Personalities | Paul Gilbert | Racer X’s Mr Big | Guitar Heroes

Too often, the music created by so-called ‘shred’ guitarists comes across as too cerebral and serious to elicit enjoyment from any but the most die-hard shred fan. Fortunately for all other fans of instrumental guitar, Paul Gilbert (b. 1966) prefers to dish out his hungry-man portions of notes with humour and irreverence matched only by his technical ferocity.

Gilbert first picked up the guitar at the age of five, but did not fully understand music until he was nine. In 1982, he sent a tape of his band Missing Lynx to Shrapnel Records’ head Mike Varney, who, upon hearing it put Gilbert into his Spotlight column in Guitar Player magazine (Yngwie Malmsteen also appeared in that issue’s column). In 1984, Gilbert moved to Hollywood, California, to attend the Guitar Institute of Technology, where he met the future members of Racer X. The band recorded their debut album, Street Lethal, in 1985, with such tracks as ‘Y.R.O.’ helping Gilbert quickly become one of the most talked-about guitarists on the scene. By the time they released their second album, Second Heat (1987), which featured the downright terrifying guitar instrumental ‘Scarified’, the band was selling out all the big clubs on the LA scene and Gilbert was being recognized as one of the most technically proficient guitarists of the 1980s.

Whereas Racer X was essentially one giant adrenaline rush, Gilbert’s next band, Mr. Big, offered him the opportunity to stretch his songwriting wings, and the band’s 1989 self-titled debut reached No. 46 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. But it was 1991’s Lean Into It, featuring the No. 1 acoustic ballad ‘To Be With You’, as well as ‘Just Take My Heart’ and ‘Green-Tinted 1960s Mind’, that brought Gilbert more widespread acclaim.

In 1997, Gilbert left Mr. Big to pursue a solo career. He has since released 10 studio albums, including the all-instrumental Get Out Of My Yard (2006). His signature-model Ibanez PGM guitars continue to be top-sellers, and his instructional videos, particularly Intense Rock I and Intense Rock II are generally considered in the guitar-playing community to be among the best ever produced. In 2009, Gilbert reunited with the original Mr. Big band members Eric Martin, Billy Sheehan and Pat Torpey for a reunion world tour. In 2010, Gilbert released an instrumental album, Fuzz Universe.

Essential Recordings

Racer X: Street Lethal

Racer X: Second Heat

Mr. Big: Lean Into It

Solo: Get Out Of My Yard

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