The State of Guitar

Again with the old magazines, this time from Down Beat, circa 1963:

I’m not against progress, but I think maybe one of the things that keeps the guitar alive, and one of the charms of it, might well be the fact that no one has put a finger on *a way* of doing things. I think there is a certain danger when somebody decides he’s got the way.

– Charlie Byrd, 1963

This was something of a revelation to me, and it crystallized a lot of things I’ve been thinking about lately. The rock guitar community has pretty much been adrift since the mid 90’s in a sea of instrumental mediocrity, and while I’m sure many hipster record store employees would posit that rock guitar should never involve virtuosity, I think that people are still waiting for another Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen to come along to inspire today’s 13-year olds to pick up the instrument and work hard toward playing the ever living shit out of it.

After reading Charlie Byrd’s comments from 40 damn years ago, I now realize that the odds of this happening are now double what I thought they were. Worse, the reason is the very guitar method that I followed: modern guitar magazines and their easy, pervasive tablature methods. Tablature, for those who don’t know, is a super-easy system of learning how to play the guitar without working too hard. The problem with lots of kids learning to play guitar quickly and easily is that kids get a weak grasp of music theory, but worse, the ones who might otherwise be forced (out of disdain for the dogma of music theory perhaps) to invent their own approach are given such an easy route to tread that they have no incentive or oppoprtunity to innovate.

I’ve always defended modern rock guitar methodologies to the purists who derided its lack of discipline, but I now wonder if tablature isn’t killing the guitar in a way. I had always maintained that genius is genius and it will always rise above, but when there’s no resistance to the rising, if the rise is easy, does the rise have a reason to occur? To climb, you have to have something to push against. If a genius kid came along and learned through tab methods, would he develop more quickly or would his talents merely atrophy for lack of resistance? I’m going to think more on this and see what I can figure out.