Guitarist Series: Why do We Play Guitar?

The guitar just may be the most popular instrument on the planet with tons of people picking up either an electric or an acoustic at some point in their lives. I thought it was about time that I included a series here on the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll directly related to the art of playing the guitar and dedicated to my guitarist brethren.

So the obvious question to ask any guitarist is... why guitar?

What is it that is so attractive about sitting down for hours at a time and building calluses on your fingers, struggling over difficult passages and spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars on guitar gear in search of the perfect tone? For the non guitarists, it can be difficult to understand why we play guitar. Maybe it is to impress girls (or guys), to make fist pounding in your face rock, or just too look cool...or maybe it is something more noble, like to be able to express ourselves through the music we like...maybe.

I never really tried to pinpoint my own obsession with the instrument. I played other instruments growing up and didn't come to guitar till I was in college, yet I was hooked immediately, and to this day spend at least an hour everyday, if not 5 or 6 hours, playing some version of guitar.

There is a certain mystique about the guitar that comes from rock 'n' roll and blues and so maybe some of the fascination comes from this heritage. These genres are forever linked to the instrument and directly associated with it unlike other more genre neutral instruments. For those of us who like rock music, it just makes sense to pick up the rock and roll instrument, the guitar, and try to become part of the music that we like so much. We identify with particular songs, particular artists and particular genres, and in turn try to emulate those genres as a kind of tribute, while also trying to add our own style to the mix. Along with the heritage of the rock 'n' roll guitar comes the mystique of the rock music genre, with all it's rebellious nature, independent spirit and unique style...

And who doesn't want to be a part of that?

Of course there are plenty of other genres that are guitar based as well and you can use the guitar to play just about any type of music from classical, to jazz to world music, along with traditional rock 'n' roll and blues . This leads me to believe that there is more to the attraction of the guitar that just its rich heritage and mystique as a rock 'n' roll instrument.

I think subconsciously (or maybe consciously) we identify with the guitar due to its range of expression and it's ability to express our soul so directly and openly.

When you pick up a violin say... sure each violin has its unique character, it's unique essence that makes it sound unique, but in the end, the tone of every violin is relatively the same and has the same basis. With the guitar, there are more options than can possibly be imagined.

By choosing different guitars, amps, pickups, effects, tone settings, picking style, playing style and even tuning, no two guitars, and no two guitarists ever sound alike... in fact they rarely even sound similar. Along with that, if you play electric, you can even vary your sound at a simple turn of a knob. No other instrument, except the human voice, can so easily go from extremely screamingly harsh and in your face, to stunningly sweet and reserved so quickly. This allows for an incredible amount of freedom of expression. As guitarists, if we want to express our frustration and scream, we can put the amp on eleven, kick on every distortion and fuzz pedal we have and singe the hair of our neighbors with some bone crunching riffs. Then if we want to be soft, quiet and thoughtful, we can turn off the pedals, roll down the volume knob and create that perfect, light sound for the mood. A good musician can easily convey every emotion through correct phrasing and style, but few instruments can give such a range of sounds to further emphasize these emotions and drive them home.

I think this freedom of expression is part of what keeps so many people enthralled with the guitar. It can easily serve as a great link, directly into our soul. Many of us surely came to guitar through our rock 'n' roll and blue heroes, but I think the ones who are truly passionate about it, have stuck with it due to the amount and range of expression capable of being produced by this instrument.

It's potential for expression is enormous.

There will be guitars and guitarists for years to come. As you've been reading this, probably at least one new person has decided to pick up the guitar and make it their own. I hope many more do as they're picking up on heck of an expressive instrument.

Every instrument is powerful, but only a few, like the guitar, can so easily and quickly express so much...with such gusto.

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