The Greatest Guitarist You’ve Never Heard Of

Photo: Dagmar Gebers

In Europe, Hans Reichel is revered as an innovator and guitarist on par with folks like Derek Bailey and John Fahey. He invented his own unique language on the instrument – but he didn’t stop there. He radically modified and created wild new hybrid guitars that produced sounds like the koto, organ, harpsichord, chimes, and even electronics. All of this in the service of extending the expressive possibilities of his music.

We’re slightly embarrassed to admit that we’re relative newcomers to Hans Reichel ourselves. He’s virtually unknown in the U.S. and we’re guessing many of you aren’t overly familiar with him either. When he recently passed away, it was hard to find more than one obit for him across the entire English speaking internet!

Given his lofty European reputation, we were half-expecting his music to be more cerebral, conceptual, and arid. But that’s not the case. It’s playful and pleasurable, sinuous and sizzling, brimming with gob-smackingly weird and wonderful textures that are harnessed through his lucid and succinct compositions. If you’re a fan of  six-string slingers such as Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, Bill Orcutt, and Sir Richard Bishop — chances are you’re going to flip for Hans Reichel.

One reason for Reichel’s incognito profile is that his best music has been unavailable for decades. We couldn’t be prouder to help correct that problem and offer digital reissues of his most essential FMP albums  – Wichlinghauser Blues, Bonobo, Shanghaied on Tor Road, and the two-fer The Death of Rare Bird Ymir & Bonobo Beach.

But ultimately, we’ve put this post together for the same reason we do all our posts. We heard this music, it knocked us sideways and made us say, “Holy shit! Other people have got to check this out, too!”

So we hope you’ll check it out, pick up one of the albums, and spend some time immersing yourself in the wild and wooly world of the greatest guitar player you never heard of.

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Some things critics have said about these Reichel albums over the years: 

“In Hans Reichel’s post-guitar universe, melodic invention, harmonic construction, and modal exploration are merely elements for composition. A brilliant elucidation of the ideas of the most soulful cat in the entire avant-garde: listen, and be delighted.” — All Music Guide

Shangaied on Tor Road is a crowning achievement for the German guitarist, luthier, improviser: stylistically varied, sonically outrageous. Melodies range from solemn to funny with everything in between, sometimes conveying a mysterious sense of beauty.”Rubberneck

The Death of the Rare Bird Ymir and Bonobo Beach qualify as avant-garde in the truest sense of the term, but they are also just about as delightful and user-friendly as avant-garde music can get.” — All Music Guide; 4 stars

“Listening to Ymir again reveals a player with a headful of ideas requiring radical means to realize them. Drawing on traditional forms and expanding them into ‘free’ areas, Reichel created some astonishing sounds on his acoustic guitars – microtonal harmonics, a plangent hammered dulcimer style, and a koto-like aridity…. Bonobo Beach from 1981 is more mellow in mood, more structured and melodic than with Reichel’s Ymir picking, sweet string-bending and bell-like harmonics sounding uncannily like Henry Kaiser duetting with himself.” — The Wire

Wichlinghauser Blues  is a fine example of how to pursue a strongly tradition-bound music like the blues with a completely unconventional means. Hans Reichel opens up the guitar to new areas with an innovative spirit, enthusiasm and a non-jazz musicality.” -Jazz Podium

Bonobo is a fascinating solo album. The sound Reichel creates is like a combination of acoustic and electric guitars, organ, harpsichord and chimes, and includes the effects of string noise and overtones common to the electric guitar. We are lucky to have someone of Reichel’s imagination and ability to pioneer the art.” -Coda Magazine

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