I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Savor lead guitarist, Michael Caroff, to discuss a short list of my favorite guitarists. With an intense love of the instrument and curiosity about music in general, Caroff is somewhat of an aficionado when it comes to in-depth knowledge of the all-time greats.
He fell in love with the guitar at 9 years old and put together his first band in his early teens. Prior to founding Savor nearly two decades ago, and writing/co-producing all the original songs on the album Moviendote, Caroff has performed live and composed music in a number of different musical genres over the years. His extensive background and overall passion for guitar made him uniquely suited for this interview.
Eddie Van Halen
MC: Excellent number one choice! Eddie Van Halen had the top three qualities of an incredible musician: tremendous natural talent, a sharp ear for pitch, and the drive to produce memorable music.
JK: His solos are so melodic and smooth, and I know he formed Van Halen when he was still in his teens. How much formal training did he receive prior to that?
MC: When they were young, Van Halen’s mother insisted that he and his brother, Alex Van Halen, learn to play classical piano. Guitar was an instrument he picked up entirely on his own without ever receiving any lessons. You can hear the influence of his classical background in the way he plays, which is why he’s been dubbed “The Mozart of Rock Guitar.” Even when he’s playing back-up to vocals, you can hear little, harmonic concertos.
Eric Johnson and Joe Satriani
JK: Am I correct in thinking they belong in the same genre; fusion jazz with rock or pop overtones?
MC: I can see why you grouped them together. Both rose to fame due to instrumental records. Although they compose and play high-technique, guitar-driven music and both are very technically adept guitarists, there are significant differences in their styles.
Eric Johnson belongs in the same category as Eddie Van Halen from a pure musicianship standpoint. He has tremendous talent, flawless pitch, and an extremely unique guitar sound. His compositions include open pentatonic scales (five note scales, played across multiple strings), and his style is different from any you’ve heard before. It’s bright and airy — uplifting.
In 1990, his album A Via Musicom went platinum, and included a single, “Cliffs of Dover,” that accomplished a rare crossover event, landing at #5 on the Top 40 Chart.
Joe Satriani is also very musically talented and most well-known for his instrumental album Surfing with the Alien. He has a heavier sound and feel to his music; I’d classify his guitar style as closer to metal than Johnson’s. Rather than the pure sound that Johnson favors, Satriani focuses more on interesting effects.
MC: I love the Scorpions! Jab’s guitar clips are easy to listen to and enjoyable, but they’re not basic. They’re different from anything you’ve heard before, and he has a great talent for fitting the solos and back-up licks smoothly into the songs. The guitar parts work so well that they have the memorability of melody or lyrics.
For the average person, songs come on the radio or streaming app, and you get a feeling about whether or not you like it and want to hear it again. Caroff’s expansive knowledge of music theory in combination with being an accomplished guitarist himself helps you to understand why each of these musicians have found wide appeal across the listening audience.