Famous guitarists who got started late(r) in life?

Does anyone know of any notable guitarists who didn’t pickup a guitar until they were an adult?

I’m not deluded enough to think I’m the next EVH, but knowing that he was classically trained pianist before becoming damn good guitarist by age 14 is a bit disenheartening. As is the fact that I outlived Hendrix before I even first touched a guitar. :frowning:

I have zero musical experience and it’s slow going, but I’m dedicated.

Don’t know for sure, but I can tell you what a friend of mine was told by his guitar teacher. The guy in question is my bass player’s brother. The bass player and I played in bands from when we were kids. The brother decided to learn guitar when he was in his thirties–mid-thirties, I think. Never played anything before.

Anyway, his teacher told him the best he could make him was competent, but he’d never be a strong guitarist, a real player. The teacher’s theory is that you become hard-wired by a certain age, and your mental wiring fights you to learn things like musical instruments. You’re already wired to not know how to play. According to the teacher, a kid is easier. Not every kid will be a good musician, but all kids are blank programs, susceptible to influence and instruction.

Have no idea if this holds water, but it seems intriguing. My bass player is a terrific musician, and a fine singer. That was our forte–we had strong harmonies in our band, and everybody could play. Same guy’s brother can strum a few chords (at this point anyway) and not much more.

Oh, I should add, I’d keep playing if I were you. Only one way to find out for sure.

I don’t know about guitars, but I believe Bruce Hornsby didn’t start playing piano until he was 19 or 20.

I’m not sure the problem is as much age as it is focus. When you’re 14 and living in the basement, you can devote hours a day to playing your guitar or piano. Most of us as adults have trouble finding an hour here or there, and we generally don’t have that laser-like focus on things that interest us that can keep us trying over and over again for 8 hours straight, 7 days a week.

Another big factor is playing with someone else. I’ve always found that my skills improved much, much faster if I actually had some guys to play with. So those garage band kids are in a rapid learning environment.

Another factor is competition and exhibition. Most kids that study music are forced to perform publically at least two or three times a year, even if it’s just the summer concert for parents of all the students. That really focuses them and gives them something concrete to work for. As adults, we have no pressure on us to get better, and so often we don’t.

Since this is really about the Arts, let’s put it in Cafe Society.


Jazz legend Tal Farlow didn’t take up guitar until the age of 21 (he did, however play ukelele as a kid). He also earned his living as a signwriter.

I agree with Sam Stone abput focus. I teach guitar to a lot of adults and the main problem I have is that most of them will not practice. Every lesson they come to me and say “I didn’t really have time to practice this week”, and then they wonder why they are not getting better. Personally I cannot believe they can’t find 20 minutes a day to do some practice. If you have the motivation you will find the time. I also agree that playing with others is extremely important. If all you do is sit at home playing along to records, all you end up being able to do is sit at home playing along to records. Learn to play basic blues, find a jam near you and join in. And keep things simple. There are a number of blues players who started playing in their early twenties and while they typically don’t have the technical skill of those who started much younger they often phrase better and play more interesting lines, as they don’t rely on playing fast.

Wes Montgomery picked up a guitar at nineteen, and started playing along with Charlie Christian records. Although nineteen is not exactly adulthood, he wired an interesting approach to the guitar. People would probably argue that one of his greatest strengths was that he failed to learn correct technique at a young age.

I recently read Why Michael Couldn’t Hit by Harold L. Klawans. It is about the neurology of sports and begins by explaining pretty much what Stratocaster was told by his buddy’s teacher.

During our formative years there are periods, during which we can “hard wire” our brains for certain activities and if we miss the right time we can’t compensate later. Thus no matter how skilled a sportsman Michael Jordan is/was he had not learned to hit a fastball at the age that fastball hitters learn to hit. He likewise mentioned people who don’t learn to speak by puberty - although they can learn to understand language and express themselves they never learn to do so verbally.

In terms of great musical virtuosity he said that the common thread is that all vrituosoes start very young.

I have a friend who didn’t really seriously play guitar until age 24. Jeez, I was there to hear his first picking, twasn’t anything amazing… Yet, he’s now is known as a really great guitarist, and his band is very successful, with a good fan base, and many now mimic style bands, and commercial mimics , even, to use his style. So, just work at it, and learn it, and keep going. Forget anyone’s constrictions.

IIRC from Guitar Player magazine interviews, Eric Clapton first picked up a guitar at 17, and Frank Zappa at 19.

Mississippi Delta guitar great Charlie Patton is supposed to have started playing at around 17 or 18. Another seminal Delta figure, Son House, was supposed to have started playing guitar in his mid 20s, but this may be incorrect (he may have moved forward his birth date to get a job as a porter when he was older).

You don’t have the option of starting earlier, so don’t worry about it. The chance that you’ll become a famous guitar player is 0* no matter when you start, so don’t worry about it.

On the other hand, playing the guitar gives a lot of personal satisfaction to a lot of people. If you find it satisfying–just keep playing! You’ll get good enough that you can continue to enjoy it.

IM never very HO, of course!

  • Or so close to 0 that it doesn’t matter