Is Nuno Bettencourt one of the top three guitar players in the world? Prince thought so

Nuno Bettencourt revealed that Prince said he was one of the top three guitarists in the world
(Image credit: Scott Legato/Getty Images; Kevin Kane/WireImage)

Nuno Bettencourt has recalled one of the most nerve-wracking playing experiences of his life when he played guitar for an audience that featured Prince in the front row – and how it was all worth it when the late pop icon paid him the ultimate compliment.

The Extreme guitarist was playing at an all-star tribute concert to Earth, Wind & Fire. Steve Lukather was there among a number of hot-shot guitar players and “a bunch of sick musicians” and when Bettencourt’s name was introduced, he walked onstage only to see Prince walking down the aisle to take his seat at the front. 

Speaking to SiriusXM, Bettencourt says he was doing Higher Ground (presumably Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground). The sight of Prince sent him to pieces. “I’m like, ‘Fucking great! This is just great. Prince has probably never seen me play before, now I am going to be doing this,’” says Bettencourt. 

Sitting beside Prince was a producer friend of Bettencourt’s and Nikka Costa, who just so happened to be coming to Bettencourt’s house the following day because their kids all had a play date.

“So, all of a sudden, he’s sitting next to one of my best mates, and Nikka, who is at my house tomorrow,” he continues. “I start playing and I can’t help with sweating that Prince is in the front row, and I am trying my best to be as cool as fuck to have him like me, and then all of a sudden he does this – he leans over and he [whispers], he leans over to Nikka and he says something, and he goes back. Like, ‘Oh my God! He just told her how much I suck. He told her I am not playing it right. He told her whatever.’

Sure enough, Bettencourt comes home the following day and Costa is there, and it is a moment. 

“I walk by and I’m like, ‘What?’ ‘You don’t want to know what Prince said to me?’ ‘No, I don’t,’” says Bettencourt. I went in the kitchen and I walked away, and I come back 30 seconds later [laughs] like, ‘All right! What did he say!? What did he say!?’ She said, ‘Well, are you sure you want to know?’ ‘All right, fuck this!’ And she said, ‘He said, Right there, that’s one of the top three guitar players in the world.’”

Ever since Extreme shared the video to Rise, the debut single from their first studio album in 15 years, Six, Bettencourt has been getting all kinds of compliments. That Rise solo blew the minds of not only the guitar playing public but his peers, too. Rick Beato broke down Bettencourt's Rise solo in a video and was left astonished by the technique, the composition, the performance. We all were.

Not many would disagree with Prince’s assessment; top three guitar players? In rock, he has a strong case. Who in the world right can get more out of the electric guitar?

Speaking to MusicRadar, Bettencourt admitted that the death of Eddie Van Halen had given him a sense of “responsibility and fire” to light it up on 6. 

“There are a lot of great guitar players but not so much that we are in a band and write songs, and play the solo within a song, and got creative within the tone of a song, and I almost felt this responsibility to fucking carry that torch,” he said. “I want to make it fun, and I want to make it fun with the guitar.”

Extreme will release Six on 9 June through earMusic. The full interview with Nuno Bettencourt, in which he confesses to being a frustrated drummer, talks tone, and why rock songs are all just nursery rhymes for adults is coming soon to MusicRadar. 

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.