The modern guitar world.

Now I shall sound my age.
The modern guitar player is far more fortunate than I was when I started. There was no internet, crikey we’d just got a colour television, guitar magazines were in their infancy ( I had the 1st copy of Guitarist with the free plectrum) and my first guitar was virtually unplayable.
None of these things prevented or discouraged me from playing the instrument.
I first became aware of the guitar upon seeing Gary Moore and Phil Lynott on a channel 4 friday evening show.

I think is the actual clip.

Any enough reminiscing for me back to the point.

I knew nothing of guitar, I was a sports kid with no knowledge of music or what was required to be a guitarist, however after watching the above on the television I knew I wanted a guitar. My first move was to run into the garden and play air guitar on a tennis racquet possibly much to my younger brother’s annoyance.  The next move was to annoy the life out of my parents about how I wanted an Electric guitar.Eventually they allowed me to withdraw some of my savings and my dad took me guitar shopping and I bought my first guitar. I had no idea what I was buying, if it was good bad or indifferent. Looking back it was a terrible guitar and damn near unplayable but at the time it was the coolest thing ever and my prized possession.

I thought it was cool at the time

As I mentioned I knew nothing of music, I had played recorder as 4-5 year old but that was it. Was this going to be a hindrance, nope. I spent many an hour moving my fingers around the strings trying to find melodies I might recognise. My first triumph I clearly remember as 3 blind mice on one string.  I was playing guitar, I’d taught myself something, I was playing guitar. Go me.

Years passed as I spent hour after hour wearing out records, tapes, video tapes, annoying anyone I knew who had a guitar just to see them play. I didn’t take any formal lessons, partly due to there being no one that I could find who taught guitar in my village, partly because I found I could motivate myself to discover where the guitar was concerned and partly that I was shy/scared of the idea of a teacher telling me I wasn’t very good.

Material was few and far between. I had maybe 3-4 guitar books that I devoured.  My small collection of LP’s and cassettes were worn out as I absorbed as much of them as I could. Those tunes are part of my DNA now I listened to them that many times. I ate, slept, drunk guitar. I had no other distractions other than the odd game of football/basketball and maybe an attractive young lady.

Why am I taking this trip down memory lane? Well now as a full time professional guitar teacher I encounter students many hours a day and rarely do I come across youngsters with a fraction of my passion for the instrument.  These days lots of beginners are inundated with a huge amount of information on the subject from a variety of sources.  Now I am not knocking the abundance of resources available, far from it, I’d have killed for it when I started. The problem I see is that because there is so much many beginners either don’t know what to learn or what they need to learn.  Every month magazines inundate them with reviews of equipment they have to have to replicate their heroes.Rarely a week goes by without a student of mine asking me if they should buy Product X as Magazine X had said it was the bees knees.

Now I’m not knocking the improvements and wider choice of equipment out there, it’s all fantastic for the instrument I love. My issue is that the media, be it magazines, websites, video’s etc confuse the beginner as opposed to assisting them.  GAS ( gear acquisition syndrome) has proliferated down to the beginners.  I am now coming across beginners who feel they cannot learn unless they have numerous multi effects, a wireless, clip on tuners, cubase and an amp farm.

I started with a guitar, no amp and a tuning fork. I learned to tune using my ears. To begin with I wasn’t good but I learnt and developed an ear. This is now almost a dying art. I am now almost treated like a jedi master because I can tune a guitar by ear. This is an art I am trying to reinstall in players, it is vital to be able to do.

I owned an electric guitar for a year before I had enough money to buy an amp. Thus I wasn’t caught up in the need to have multi effects and tone production. This was also because there were no multi effects. I learnt to get the tone I was craving with merely my hands.  Once I had an amp, it was a good 6 months before I had enough money to purchase the holy grail in my world which was a distortion pedal.  No chorus, no delay just distortion.  So I wasn’t caught up in trying to improve my playing with items I could purchase. I was caught up in trying to improve my playing through my hands and practice. I wasn’t caught up in a culture that promised I would sound like “insert current flavour guitarist” if I bought product X.  NO, you will sound like “insert current flavour guitarist”  if you spend time learning their licks and trying to copy their vibrato, their phrasing, the whole attitude of the player.  The modern player wants instant results and will purchase what ever they can to fast track themselves. When they don’t achieve what they were hoping for through the purchase they often become disillusioned. Just because you own the same football boots as Wayne Rooney doesn’t mean you’ll be in the World Cup any time soon. However if you go out with a ball and play play play and play some more you stand a far better chance. Similarly playing FIFA 10 on the Xbox won’t get you there either.  So lets not start me on Guitar Hero games.

