Here's why Amy Winehouse believed that there are advantages to being a self-taught guitarist: “If you learn how to play guitar off someone, you just kind of learn to play it like them, you know what I mean?”

Although she’s most fondly remembered as a remarkable singer, Amy WInehouse - who would have turned 40 today - also had a very distinctive guitar style. And that, it turns out, was something she attributed to the fact that she was self-taught.

Back in 2004, Winehouse was busy promoting her jazz-heavy debut album Frank, released in 2003, and would take to the stage playing her red Fender Stratocaster. This led to an invitation to perform at the Miller Strat Pack concert at Wembley Arena in September of that year, an event organised to celebrate 50 years of the iconic guitar. 

During a backstage interview, Winehouse expressed her belief that there are advantages to being self-taught as opposed to learning from someone else.

“It’s so easy to teach yourself if you have, you know, love for guitar,” she believed. “People say to me all the time, ‘how come you taught yourself’, you know - and there's things people can always show you - but the truth is, if you learn how to play guitar off someone, you just kind of learn to play it like them, you know what I mean? And that's why I can say that, while I'm not even probably an adequate guitarist, I'm still always a distinctive guitarist, you know. I sound different.”

Of course, this was in the days before YouTube guitar teaching became a thing; these days, it’s even easier to get started.

By the time Winehouse returned in 2006 with Back to Black, her all-conquering second album, she was rarely spotted playing guitar on stage, but in the early part of her career, it gave her real confidence.

“When you have a guitar, it is not so much, ‘Yeah, I look good.’ It’s more that you feel power,“ she explained. “It must be akin to having a dick, because I have never had a dick - obviously - it must be like that. When I go onstage with a guitar, no one can touch me. Not in an I’m-so-good way, just that I feel like it is all my strength. When I have a guitar onstage I feel strong.” 

‘Big Guitar Energy’, you might say, but Winehouse was seemingly comfortable with the fact that she would never achieve virtuoso status. “If you're a musician, you go one of two ways,” she believed. “You either completely devote yourself to your musicianship or you don't, and that's literally it.”

The star went on to say that “I wish I could be that kind of person,” suggesting that she didn’t think she was, but she did have some instrumental aspirations: “I need to express myself fully through a guitar and I will be able to do that, please God, in 10 years.”

Due to Winehouse’s tragic death in 2011, we never got to see how her guitar playing might have developed, but we do at least have some stunning performances to remember her by. Take that 2004 Strat celebration, for example, at which she gave a stunning solo rendition of Take The Box. What a talent.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.