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Claus Boesser-Ferrari and I performing in Germany.
If you’re into fingerstyle guitar, you’re probably hip to the genre’s major “schools.” In North America, trailblazers like Chet Atkins, John Fahey, Stefan Grossman, Michael Hedges, Alex de Grassi, Don Ross, and Preston Reed are responsible for countless players trying to cop their styles. Then there’s the whole British Isles tradition, with players such as Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Davey Graham, and Martin Simpson. Stylistic differences between continents may not be so obvious among such newer players as Andy McKee, Jon Gomm, Thomas Leeb, Mike Dawes, and Antoine Dufour, yet there remains a core group of great and uniquely European players. They rarely visit the U.S., but YouTube and iTunes make it easy to investigate their music.
If there is such a thing as avant-garde fingerstyle, German guitarist Claus Boesser-Ferrari fits the bill. Though he started out as a folkie in the 1970s, today he’s more likely to share a stage or studio with “out” improvisers such as Mark Ribot or Fred Frith, or provide music for some of Germany’s most prestigious theater productions. Using percussive effects, angular chords and lines, and prepared guitar techniques, Boesser-Ferrari is a true sound painter. Check out his “Come Together” and “Light My Fire” medley.
France’s Bob Bonastre combines a contemporary fingerstyle approach with North African rhythms and sounds. Playing on nylon strings, Bonastre uses two-handed tapping, body percussion, and a keen melodic sense to create his signature sound. Check out his take on “Third Stone from the Sun” from his album Grace.
You can’t discuss European fingerstyle without including Germany’s Peter Finger. He’s more than a virtuoso player who writes incredibly deep tunes influenced by modern classical composers—he runs Acoustic Music Records (the label of all the other artists in this article), builds his own guitars, organizes the annual European version of International Guitar Night, publishes Akustik Gitarre magazine, runs a venue with a guitar shop, and produces videos. (And I’m still probably forgetting a few credits!) Check out “Getaway” from his album Between the Lines. If you’re not picking your jaw off the floor by the end, maybe no solo guitar performance will have that effect on you.
If you’re ready for a serious groove—whether applied to originals, Celtic tunes, jazz standards, or Italian traditionals—look no further than Italy’s Franco Morone. Morone plays with remarkable fluidity that makes everything look and sound effortless, no matter how complex the music. Check out his original “Walk on J.J. Cale’s Walk” for a prime example.
Although Jacques Stotzem has received some recognition in the U.S., he has accomplished something pretty unique among solo guitarists: His album Catch the Spirit—a collection of fingerstyle arrangements of pop and rock tunes—cracked the pop charts in his native Belgium, beating out international superstars for several weeks. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Stotzem’s playing is firmly rooted in the country-blues styles he learned from Stefan Grossman instruction books in the 1970s. He plays almost exclusively in standard tuning and uses no tapping or extended techniques. Stotzem just plays really good fingerpicking guitar. Check out his take on “Purple Haze.”
Hungarian Sándor Szabó is among the more free-spirited players around—a quality appreciated by frequent collaborators Kevin Kasting, Alex de Grassi, and Michael Manring. Playing 16-string, baritone, fretless nylon string, and standard steel-strings, Szabó fuses his Eastern European roots with a heavy Ralph Towner influence and an insatiable appetite for improvisation.
And There’s More!
I hope you’ve enjoyed checking out these guitarists. I can vouch for the fact that experiencing them live is even more stunning. If you find yourself hungry for more Euro fingerstyle mastery, search for players such as Ulli Bögershausen, Detlef Bunk, Pino Forastiere, Michel Haumont, and Tomasz Gaworek. And if you’re into bass, don’t miss Ralf Gauck, whose solo acoustic bass explorations are second to none.