Personalities | Johnny Hiland | Nashville’s Recent Best | Guitar Heroes

Johnny Hiland (b. 1975) is one of the top guitarists to emerge from the Nashville music scene in recent years. His playing combines country chicken pickin’ with elements of blues, metal and jazz.

Often compared to Danny Gatton, Hiland displays an amazing vocabulary as he plays seemingly effortlessly onstage. His skill is also noteworthy because he is legally blind as a result of nystagmus, an ocular condition causing involuntary eye movement.

Hiland was born in Woodland, Maine. He grew up in a trailer home and took to the guitar at a young age. At eight, he joined his family’s band, the Three Js, which toured New England under the auspices of the Down East Country Music Association. At the age of 10, Hiland won the Talent America contest, entitling him to a performance in New York City. In high school his musical tastes extended beyond bluegrass to the guitar rock of players like Joe Satriani and Eddie Van Halen. After high school, he attended the University of Southern Maine as a history major, but ultimately dropped out to become a professional musician.

In 1996 he moved to Nashville, where he quickly attracted attention at local clubs, earning a residency at the World-Famous Turf and, when that club was destroyed by a tornado, at Robert’s Western Wear with Don Kelly’s band. He backed Gary Chapman at the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry, and became the first unsigned artist in Nashville to receive an endorsement deal with Fender musical instruments. Steve Vai signed Hilland to his Favored Nations label after hearing his demo. Hiland’s first album of original guitar instrumentals, Johnny Hiland, was released in 2004. Meanwhile, Hiland had become a busy session musician in Nashville, recording with the likes of Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis and Janie Fricke.

Hiland played a Fender Telecaster until the mid-Noughties, when he switched to Paul Reed Smith guitars. PRS made a Johnny Hiland signature model. In 2010 Hiland joined the Ernie Ball/Music Man company as an endorsee. Hiland prefers the Music Man Silhouette guitar.

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