Hunter Hallberg was only 13 years-old when he reached the live finals of our Young Guitarist Of The Year competition in September 2018. The maturity of his playing was astonishing enough, but what really set Hunter apart was the way he channeled it into his own instrumental composition, Jewel.
That track appeared on his debut solo E,P Future Of The Past, that same year, and his new single Drive shows have how he's come as a player since then. But the unexpected lockdown he has found himself in has presented opportunities to develop further still.
"I’ve been working on expanding my guitar style, working on stuff that I wouldn’t have necessarily done if I hadn’t had all of this extra time," Hunter tells us from his home in Denver, Colorado. "I’m exploring other genres and trying to find my own unique sound."
Some of his contemporary influences include players that should be familiar to anyone into the world of progressive instrumental guitar music.
"I would say that my last two singles are more in the Aaron Marshall Intervals / Plini zone than in the shred metal zone that I started with, having said that I still love the shred!"
That's good to hear, and it's interesting to see Hunter's instrumental choices have also changed too…
"I went to NAMM a few months after winning the competition and I played all of the top tier guitars," he explains, "and I kept coming back to the Aristides booth, they just play so well, and are unlike any other guitars on the market.
"They are also some of the coolest people in the industry, they have been very supportive of my career, and I really appreciate them.
"My main guitar is my 060 in Blue Satin Marble, and I have other 6- and 7-string guitars, both multiscale and standard scale, but that’s my main axe.
"For those that don’t know about Aristides Guitars, they are not made of wood, they are made with an outer shell of glass and carbon fiber then filled with a hard foam material called Arium, the most resonant material in the world!
"The fit and finish is second to none, since the guitars are not wood, they provide out of this world paint jobs for their custom shop customers, check them out!"
Like many contemporary guitarists, Hunter uses his Instagram channel to showcase his playing and musical ideas. And the idea for new single Drive actually came out of one clip on there…
"It started with a riff that I posted on Instagram, and then made an entire song [based] on it," recalls Hunter. "The point was to release a song that is very positive and uplifting, I had no idea that the worldwide pandemic would occur right before its release, but the track has gotten great feedback for its high energy upbeat feel."
Drive was engineered by Brandon Morris from Watchtower Studios in Denver and mixed and mastered by Simon Grove from Nerve Studios. So is this the first step towards a whole album?
"I’m not sure if I’m going to do another EP, or an LP, anytime soon," admits Hunter. "I like putting out singles, and the way the music business works these days, it’s good to always be putting out new stuff vs every year or two. Eventually, I’ll put out a full-fledged LP."
While we eagerly await Hunter's next musical statement, we asked him to guide us through the guitar influences that have inspired him so far. And he didn't dissapoint with ten superb choices.
"There are way more than 10 guitarists that have blew my mind," he says, "but if I have to pick just 10 I’ll go with ones that have really influenced me personally, since I’m only 15 years old, and still have a lot of great guitar players to discover.
"The cool thing is I’ve got to meet almost all of the amazing players on this list, the ones I haven’t met yet, hopefully someday soon!"
1. John Petrucci
"So, my Mom took me and my brother to Guitar Center back in 2014 to play some guitars and we realised there was a line for something, and then we end up finding that JP was having a huge clinic, we decided to stay for it, and it changed what I though was possible on the guitar, it sounded like nothing I had ever heard at the time.
"I was mesmerized with what John could do with it, like this is possible? Then I spent two summers at his Guitar Universe Camp, and it changed my life, lots of other guitarists on this list were guest instructors at John’s camp, when you get to meet and hang out, and even jam with your heroes it’s a dream come true.
"Me and my Dad had the best time at his weeklong camps, and we’ve since seen him out on tour with Dream Theater. JP will always be my favorite guitarist, Period."
2. Eddie Van Halen
"One of my first School Of Rock Denver performances was Van Halen, I got to study five songs and perform them. I really got to appreciate Eddie and the more I learned, the more I liked it.
