December 31st. New Year’s Eve. Night of amateur drinkers trying to keep us with slores.

But it’s also the birthday of the best guitarist you might never have heard of.

Michael Hedges tragically died all too young at the age of 43 in a car accident, after which he posthumously won the Grammy for Best New Age Album (who knew there was such an award?).

He was perhaps best known for his use of a harp guitar, which is a standard guitar with an extra set of bass strings, resembling an alien acoustic version of Jimmy Page’s famous double-neck Gibson.

Hedges rarely used a standard tuning, and he employed exotic techniques, including extensive use of slap harmonics, right-hand tapping (think Eddie Van Halen) and percussive beats on the body of the guitar itself.

Building on the work of Les Paul, among others, Michael also used loop recordings and played over them, essentially accompanying himself, paving the way for others such as Keller Williams (the musician, not the real estate brokerage):

As well as his own impressive compositions – he studied music and composition at Phillips University in Oklahoma and the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore – the guitarist included an eclectic collection of covers in concert, including Madonna. Here’s one of my favorites, recorded at his alma mater:

Hedges also had a deadpan sense of humor. In one concert, he referred haltingly to the “N…F…L strike? I guess that’s some radical, leftist group.”

Happy birthday, Michael.