Personalities | Frank Zappa | Father of Harmony | Guitar Heroes

Renowned as the leader of avant-garde satirical group the Mothers Of Invention in the 1960s, Frank Zappa developed a singular guitar prowess that emerged in the 1970s as his band became increasingly adventurous, drawing on a wide variety of classical, jazz and rock forms while maintaining their razor-sharp wit.

Zappa’s approach to playing influenced many guitarists, including band members Steve Vai and Adrian Belew. His guitar style was unique – based more around harmony than melody – because he approached the instrument as a composer and arranger rather than as a player only. ‘There are plenty of people who play faster than I do, never play a wrong note and have a lovely sound,’ Zappa told an interviewer in 1984. ‘But there isn’t anyone else who will take the chances that I will take with a composition onstage in front of an audience.’

Born in 1940, Zappa grew up in Los Angeles and wrote film scores in the early 1960s before forming the Mothers Of Invention in 1965. His guitar playing on Freak Out! (1966), Absolutely Free (1967) and We’re Only In It For The Money (1968) was succinct, but he began stretching out on solo albums like Hot Rats (1969), Apostrophe (’) (1974), One Size Fits All (1975) and Zoot Allures (1978). Zappa’s reputation was enhanced by extended guitar solos on a succession of live albums through the 1970s – Live At The Fillmore East (1971), Roxy & Elsewhere (1974), Live In New York (1977) and Sheik Yerbouti (1979).

In 1981, Zappa encouraged his guitar fan club with a triple-album set called Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar, that featured ‘solos and nothing else’. And he continued to push his own boundaries with the rock musical Joe’s Garage Acts I, II & III (1979), Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch (1982) – featuring ‘Valley Girl’, the closest he came to a hit single – and Jazz From Hell (1987), which won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

By the time of his death from prostate cancer in 1993, Zappa had amassed a catalogue of over 60 albums.

Essential Recordings

The Mothers of Invention: Freak Out!

Solo: Hot Rats

with the Mothers: Roxy & Elsewhere

Solo: Jazz From Hell


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