Guitar Wars: Attack of the Clones

guitar playing

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. –Mark Twain

Remember when Eddie Van Halen arrived on the music scene? Oh man, that was a sweet day. Hearing such a fresh and unique player release some great songs with out-of-this world guitar- work was an exciting moment in music history. But in my opinion, it also marked the beginning of the downfall of guitar in music….

Edward Van Halen’s approach to the guitar involves several distinctive components. His innovative use of two-handed tapping, natural and artificial harmonics, vibrato, and tremolo picking – combined with rhythmic sensibility and a melodic approach – have influenced an entire generation of guitarists.

Whilst relatively commonplace today, Van Halen’s ground-breaking techniques were originally a closely guarded secret; before the release of the band’s eponymous first album, the guitarist would often play solos and more complex riffs with his back to the live audience. This was done at the advice of his bandmates to prevent any guitar players from stealing his style and technique before the album came out in 1978.
-Wikipedia

Fortunately and Unfortunately, his techniques were found out by the guitar playing masses. Fortunately, because it helped guitar players take their playing to new levels of virtuosity. Unfortunately, because it unleashed a huge wave of imitators and Van Halen clones (see 80′s Hair Metal).

Now don’t get me wrong, the 80′s produced so many talented guitar players with frightening technique, but also caused a sensory overload to music listeners. Hey, there was a lot of two- handed tapping and sweep picking going on. It was technically impressive, but to the everyday listener, it was just too much.

Playing a milion notes every song didn’t add to the music, it took away from what was most important: the feeling and message. Instead of focusing on these two aspects of music, guitar players let their ego get a hold of them, trying to be the “fastest sweeper” or “flashiest two-handed tapper”. Not surprisingly it’s hard to remember more than a handful of these guitar players, because frankly, they just all sounded so similar.

The same thing happened when Stevie Ray Vaughan became popular. SRV played with such emotion and passion that his energy oozed out and attracted many up and coming players. Not too long after his death, Stevie Ray Vaughanabees were popping up left and right.

Oh man, didn’t these guys learn anything from the mistakes of the Eddie Clones? I don’t even want to think about how many “next SRV’s” are out there.

If some of these players went against the majority, I really feel that they would have been more memorable and, thus more successful in the long run. It’s not a surprise that the “guitar solo died” in mainstream music, and bands opted to just play simple riff or vocal-driven songs.