On the plus side the modern guitar player has more resources than I could ever have dreamed of and I embrace them wholeheartedly. Websites full of transcriptions, amp modellers, you tube lessons, a multitude of magazines and fantastic software are but a few of the great inventions available to the modern guitarist, but whilst caught up in all of this have many forgotten why they wanted to play the guitar.

So the modern guitar world is no better or worse than the one I grew up in, it’s different and varied. The important thing is that players keep focussed on what is actually important. Time with the guitar and learning to play it properly as opposed to time spent on all the peripherals.


~ by Geoff Lea Guitar on June 15, 2010.

2 Responses to “The modern guitar world.”

  1. An interesting view from a very good teacher (and performer) however I do take issue with some of the points raised and would like to offersome defence of modern beginners! (ie students)

    It is no doubt true that there are a lot more resources available to the aspiring guitarist today than at anytime in the past, this is true for almost every walk of life and it is impossible to ignore that technology and why should it be ignored.

    Yes it is true that it is important to tune a guitar by ear, and what is wrong with using a clip on tuner as an aid to learning how to do so – the clip on tuner is simply a modern tuning fork is it not?

    As for your disparging GAS it is not only encouraged by Magazines but kit is on show everywhere, from magazines, to shops, to the teachers studio. If the beginer perceives something may assist in obtaining a tone/sound that inspires them then why should they not aquire it? Because old school guitarists may have had to spend hours obtaining a tone do beginers have to do so as well, not all students have hours to do that. Maybe the time saved by obtaining an instant tone using tech’ can be better spent praticing on the guitar itself. Playing with the tech’ helps keep it intersting and can be a welcome diversion from a long pratice session – and make a sound you love for the first time then it is a great buzz and inspires the beginner.

    As a older beginner I would not be taking lessons if I did not WANT to play guitar, but given time constraints I know that I have to utilise whatever is out there (including a teacher) in order to achieve my very limited aims, yes I can afford to buy tech’ and make no aologies for doing so and yes I have bought stuff that was subsequently found to be a waste of money, and will no doubt do so again. However nothing I have bought has made me play better and more to the point I did not expect it to – it’s my brain and fingers that do the playing not a JamVox!

    We all have all been inspired to take up guitar for different reasons and have very different learning environments and abilities but we are all learning in the present and to that end use what tools are available, had you had had an unlimited budget and little time to waste when you were learning would have waited six months between the aquisition of your amp and your distortion pedal.

    Just thoughts from a beginner – no doubt for my next lesson the room will be empty except for two guitars, a tuning fork and a music stand.

    PS – I make no excuse for all the guitars I buy – they are just lovely things!!

    • 🙂
      This wasn’t intended as a personal slight at anyone or anything, this was merely my look at the modern guitar player.
      I encounter a number of younger individuals who feel that gear acquisition is the only way to progress and this was more my universal answer to the questions they pose. Looking back at the greats, from Hendrix through to Van Halen they all were presented with a guitar/amp and possibly a pedal at some point. They set about developing their playing without the outside influences of magazines. Ok they are exceptional cases, but my point is that they got on with developing the playing side and later added equipment to embellish what they had.
      I’m sure like me, if they had the money to have bought the toys or if the toys had even existed they would have embraced them whole heartedly. I know I do. I’m not saying the new stuff is bad, god I love my Jam Vox, I have been hoping for a gizmo like that all my life. My point was more a look at where I came from and how I developed vs the youth of today and how they develop. There are so many distractions for them already in the form of the internet, games consoles and all the tv channels available. Back in the 1840’s when I was a youth there wasn’t the distractions thus all I did was play guitar and was happy to spend hours/days weeks months trying to get an end result. These days I see kids getting deeply frustrated after 5 mins and looking for something to quick fix it.
      Really this was just a look at how it has changed and perhaps wistfully I looked back at my impoverished up bring compared to the youth of today. Partly I’m jealous of the stuff they have, partly I’m sad for them because they are bypassing a lot of the guitar experience I had to go through to love the thing as much as I do.
      Anyway you should be at work or practising not reading my inane ramblings 🙂

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