On Tuesday, the start of a three-night fund-raiser at Tramps for the family of the late Washington guitarist Danny Gatton, there was a moment where the onstage guitar lineup included the legendary Les Paul and James Burton, along with second-generation virtuosos Albert Lee and Arlen Roth, cooperatively racing at breakneck speed through some classic jazz and blues tunes. "It got real intense there at one point," said Burton, best known as the guitarist for Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson. "Everybody was pouring out their hearts and I felt that Danny was there in the midst of all this. He was there." Gatton wasn't, unfortunately. The 49-year-old instrumental giant committed suicide at his Maryland farm on Oct. 4, for reasons apparently known only to himself. He left a widow, Jan, and a 14-year-old daughter, Holly Ann. Gatton's brother, Brent, was at Tramps all three nights, manning a table offering Danny Gatton albums and videos and accepting a steady flow of both condolences and appreciations. The stellar six-string salute, put together by club booker Steve Weitzman, was expected to raise as much as $25,000 and featured many of Gatton's key influences (Paul and Burton) and peers. Texas guitarist Jimmy Vaughan, who met Gatton only once, couldn't make it to New York, but contributed $5,000 to the trust fund for Holly Ann. In shows roiling with instrumental prowess and emotional commitment, styles crisscrossed easily and musicians sat in with new friends united in their appreciation of a true Telemaster. The results are likely to show up on both CD and video. Roth performed a set with Gatton's last band -- bassist John Previti, drummer Shannon Ford and keyboard-saxophone player Bill Holloman. He started with an impassioned solo slide rendition of "Danny Boy" before offering searing treatments of "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "When a Man Loves a Woman." Roth, a friend of Gatton's for the past five years, said later that "from the moment I met Danny, I loved him as a person. He used to throw me {session} work here in New York for eight years before I met him. Toyota or Kentucky Fried Chicken would call him to come up {to record a commercial} and Danny would say, 'Hey, you've got Arlen Roth right there, what do you need me for?' " Roth had just finished writing a book, "Masters of the Telecaster" -- "There's a substantial part of it by and about Danny," he says -- when a call came in about Gatton's suicide. The only unwritten page had been the dedication; it's now made to Gatton, as is Roth's upcoming album. "He left the way he made us feel all the time," said Roth. "I would just shake my head and wonder at his abilities, at him as a person. Now I'm shaking my head and wondering, why? Danny continues to amaze and baffle us." Though widely acclaimed among musicians and connoisseurs of the guitar, Gatton never achieved wide commercial success. Though adept at all styles, he chose to stay in the Washington area rather than settle in such music capitals as New York, Los Angeles or Nashville, where he would undoubtedly have been an extremely well-paid session man. Gatton preferred to play his music as he heard it, regardless of the size of the audience. Burton got to know him when Fender introduced signature-model guitars for both of them. Though Gatton always cited Burton as a crucial influence, they played together only once -- last August, when Burton opened his own nightclub in Shreveport, La. "It was the most fun I've had in a long time," Burton recalled. "Danny just played his ass off and had a great time. I'll always remember him as being my friend and being such a great musician." In their conversations, Burton sensed that Gatton, famed for stylistic diversity, speed and crowd-pleasing flash, "was searching for something as a guitarist, perhaps looking to be a more melodic player. The most important thing in music is being able to hear the melody and knowing where you're going with it and what it really means." Paul also felt that concern with melody in Gatton's playing. "Melody is missing in the music today -- it's been replaced by the drive of rhythm -- and we're wondering what it's changing to. Danny recognized that it's hard to have something that's going to sustain itself when you play and play and play but there's nothing to hang your hat on." Gatton, who became friends with Paul in the mid-'60s, would often sit in at his regular stint at Fat Tuesday's here. "The last time, he sat there in the corner and listened," Paul recalled. "You can't find a guy that plays everything anymore," he said of Gatton's versatility. "Maybe that was one of Danny's problems: He did them all so well, but to {play} just one and hit a home run, maybe that was the thing." Paul, who is 79 and has been ill in recent weeks, had not been expected to play at Tramps. He couldn't stay away. "Danny was very well loved and respected by all of us, that's for sure," said Paul. "Guitar players are very into one another. The guitar defies us but we love it. To us it's wife, psychiatrist, bartender -- everything you can imagine -- and everyone plays it different." Tuesday's lineup included Marshall Crenshaw, Tinsley Ellis and the Uptown Horns. On Wednesday night, there were performances by Bruce Cockburn, Jack Casady, John Sebastian, a semi-Allman Brothers band featuring guitarists Warren Haynes and Allen Woody, and Guitar Guys From Hell, whose twin leads Arthur Neilson and Mark Bosch were particularly strong on a bluesy pavane for Gatton. On Thursday, Ronnie Earl served up the blues. One of Wednesday's highlights came courtesy of guitarist and bandleader Bill Kirchen. A Washingtonian for many years now, Kirchen first met Gatton in 1972 when he was traveling through town as one of Commander Cody's Lost Planet Airmen. He had stopped by Gatton's shop to get a guitar fixed and after the work was done, Kirchen recalled, "I thought this friendly repairman will probably enjoy me showing him a few hot licks." Instead, Gatton sat down, plugged in and did a little picking of his own. "Of course, you were never prepared to hear Danny," Kirchen recalled with a chuckle, adding that his face had gone back as if he'd been in a wind tunnel. "He was amazing." Kirchen followed with a brief but driven set that included a "Rockabilly Funeral" featuring "a Danny Gatton model Telecaster for my tombstone" and ended with a rollicking "Hot Rod Lincoln" in which Kirchen paid homage to just about every recognizable guitar stylist in rock history with equal parts vigor and humor. When he was finished dazzling the full house, Kirchen tellingly added, "Notice I didn't try Danny Gatton." No one did, as it turned out. But the sheer breadth of styles -- from rockabilly, blues, jazz and boogie to primal Chuck Berry riffs -- was testimony to Gatton's range, just as the fiery invention was homage to his joyful mastery of the guitar. "He was limitless," said Roth. "Danny will live on in the hearts and minds of anyone who ever heard him."

CAPTION: Arthur Neilson and Mark Bosch at this week's memorial tribute to guitar giant Danny Gatton, on poster at left.