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Our UK Gui­tar Show in Septem­ber saw a lot of great gui­tar ac­tion but the high­light was the re­turn of the Gui­tarist Of The Year com­pe­ti­tion. The three cat­e­gories and nine fi­nal­ists flew in from around the world fol­low­ing the sum­mer’s se­lec­tion process that in­volved all-star judges in­clud­ing Paul Gil­bert, Joe Satriani, Tommy Em­manuel, Jon Gomm and Mark Tre­monti. It proved to be such a show­case of great play­ing that it made our judge’s jobs even more dif­fi­cult.

YOUNG GUI­TARIST OF THE YEAR

All three fi­nal­ists on the Satur­day of the show 15 and un­der with a range of abil­ity that was, frankly, jaw-drop­ping. First up was 14-year-old Hunter Hall­berg, whose in­spi­ra­tion was clear from the Ernie Ball Petrucci sig­na­ture model he played. That he wrote his en­try Jewel (from his newly-re­leased de­but EP] made his per­for­mance shine even brighter; fluid, dy­namic and a ma­tu­rity far, far be­yond his years.

With the stan­dard set high, New Jersey-based Abi­gail Zachko, 15, didn’t dis­ap­point. Although she gigs with clas­sic metal band Lu­natic Fringe back home, her choice of com­bin­ing two pieces by mod­ern in­stru­men­tal­ists Ma­teus Asato and Mark Let­tieri sug­gested much wider am­bi­tions. “My band plays live pretty fre­quently,” Abi­gail told us back­stage, “but it’s usu­ally shady un­der­ground places. We do a lot of our own pro­mot­ing so a nor­mal show is maybe 30, 40 or 50 peo­ple. Play­ing in front of all those peo­ple to­day was great.”

With a pos­i­tive at­mos­phere back­stage, the ar­rival of Misha Man­soor for his clinic was a sur­prise bonus for the three young en­trants,

one of whom had flown all the way from Sin­ga­pore. The Les Paul Cus­tomwield­ing Alex Hooi, 15, was in­spired to play by Slash’s in­fa­mous ren­di­tion of the God­fa­ther theme and fits in his gui­tar am­bi­tions around study­ing for his school ex­ams. He cer­tainly had his hero’s flair for dy­nam­ics over a sourced back­ing track. Ul­ti­mately, it was Hunter’s com­bi­na­tion of chops and com­po­si­tion that won him the prize of a PRS S2 Sin­gle­cut Semi-hol­low in Scar­let Red – as well as the one-year Ernie Ball en­dorse­ment and dig­i­tal sub­scrip­tions to To­tal­gui­tar, Gui­tar Tech­niques and Gui­tarist mag­a­zines that all the cat­e­gory win­ners re­ceived. So is this only the be­gin­ning for Hunter? “To­tally, if I could, I’d choose to play gui­tar in front of peo­ple and make some money and have fun.”

ACOUS­TIC GUI­TARIST OF THE YEAR

It says some­thing about the gui­tar com­mu­nity, and of fin­ger­style acous­tic in par­tic­u­lar, that all three fi­nal­ists in this cat­e­gory al­ready knew each other on­line. That only con­trib­uted fur­ther to the sense of mu­tual sup­port we saw be­tween the fi­nal­ists all day. And a var­ied trio they were too…

Acous­tic gui­tar masters stu­dent Kar­lijn Lan­gendijk, 23, from the Nether­lands, may be known in Youtube gui­tar cir­cles for her in­spired take on Beat It, but her own thought­ful com­po­si­tion Tri­an­gu­lum on a cus­tom Kobler ny­lon-strung crossover model im­pressed our ed­i­to­rial team and guest judge Mike Dawes with its at­mo­spheric mix of neo-clas­si­cal with fla­menco flour­ishes. You could hear a pin drop in the room, and that sense of drama was con­tin­ued with Casper Es­mann’s mix of Celtic in­flu­ence with Hans Zim­mer’s cine­matic flair. The 25-year-old Dane’s own piece, D-day, sug­gested a bright fu­ture for a mu­si­cian who hopes to play mu­sic as his full-time oc­cu­pa­tion soon.

It was Rus­sian per­cus­sive fin­ger­stylist Alexandr Misko who won the day (and a Takamine acous­tic) with his daz­zling Tale Of Lost Times – set to ap­pear on his forth­com­ing third al­bum. Mix­ing melodic themes that re­called his home coun­try with com­plex tech­nique proved a win­ning com­bi­na­tion of hooks and fine­ly­honed tal­ent. Alexandr was keen to show ap­pre­ci­a­tion for his fel­low fi­nal­ists af­ter his pre­sen­ta­tion, and his vic­tory with Mike Dawes as one of the judges was es­pe­cially poignant…

“I used to learn lots of his songs when I was 14 or 15,” Alexandr re­vealed. “So his style af­fected mine a lot, that’s why it’s a great priv­i­lege to see him again here. Ev­ery­one knows each other in this genre and there’s never been com­pe­ti­tion be­tween us – it’s great to have this friendly com­mu­nity go­ing.”

GUI­TARIST OF THE YEAR

The adult elec­tric cat­e­gory saw fi­nal­ists from Canada, Den­mark and Ger­many on the live stage. But rather than a tense vibe back­stage, all three were chat­ting ami­ably. And it’s not a cliché to say ev­ery­one played like a win­ner.

Stig Trip, 36, kept things short and sweet with his song Blueo­cean, but the Dane gui­tar teacher’s clean fin­ger­style spoke vol­umes in emo­tion, re­call­ing his hero Mark Knopfler.

Ger­many’s Flo­rian Naegeli is a very dif­fer­ent player and played ev­ery in­stru­ment on his back­ing track, in­clud­ing vo­cals. The Dres­den jazz gui­tar stu­dent was de­lighted his hero Paul Gil­bert had been a judge in the ear­lier stages of the com­pe­ti­tion and was more than happy just to get this far; “I’m a win­ner, you know? Ev­ery­thing is good!” His lively fu­sion piece sug­gested very good things ahead for the 23-year-old. Es­pe­cially for a player who picked up the in­stru­ment at 14 while re­cov­er­ing from break­ing both hands in a bike ac­ci­dent.

An­other jazz stu­dent would prove to be the win­ner. Que­bec na­tive Gabriel Cyr chan­nelled the spirit of past win­ner Guthrie Go­van, com­bin­ing three pieces from his pro­gres­sive band Uni­verse Ef­fects to blend tech­ni­cal melod­i­cism with a slightly left­field streak. Af­ter col­lect­ing his prize of a PRS USA Cus­tom 24 in Mccarty Sun­burst, the hum­ble mu­si­cian ex­plained to us back­stage that it’s all key to de­vel­op­ing: “Each thing you learn in a style ap­plies in dif­fer­ent ways to other styles,” he tell us. “The the­ory back­ground I’ve got with jazz and im­pro­vi­sa­tion serves me to play rock and metal. But the tech­nique I have de­vel­oped in metal has served me in jazz. It’s all com­ple­men­tary.” And his ad­vice for en­trants in 2019? “Work hard, en­joy and say yes to op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

YOUTUBE.COM/ MUSICRADARTV Above: The win­ners (from left): Alexandr Misko, Gabriel Cyr and Hunter Hall­berg

Be­low: Abi­gail Zachko, Young Gui­tarist fi­nal­ist

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