Listening is, of course, paramount to playing the guitar. Phrasing, vibrato, dynamics, chord changes, riffs—all are crucial elements of style which can be gleaned from hearing an mp3 of Zakk Wylde or a 78 of Charlie Christian on a Victrola. But getting the chance to see how a player does their thing can provide inroads to a guitarist’s approach that listening simply can’t provide. Everything from fingerings to how a player holds their pick to where they stand onstage in relation to their speaker cabs are clues that can supply you with tips, tricks, and even good old-fashioned entertainment that will keep making deposits into your bank of musical inspiration.

As the GP staff went about choosing these 50 essential guitar DVDs, we decided that instructional videos wouldn’t be included, simply because of the amount available—there are a lot. And, we wanted to highlight as many musical genres as we could that brought the serious guitar goods—whether that’s a hillbilly renegade, an alpha bluesman, or a metal shredder.

Another hoop to jump through was the fact that, although there is a plethora of guitar-centric DVDs available, there are a lot of legendary players who are not on the DVD radar with high-quality material: Jeff Beck, Roth-era Van Halen, and Duane Allman, to name a few. And, yes, current legal realities prevented us from entering the world of bootlegs.

Searching the DVD landscape, it was also clear that if not for a few European promoters, filmmakers, and record labels—as well as various PBS affiliates and small U.S. labels such as Vestapol and Arhoolie—a huge chunk of 6-string history may have never been chronicled and released. Kind of scary. Still, there is a lot of magical stuff out there that will assuredly get your eyes feasting and fingers moving. We know these lists run the risk of infuriating readers who feel we’ve spurned their favorite player, but if you feel we overlooked an essential DVD, let us know at —DF

Larry Carlton & Steve Lukather - The Paris Concert

Many players have helped define the so-called “West Coast” guitar sound of the ’70s, ’80s, and beyond, and this DVD—featuring a concert by the genre’s chief architects, Larry Carlton and Steve Lukather—makes a wonderfully gluttonous, all-you-can-eat binge on the tasty style. It’s also educational, as bonus interviews with both guitarists serve as oral histories of how the style evolved out of the L.A. studios and into mainstream music culture—and of how two great players injected jazz vocabulary and stylistic versatility into rock guitar, and the equally successful yet remarkably different ways in which they did it. Carlton did it with Wes Montgomery and B.B. King in his musical DNA, Luke with Jeff Beck and, well, Carlton in his. On stage, Carlton works the silences as intensely as he does the crescendos, Luke the whammy bar as expertly as he does the crowd. They come from disparate galaxies, but when their yin and yang worlds collide in this small Parisian club, fireworks result.

The best part of this video is its casual, candid vibe. These guys remind us that it’s not illegal to have fun on stage and leave things loose. It’s great to see Carlton, the grand master of slow 12/8 blues, apparently miss the end of Luke’s fiery “Red House” solo and get caught comping loudly over the ensuing breakdown. (To Mr. 335’s credit, it does seem like Luke has one more chorus left in him.) The expert “I meant to do that” chord sequence Carlton goes into to save face is brilliant—an object lesson in landing on your feet, which is something both these cats have been doing for decades. (Inacoustic/New Morning.) —JG, January 2008