John Frusciante Remembers a Teacher Telling Him He’s ’Not a Good Guitar Player’ Because He Couldn’t Play Fast

While recently appearing on This Little Light podcast hosted by his bandmate Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante recalled receiving a negative remark about his playing from a guitar teacher. Of course, Frusciante didn’t name any names and it doesn’t really matter since he didn’t come back for more lessons. However, since he was young at the time, only 16 years old, it affected his confidence and musicianship.

Recalling the lesson, Frusciante said how he presented the teacher with some of his home recordings, inspired by King Crimson, and added (transcript via Guitar World):

“I was playing in the way that I should have been. I was on the right path.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Live in Syracuse 2023-04-14 - Unlimited Love World Tour 2023 *FULL SHOW 4K*

“This guy, he said, ‘Let me see you play a blue scale as fast as you can.’ And I played a blue scale as fast as I could, and he’s like, ‘That’s not fast. You’re not a good guitarist.’”

“He said, ‘You know that noise you’re making on your recording is OK, but if you can’t play a fast blue scale, you can’t go around telling people you’re a good guitarist.”

Frusciante then added:

“I never went to this guy again. The feeling of being told that I wasn’t a good guitar player was about the worst feeling I could imagine, and I was just gonna make sure that no one was going to say that to me again.”

John Frusciante 2023 - 60 minutes

Recalling the lesson, John said that the teacher in question presented Tommy Bolin’s and Steve Vai’s music as an example of “good” guitar playing. He then explained:

“Vai’s guitar playing] became my benchmark. I’d already started to get into some of Frank Zappa’s music, but I knew that Steve Vai had been in Frank Zappa’s band playing guitar.

“It was around that time Frank Zappa and Steve Vai just became my favorite thing. I think I’m about 16 by this point. And I just started learning every complicated Frank Zappa piece of instrumental music that he’d written.”

Alcatrazz (w/ Steve Vai) -- Power Live (Tokyo, 1985)

And, to the said teacher, there was only one path to being a good guitar player and that was the “flashy” approach. John explained:

“I told him [the teacher], ‘I can’t figure out whether to be a textural guitarist or a flashy guitarist.’ He said, ‘Of course flashy guitar player, because flashy guitar players can do whatever they want, but the textural guitar player can’t do what a flashy guitar player does.’

However, Frusciante respected the teacher’s stance but still thought there was much more to the instrument than such a one-dimensional approach:

“And that was his logic – I suppose on some level I saw the logic of what he was saying, but at the same time, I saw that different people have different things to say.”

John Frusciante Solo

And speaking of Steve Vai, a musician that this teacher thought was a good example of guitar playing, Frusciante recalled how the legendary virtuoso praised guitar players who aren’t thought of as technical:

“I saw somebody ask Steve Vai recently: what did he think of Kurt Cobain’s guitar playing, and it was a great answer. He said, ‘Kurt Cobain knew exactly enough to be able to say what he wanted to say.’”

“One person has ‘this’ to say, and another person has ‘that’ to say. For Al Di Meola to say what he had to say, he had to be able to pick every note really fast. But for Robert Johnson to say what he had to say, it had nothing in common with that kind of technique at all.

17 year old John Frusciante and his band IKE live at Missing Persons, Sam Fernando valley, 1987

“I knew that what mattered was that you were feeling something and saying something. And so while I always was interested to hear different people’s perspectives, I did always know that that had to be the center.”

And, the best part — Frusciante eventually told this story to Steve Vai:

“I actually told Steve Vai that story about five years or so ago, and he made me feel so good about it. He told me a story about a music teacher that he had who fucked up his brain for a while. Oh man, I can’t tell you how good it was to have Steve Vai sympathize with my position in that.”

John Frusciante's First show w/ the Red Hot Chili Peppers (1988)

Late last year in an interview, John Frusciante also reflected on his return to the lineup. Right at the end of 2019, the band announced that they were bringing back Frusciante and that they were firing Josh Klinghoffer. Asked what it’s like to play with RHCP again, he replied:

“It’s a real different experience, just because of the size of the stadiums. It pulls a lot out of you, especially because I came back into the band in a spirit of giving. I really wanted to play for people, you know? But when we made the records, it was more about playing for the other guys in the band, or playing something that I’d want to play for my friends.“

“But going out onstage, there’s times where I go up to the mic to sing and I make eye contact with people, and I see two people that are clearly in love and really happy to be there, or a little kid who’s really happy, or a young girl who’s jumping up and down, or a group of guys that are jumping around in a circle because they’re so happy that we played the particular song that they really like.“

What Brought John Frusciante Back to the Red Hot Chili Peppers

“Sometimes those moments, I start crying. Or I get choked up and I can’t sing and I have to shut my eyes and stare down at the ground and collect myself.”

“There’s a lot of emotional moments like that. And I don’t know that in the band we’ve ever been so appreciative of being there with each other before. Because we have this lifetime behind us of these meaningful moments playing together. It’s very important to us. We all feel very supported by each other.“

Photo: Hel Davies (John Frusciante (52182837863))

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.