Some of my favorite guitar players are not what many would think of as tradtional guitar heros. They have all played in famous groups. But one of the things that distinguishes them from so many other great guitar players is what the don’t play rather than what they do. All three of them recognized what I like to call the white space in the music.
Andy Summers is well know as the guitarist of The Police. [ Perhaps not as well know was that he was also a member of Eric Burden in the Animals in one of their incarnations.] He played short reggae riffs and let the other instruments fill in some of the voids. He created tonal layers instead of trying to overwhelm the music with rapid fire insertion of notes to impress.
Johnny Marr was the lead guitarist of The Smiths. In some songs his notes were so sparse you wondered if he was playing. In my opinion a perfect example of this is in the song “Half a Person“. The entire song is made up of chords played in a slow appagio like format and then he would have the most unbelievable little hook that made the entire song.
One of thing most distinguishable sounds of U2 is the minimal guitar playing by the Edge. While he may overlay tracks of sound or heavy use of echo and time delay – the actual notes he plays are relatively minimal to the overall sounds that he produces.
Like great design sometimes it comes down to what you leave out rather then put in that makes something so special.