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