The talented, flamboyant lead guitarist was always one of rock's most cherished roles, but it wasn't until the late '80s that the Guitar Virtuoso reigned supreme in mainstream rock. During the '60s such guitarists as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and Jimi Hendrix had engendered serious hero worship because of their immense instrumental gifts. All four players laid the groundwork for the age of the guitar virtuoso, which began in the late '70s with Eddie Van Halen. A fanatical devotee of Clapton, Van Halen relentlessly practiced his instrument, developing a lightning-fast, technically accomplished style that was almost entirely devoid of the blues. There had been a few guitarists immediately before him, including Steve Howe and Allan Holdsworth, that had similar styles, but were less rock-oriented. Eddie Van Halen, however, was a heavy rocker and he immediately spawned legions of imitators -- and these imitators weren't only in metal, but also in mainstream pop. Throughout the '80s, these flashy guitarists dominated mainstream rock and pop, and soon there was an entire subgenre of hard rock that was dedicated to showcase the instrumental acumen of these guitarists. Of course, each metal or hard rock band, from Metallica to Whitesnake, each had a phenomenal guitarist, but soon solo guitar albums became popular. These guitar virtuosos -- often dubbed "shredders" by the guitar magazines -- became cult favorites and, in the case of Joe Satriani, they also crossed into the mainstream. By the end of the '80s, the guitar virtuosos had ruled mainstream rock & roll for over a decade, so it wasn't a surprise that they were unseated almost overnight when Nirvana brought primitive punk rock into the Top Ten in 1991. The guitar virtuosos didn't disappear, but they did fade away. They kept recording throughout the '90s, but at a considerably diminished profile.