At the meek age of ten, I looked up to images of Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi that were streaming from my TV and decided- you know what? That’s what I want to do. – I thought three hours practice a day was minimal, and that my obsession would never cease. So why did it?
Armed with a slightly rusted old Stratocaster I found in the family attic, I took up the five-stringer straight away, then realised there was actually meant to be six strings and put it back down again. A restringing and a much needed tuning later however, I was on my first steps to rock guitar mastery- right after I’d managed to learn “Frere Jacques”.
It wasn’t too many months before the world of metal started opening up to me, and the riffs of Black Sabbath’s and Judas Priest’s greatest hits were trying to be imitated by my little fingers. “Breakin’ the Law” seemed tricky at the time, but nothing was quite like the feeling of accomplishment I felt when playing the classic solo to “Paranoid” through note-for-note.
A couple of years down the line I was delving into shred guitar techniques and climbing up the ladder of graded examinations. It was all so enthralling, the feel of the strings, the crunch of the amplifier, the fullness of the chords- I thought three hours practice a day was minimal, and that my obsession would never cease. So why did it?
Sat in a college seminar, the reasons why my love for the axe dwindled came back to me. I won’t name the figure who gave the presentation, but can tell you he comes from the world of “rock guitar physics” and has been dubbed “Hendrix means Einstein”. So what was so awful about it? It wasn’t the talk itself, but actually just watching the man warm-up in front of me. What was presented before me was a sweating middle aged man, whose receding hair-line and perspiration problems were as shoddy as his guitar tone.
Flashbacks of men playing AC/DC in pubs, hearing kids crunch their way through “Sweet Home Alabama” in music shops all came back to me with terrifying pace, and I was reminded exactly why I left the world of fretboard fanatics and six-string freaks a very long time ago. The culture of guitar playing has become embarrassing, self-indulgent and even near-pointless.
Just see, next time you see an guitarist busker or an amateur warming up before his performance, you’ll hear the same old top 50 rock riffs, a run of the blues scale, and a good check through all of the open chords, unless things get so fancy that a bare chord is dared to be thrown in. The art of strumming, picking and twanging has simply reached the dark ages, where the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai are still viewed upon as geniuses.
So, how should we view the guitar, or should we just leave our beloved axes to rust in the cases?
No certainly not- don’t abandon your instrument, just change the way you see it. View it not as a medium to regurgitate what has come before with mindless enthusiasm, but as a tool to craft your own new sounds and shape unique ideas.
The guitar should, like all other instruments, be viewed as a song writing tool- your sonic paintbrush or pen, not a a piece of gym equipment to bust out some exercise on, or an old cook book which is used to replicate traditional. Think in new ways, change your guitar idols, and most importantly of all, never let me catch you rehearsing that infamous “Smoke on the Water” riff again.
By Jarod Lawley