"EVH sounds like EVH – he could pick up anyone’s rig and it would still sound like EVH. What he did back in the late '70s was bring guitar playing to a whole new level, lots of other guitarists on this list (or any other) would list Eddie as one of their top players, and that for good reason. He is the definition of a mind-blowing guitarist."
3. Aaron Marshall (Intervals)
"When I first heard Intervals I was blown away. Again, nothing sounds quite like intervals, a very unique style that blends jazz, prog, and heavier stuff seamlessly into an upbeat and fun groove.
"I love to learn his riffs, and his phrasing is so sick! I think he writes really well composed songs, and he and the rest of Intervals are amazing to see live, He’s also a super cool guy, very humble and a good role model for other guitar players to follow."
4. Andy James
"Andy James is unbelievably clean and fast without over-shredding. He has the perfect blend of melody and shred, he writes pure fire for guitarists. His stuff is not easy to play well, you have to sit down for a while to get close to some of his riffs.
"I got the chance to play with Andy at JP’s Guitar Camp, and it was awesome, he is a super cool guy, lots of fun, I’ve got to see him a perform several times and he always brings it.
"He recently filled in for Jason Hook of Five Finger Death Punch on a European tour and he brought a different dimension to those shows, it was great to see him on a bigger stage, because he deserves a bigger platform, more people need to know about AJ!"
5. Jason Richardson (solo, All That Remains)
"I’m pretty sure Jason Richardson is a cyborg; he is squeaky clean and mind-blowingly fast all at once. I love the way he writes his music, its like he is a movie soundtrack composer, not just a guitar player.
"His music is so unique, complex and hard hitting. You can tell that he so well practiced, he writes stuff that is so technical it’s hard for even him to play live, so the fact that he challenges himself so much, I really respect that for sure.
"I’ve seen him play live several times, and the look on everyone’s face kind of says it all, just amazing."
6. Eric Johnson
I grew up to Eric Johnson’s music playing in my house. My Mom and Dad’s “Song” is Desert Rose, and when I first heard Cliffs of Dover, I was very impressed. His tone and fluidity of playing is so next level.
"I got to see him in concert, and I was blown away with how even with lower gain dialed in he could still sound so big. I love the single-coil big reverb sound he is known for, he is another amazing song writer with a style of his own. Again, no one sounds like Eric does."
"Plini is an innovative, creative, new category kind of Guitar Player, his songs are huge compositions with a lot of different things going on, very intricate, technical, but very high on the feels.
"I could listen to Plini all day, and sometimes I do. If you have not been to a Plini show, you’ll need to get to one to see what I’m talking about, just mind-blowing stuff. Not just from him, but his entire band is top-notch, they put on quite a show.
8. Steve Vai
"When you listen to Steve Vai’s For The Love Of God or any other of his huge, epic songs that are simply otherworldly, you know you are in for an experience, so much more than just songs.
"There's so much emotion, and feeling along with tones that only Vai can conjure. I saw Steve at is Generation Axe Tour with fellow shred gods Yngwie Malmsteen, Zakk Wylde, Nuno Bettencourt, and Tosin Abasi, that was a show to remember!
"Meeting Steve after the show was great, he said that someday I’ll open for him when he comes to town, now that would be an honor."
9. Synyster Gates (Avenged Sevenfold)
Synyster Gates is the epitome of a lead guitarist. When I was like seven years old Avenged Sevenfold was playing in the background, and those solos with Zacky in harmony were the sweetest sounds imaginable, I’m so glad my household listened to hard rock/metal rather than top 40 .
"When I first heard Afterlife I was floored by the production level of the dual guitars and overall theatrical and technical level of performance by the entire band, with the makeup and stage names they are the Kiss of my generation."
Tosin Abasi (Animals As Leaders)
"The first time I heard Animals as Leaders I was blown away, I had never heard anything like that before, the complexity and groove of their music is unbelievable.
"Tosin’s super unique and highly technical take on the guitar is so sick, I’ve seen him play several times, and every time I hear something new – the music is so intricate and diverse.
"Like EVH, Tosin has developed entirely new guitar techniques, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with in the future."