Random Thoughts On Rock Guitar (or When Tapping Thought Outside The Box)

Blog,Writing — admin @ 11:17 am

Also from 2006: These two pieces appear here back-to-back because they don’t self-warrant their individual existence anymore.

The 1980s created a rise in new thoughts toward rock guitar and started some trends that we now know as standards. Look at the playing of folk style voicings (south of fret five)–with great force–through distortion AND a chorus pedal and at a fast tempo. Something will give, it’s not a question of if. As if playing perfectly in tune isn’t harrowing enough. Amid synthesizer mania and an Eddie Van Halen freestyle renaissance, there had to be something else for the idiom of rock guitar.

Electric guitar technique can most certainly reflect the decade like hairstyle, color schemes, automotive design, and other cultural phenomena. Some rock guitar playing became slender, introspective, plucky, subdued. Melody/countermelody was now a focus and people no longer saw electric guitar as a solo instrument. Somehow saxophone saw itself in that role instantly making millions nauseous. Need to guess a date of a film? Listen to the guitar.

We see reactions against this wave of cocksure antics. I love Eddie and Randy. Their playing is musical. But in their wake grew schlock. Extremely annoying, flamboyant, shrieking, rhetorical, non-musical symbols of American rock and roll glut. The Metallization Of America. (See also The Discoification Of America)

There are more factors to consider. Synthesizers (re: New Wave) were in style and guitar had to get out of the way sonically and socially it seemed . New Wave or Metal. The role of rock guitarist had changed forever. Parts relied on known riff pools, solos were based on said parts, formulas arose. It’s truly amazing how expendable metal guitarists were then. It seemed “guitarist”, “guitar player”, and to some…self-important types “lead guitarist” were now three different things.

It’s interesting to listen to different techniques. Clean muted funk lines leftover from disco crept into new wave guitarists’ vocab. Folk voicings played forcefully through distortion begin to moan. As if the tuning did not fully deserve reevaluation after 7 takes, one could and would use a chorus pedal. 7 takes, by the way: the absolute maximum. A chorus pedal being the opposite of tuning. Nice try. To compound problems, voicings are not exactly folk in sound; there are nines and suspended fourths running amok.

The chorus pedal. A flanger? No, no, that would be too wild. Just a touch of gold. It’s like these guitars were 10 year old girls showing their older wilder sisters they could hang by putting on a dash of makeup. Poor new wave guitars want to fit in too. More like a 50 year-old dad showing his son’s karate class his “killer roundhouse”, and wrenching his back.

Exaggerated analogies prove half a point.

Part 2.
When Tapping Thought Outside Of The Box.

I always link the sounds of tapping back to Galaga.

The world in 1979 seemed to be in a post-disco space-age with “video” now prefixing all former words and scads of sci-fi flotsam bobbing in Star Wars’ wake. Also with technology being a parent to culture (as per usual), the sound of tapping electric guitar was the best way to rebel against synthesis and New Wave. (New Wave being the bastard spawn of European electronic musiks and disco–now deceased). Was rock guitar subconsciously trying to join in the futuristic fun or defying the new synthesizers with newer expressions that had hitherto only been heard in the tractor beams of Galaga? In other words, was electric guitar saying “fuck you” again socially? Was Link Wray and Les Paul proud or nauseous?

Box patterns. What we all learn first. I remember learning bass and having afterimages of dice patterns, squares, Rubik’s cubes, and other abstractions. Practicing scales with a drunken starfish for a left hand. The drunken starfish. The claw. The ham fist. All derogatory names in bass playing for a weak left hand. I got that game Simon for Christmas that year and I recall loving it for its musical memorization. Anyone knowing the game will attest and appreciate its role in 1979 sci-fi mania. If box pattern derived guitar solos were the conversational patois of rock, four-finger tapping solos became speaking in tongues. Cavemen witnessing lightning? Horses seeing a Model A?

It’s interesting how electric guitar followed the path of classical soloists. Everything is in virtuosity. Primadonnas and 80′s lead guitarists can (and do) share some traits. The original guitar hero vocabulary seems to have blues roots somewhere. Removing those blues licks that we all knew and replacing them with instant shimmering space beams from California was insane.

Classical metal (Yngwie, The Great Kat) fits in to this theory, I’m just not sure where.

Note from 2010: There is an immaturity in this writing. I really don’t remember trying to get laughs that much but here we are. Some of it I just don’t agree with exactly but it has its merits. That original collage is analog/digital; printed out photos of arcade screenshots with razor-cut text, then scanned.

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