Lee Ritenour is one of the jazz world’s best-known contemporary guitarists. He’s played as a guest with Maynard Ferguson, the Brothers Johnson and many others. He was a founding member of the contemporary/smooth jazz group, Fourplay. And he’s led his own band, with perhaps is most successful song being the R&B hit, “Is It You.”

Ritenour’s latest studio effort, Lee Ritenour’s 6 String Theory, released on Concord Records, is a star-studded collection of 15 songs that celebrate the world’s most popular instrument: the guitar. Three of the songs were written specifically for 6 String Theory.

Among them is “L.P. (for Les Paul).” “I wrote it with dedication to Les Paul,” Ritenour says. “But I wanted to do what would be my take on a Les Paul line, but at the same time could be a nice take for Pat (Martino).” Some of the guests on this outing are John Scofield, Keb’ Mo’, Slash from Guns ’n Roses and George Benson. Ritenour selected them to represent different genres of music. Not all of the performers are stars. Shon Bublil, a 16-year-old from Canada, won an international competition to earn a spot on the recording. The finals of the competition were held in March, shortly before 6 String Theory  was recorded.

“He only knew he’d be on the record the night before he recorded,” Ritenour says of Bublil. “Hundreds of people entered.” The competition was open for about six months. When told that he’d be in the studio, Bublil initially objected. “He was so shocked to win, that I said to him while we were taking photos back stage, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow at my studio,’” “And he said, ‘No, I can’t record I have to go back to Canada.’”

It was at that point that Bublil was informed of what the competition was all about. He closes out the session with “Caprices, Op. 20, No. 2 and 7,” playing solo guitar. Ritenour says competitions can be a way to help young musicians get started. “Well, obviously American Idol is the perfect example of that. As far as the level of young talent that’s out there on all instruments is phenomenal. And there’s not many vehicles for them to get exposure.”

Ritenour says that he hopes that if he can get young guitarists to stand up and play alongside greats, the young musicians can gain some exposure. He describes the process of selecting musicians as assembling a jigsaw puzzle.

“The easiest part was recording and doing the sessions once I got everybody assembled. The whole part, putting the contest together, selecting the guitarists, writing the material, selecting other materials, arrangements, timing, getting everyone in L.A. – it was a tremendous challenge.”

Among the first Ritenour reached out to were Benson, Scofield, B.B. King and Steve Lukather. “That core group pretty much said yes right from the start,” he says. “That gave me the power and energy to put it all together.”

Ritenour wanted to include Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton and Susan Tedeschi. He says Santana is putting together some pop and rock tunes, collaborating with other artists, so he declined to be part of 6 String Theory because of the similarity. Scheduling conflicts prevented Clapton and Tedeschi from participating.

On the songs with multiple guitarists, the usual formula is one will sing and play lead guitar for one verse, with another stepping up for the second. Joe Bonamassa and Robert Cray team up for a rock-oriented cover of Tracy Chapman’s folk ballad, “Give Me One Reason.”

“Joe kind of owned that tune,” Ritenour says. “I was really impressed with him. I told him, ‘I’d love for you to do the project.’ And he’s a fan of mine, so we stayed in touch – voice mail and e-mail. He wanted to do some slow, grind-it-out blues tune, but I knew I had some of that covered with Keb’ Mo’ and B.B. I wanted something a little more melodic and crosses over.”

One of Benson’s contributions is an up-tempo rendition of “Moon River.” “That was another guy that I’m friends with for decades and played on his records and was always a fan of his when I was growing up,” Ritenour says of Benson. “He’s a legendary, unbelievable guitarist. One thing that I really wanted him to do was go back and play some bebop on this record. I didn’t want contemporary jazz or vocals.”

Ritenour collaborated with Lukather for the rock ballad, “In Your Dreams.” He says he was a fan of Lukather’s band, Toto, having known members of the group earlier in life. “When I was coming up, I met Steve when he was about 17, and also when I was about 16, I used to play ‘casuals’ – parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs with David Paich and Jeff Porcaro. They were always amazing musicians. Steve is an amazing guitarist.”

Ritenour wanted to do an epic blues piece, so he selected “Why I Sing the Blues,” written in 1972 by King with Dave Clark. The original song had 11 verses. When Ritenour asked why there were so many, King’s answer involved a story about working late and drinking lots of wine.

“B.B. was such an inspiration,” Ritenour says. “He’s one of the main inspirations for the record.” The song features Keb’ Mo’, King, Vince Gill and Johnny Lang. Ritenour plays rhythm guitar. “I’ve known B.B. since the ’70s and played on a couple of his records early on. He’d invite guitarists to sit and jam.”

Ritenour said recently jammed with King, Benson and Tedeschi in Montreux, Switzerland. Despite his own success as a band leader, Ritenour said performing with these musicians is an honor.