The urgency of rock guitars
I remember listening to my first rock solo.
It obviously involved a guitar. It was a 1950s piece of music and you could tell that there was a tremendous amount of artistry because of the strumming and the melody. A lot of attention was paid to how everything flowed together.
Fast-forward to a few years and I was exposed to 60’s hard rock guitar solos and the whole idea here involves the spotlight. A lot of guitar solos are composed in such a way. The guitarist gets a chance to showcase his virtuosity.
You have to remember that remember that rock music is actually quite a broad categorization. There are many subtypes of music that would fall into broad categorization and they don’t always involve the same elements. Certain aspects focus more on musicianship, technical control, and playing disciplined.
Others tend to focus more on immediacy, emotions and a sense of urgency. If you need a good example of this seeming conflict and dichotomy, just look at the relationship between hardcore punk and heavy metal, especially heavy metal from the 1980s. It’s like day and night.
But what if I told you that they actually originated from the same place? A lot of people who were into metal were also into punk. A lot of people who were into punk were also into metal. However, they grew in opposite directions because punk emphasized a raw, visceral emotional state. The thinking is the more authentic the playing, meaning the less skilled, the more sincere that form of music is.
Heavy metal, on the other hand, started off with plodding guitars and heavy noise but as more and more people flocked around the concept of rock gods and rock royalty, a heavy premium was paid for guitar virtuosity. This is why there is a tremendous amount of urgency in precision when playing rock guitars.
This has really never left the rock scene because any self-respecting rock act would always maximize virtuosity. In other words, guitarists better know their way around the guitar. And this distinction between emotional authenticity and artistic sincerity on one end and virtuosity on the other actually persists up to this very day. It would be great if this distinction was nice and easy or fairly easy to navigate. It isn’t. It’s like trying to squeeze on a balloon. When you push your finger on one end of the balloon, you know that the balloon will expand. This is not the hard part. This is to be expected. What makes things tricky is that the part that swells up in reaction to your finger can come from from many different sections of the balloon. It’s anyone’s guess, really. The same goes with virtuosity and emotional authenticity. Go hard on one end and your music might come off as something that’s very different from what you see it as.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing. If anything, it helps further define the market as far as overall sonic quality is concerned. Of course, a lot of this really turns on the urgency of the guitar.