What is the future of guitar? Whilst some of the biggest brands are failing because they’re not giving players what they want and others are focusing on making viral online content, what should us players do to stand out?
All this effort going into sounding like guitars did “back in the day” when barely anybody replicating those sounds was even alive then. Why aren’t we making new sounds and focusing on the future? The most forward-thinking companies are focusing on shoving more and more strings on a guitar because the pics might go viral. But, there’s only like 3 or 4 people in the world who can actually play those instruments, and their audience is predominantly people who wish they could. What’s the point if those instruments are not going to be commonly available? Are 18-string guitars mass produced? Of course not, once the picture goes viral that’s it at far as the manufacturer is concerned, mission accomplished. Meanwhile, music technology is being used to make music creation accessible to beginners, so you only need the most basic of music theory to be reasonably successful. That’ not a bad thing, music should be accessible, I just wish that there was as much attention being put into pushing the possibilities for accomplished musicians.
What is the future then, if the guitar industry isn’t actually supporting us as players and pushing boundaries?
Let’s start with something pragmatic. There’s not much guitar in current pop music so it might be smart to try and play keyboard or synth parts on guitar. Sometime that’s just a case of finding out what chords they’re playing or maybe getting creative with the voicings. But, if you want to actually sound like another instrument there’s a variety of gear you can get which won’t bankrupt you either. For example, I use the Line 6 HD POD Pro, which has a really cool variety of FX – there’s a preset which sounds like an old hammond organ, and others that have awesome synth tones; Electro Harmonix have a few pedals that really effectively emulate some famous synth and keyboard sounds; You can essentially be your own bassist now as well, with some of the tech that’s available now.
A similar idea, but less tech-reliant is to try and emulate world instruments in your playing. Which, believe it or not, can actually be done with the fingers alone. If you like Steve Vai’s playing, you probably know you can create some Eastern-sounding phrases using the whammy bar. You can do a lot without a whammy bar as well – I’ve been trying to emulate japanese instruments with guitar recently – there’s this one trick which basically is playing short, sharp bends on every note you play, sticking to simple pentatonic patterns and not repeating notes. Having a variety of styles under your belt will make you more appealing as a player and more employable because turns out you can play lines that sound like folk-sounding instruments. I love using world instruments, but I wouldn’t want to hire individual players of each instrument for only a few bars in a song if I were to perform the tracks live.
Live looping, which is where loops are recorded and play under each other, is another way you can stand-out as a solo guitarist, but Ed Sheeran has kinda done that to death. But! If you think about hip-hop, (especially old school hip-hop), it’s reliant on sampling, which isn’t so far removed from live looping. So, if you want to be employable by a rapper, or a band with hip-hop elements, maybe get good at creating and playing-back samples on the fly. Tools like the KAOSS pad aren’t meant for guitar players really, but if you learn to integrate them into your rig, (or other samplers), you can achieve a lot. KAOSS Sampling.
It’s really easy to create some awesome rhythmic parts using MIDI gear, which can sync-up to what your drummers, keyboard players or live DAWs are doing. I use a bunch of different gear to achieve tempo-sync’d patterns: Roland’s MX-1 the MX1 is great, but it’s not really meant for guitar players. That means it can do things guitar gear traditionally wouldn’t, making it easier to sound unique, but it does mean you’ll have to play around with it a bit to get it to work. It’s great for me because I play a few different instruments, but it might not be ideal for you; The SL-20 by Boss is another example which gives a unique sound, and is actually meant for guitar players so requires less tinkering and fits neatly with your other pedals; the HD POD Pro, again, is for guitarists so it should be reasonably intuitive.
Let’s recap – music technology needs to catch up with the rest of the world. Especially the guitar and bass industries. I think it’s a really exciting time to be making music, but I think as guitarists and bassists we really need to think outside the box in order be as cutting edge as many drummers and keyboard players are. Some of that’s down to tech, some of that’s down to our instruments and some of it’s down to how we play them. As composers and songwriters, we need to try and think of what new ways we can package music to make it interactive or engaging to more than just our ears – like playable music videos, for example.
Lots to think about.