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Top Session Guitarists: Who They Are and What The Gear They Use

It’s not a walk in the park for musicians to have their work heard by millions. It requires a lot of trial and error and hard work; hardly any fame comes by accident. As our post “How To Pitch Music Or Event Coverage To Journalists” mentions, musicians will often have to make an effort to get their music out there. It’s usually a tricky endeavor and even more challenging for instrumentalists like guitarists. However, some of today’s most prominent guitar figures are known for playing for and alongside the industry stars, launching their own popularity. Session guitarists often play behind the scenes, but their work is integral to the greatest hits of all time. Here are some of the top session guitarists and how they got their sounds:

Michael Landau

Michael Landau has been doing session work since the 1980s, allowing him to play with notable names in the industry, such as James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Pink Floyd. Landau uses Black Cat pedals, which are one of the most recognized brands of premium boutique guitar effects. The Stereo Black Cat Vibe gives his playing a whirling, glassy sound, providing him with a unique musical texture. His well-known work and association with the Fender Stratocaster also allowed him to have two signature models to his name: the Michael Landau Signature 1963 Relic Stratocaster and the Michael Landau Signature 1968 Relic Stratocaster. He has a signature guitar with Suhr Guitars called the ML as well.


Australian guitarist Orianthi was already a notable guitarist in her teens, gaining recognition from legends like Steve Vai and Sanatana. In 2009, she had a breakthrough after playing for Carrie Underwood during the 51st Grammy Awards; her newfound fame led her to pass the audition for Michael Jackson’s “This Is It" concerts. Later on, she became Alice Cooper’s touring guitarist. She was often seen using a PRS Custom 24 Goldtop for performances, has her own PRS SE Orianthi Signature Electric Guitar, and the brand is also potentially preparing to release an SE version of her Signature Private Stock Model in 2023. TC Electronic pedals are significant features of her rig, using models like the Vortex Flanger for psychedelic sounds and the Corona Chorus for expansive tonal options.

Joe Messina

If you’ve ever listened to a Motown record, chances are you’re hearing the work of Joe Messina, a guitarist of the in-house studio band, the Funk Brothers. He’s worked on tracks for almost every act in the company, including Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye. Though he gained much recognition from Motown, he was already a prolific jazz guitarist in the 50s and 60s, known for his adaptability and skill in sight reading. His guitar of choice was a Fender Telecaster, a rather unusual pick for a jazz guitarist. Still, it allowed him to stand out from fellow Motown guitarists and establish his signature sound.

David Williams

As the RnB genre shifted to more of a pop sound in the 80s, the most prominent names of the era sought out the work of David Williams. He’s mostly known for his work with Michale Jackson, playing on his most prominent albums such as Thriller and Bad, some of the most influential records of all time. He’s also worked with Madonna, Whitney Houston, and Chaka Khan. His crisp tone, integral to his funk sound, was made possible with his Ibanez BL1025 and a Dunlop wah pedal.

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by Riley Jada

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