Those of us who have entered a conversation about “the best” – whatever arena that thing or person may be the best in – have to accept that the most ferocious of all such debates is the one about the best guitarist ever. This is a debate that frequently ends in violence, particularly if the debate itself is between two or more guitarists. After all, what makes a guitarist “the best”? The many variables in the debate make it one that seems pretty much insoluble. It is surely a matter of opinion – although, to many people, that’s a bit of a cop-out in itself.
Some people look for technical perfection in a guitarist. These people will hold up guitarists such as Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton as the best there ever was. Others disagree vehemently and argue that emotion and soul are more valuable commodities, as evidenced by the likes of Jimi Hendrix or Robert Johnson. There are so many differing opinions that consensus is hard to reach. And all the time that this is going on, there are more and more people picking up guitars hoping one day to be the subjects of such debates.
In the end, the person you choose as your own favorite guitarist may, or may not, in some way be the best guitarist ever. But the true importance of this admiration is the influence they will have on your own playing. Few of us will be able to play exactly like Hendrix, or be as acclaimed as Clapton. However, if listening and learning helps us get where we want to go, it is time well spent.
One thing that is familiar among music fans is the tendency to psychoanalyse band members based on the instruments they play. The singer in a band is considered the narcissistic one, who craves attention. The bassist is seen as the quiet, unassuming one who will only be noticed if they are not there. The drummer – well, there are so many drummer jokes that it is hard to know where to start, but they are often seen as the beating heart of the band. What about the guitarist, though?
There are probably no statistics to prove this, but when bands split up due to “creative differences” – which usually means they hate each other – the most common source of the split would seem to be the guitarist and the singer not getting along. The guitarist is considered the “musician” of the band, and the source of tension is often a perception on the guitarist’s part that the singer is simply in it for the fame, while the singer for their part feels that the guitarist is pretentious and dull.
For people watching from the outside, this is a lot of what makes bands great. However, if you are in a band it can be somewhat tiresome. Should you be considering learning to play guitar it is worth remembering that most bands split before they ever become famous. Make sure you are taking it up for the right reasons, because if you learn to play guitar only to find out that you don’t get along with singers, you’ll need to really enjoy playing to make it feel worthwhile.
One of the most popular video games of recent years, without a doubt, would have to be the Guitar Hero series. Considering the huge crossover potential between rock music and video games it is only a surprise that it has taken this long – with games in the series now devoted to bands such as Metallica, Van Halen and Aerosmith, and a very real likelihood that others will be immortalised in the same way very soon. However, it is important to remember that there were guitar heroes long before these bands, and this game, etched themselves on to our consciousness.
It is often said that the first real guitar hero was the troubled bluesman Robert Johnson. Legend has it that he sold his soul to the devil in order to be an accomplished guitarist. Although he played along with the story, it is believed that this was purely a joke on his part – in actual fact, he was a prodigiously gifted guitarist with a fine teacher. His influence is still felt today as it has been throughout the decades since his premature death in 1938. There are echoes of his playing in more recent guitar heroes such as Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and a great many others.
One of the most seismic changes in the history of popular music was the move from acoustic to electric guitars. Perhaps most famously encapsulated by Bob Dylan’s decision to “go electric”, this has radically changed the kind of sounds you can get from a guitar. There are many folk musicians who, to this day, feel that Dylan crossed an unacceptable line that day.
Before they became one of the most famous bands in the world, Radiohead had a debut album called “Pablo Honey”. As well as the multi-million selling single “Creep”, the album featured a song called “Anyone Can Play Guitar” – something that a lot of frustrated musicians have since found to be slightly inaccurate. Much as we try, there are some of us who feel that the likelihood of us ever managing to get something resembling a tune out of a musical instrument is at best limited. Given the iconic nature of the guitar, this can be frustrating.
There can be very few of us who do not love music. Whether or not we can play, we tend to have an ear for things we like, and even in the recent global recession record and MP3 sales were barely harmed – because people like to have music even when there is no prospect of spending big on other purchases. If you need to stay at home more, then you may as well have a good soundtrack for it. But what are the chances of providing your own soundtrack to all of this? Well, a bit of perseverance and the ability to think outside the box may well provide you with the opportunity.
Maybe not everyone can play guitar. But if you have tried a few times and been met with noises that sound unhealthy, that doesn’t mean you have no ability. All it means is that you need to refine your learning process.