stairway to Heaven,” the guitar was McLaughlin’s primary instrument for his first two years leading the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The guitar evolved from a hollow body to the SG-like solid-body guitar that McLaughlin ripped on during its original 1958 to ’62 production run. Besides the usual array of pick-up selectors, volume and tone pots, and alnico humbuckers, it also features a three-way pick-up selector which McLaughlin employed while dashing between the warm, wailing Marshall-fired leads and pastoral sections of such incendiary Mahavishnu tunes as “The Dance of Maya” and the apocalyptic “Birds of Fire,” both on The Best of John McLaughlin.

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