Guitar music that justifies the guitar.
March 28, 2011 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Help me fall in love with the guitar again.

I'm a guitar player, and over the years, as a listener and as a composer, I've found myself getting bored with the guitar. I listen to strings or horns, with their amazing melodic capabilities, or pianos, with their ability to create explosive attacks and expansive resonances and extensive harmonies, and I feel that the guitar loses out on both extremes: it doesn't have the melodic versatility of a string instrument by virtue of having frets, and its interface precludes the harmonic depth you can achieve with a piano. I feel like there have to be some exceptions, though I've had a hard time finding them: gestural feats like the Eruption solo are crowded out by endless fields of boring noodling and uninspiring effect usage, textural achievements like Kottke's who-needs-a-band guitar playing are hard to find in a genre that doesn't really value experimentalism as a goal in and of itself (which isn't a bad thing, but makes this particular search less fruitful) and Takemitsu's expressive classical guitar music is a rare gem in a sea of insipid twiddling.

So, hit me with your sounds that only a guitar could make happen, but that are also so bound to the player and the music that it doesn't sound like guitar anymore. Any genre is fine, with a few caveats:

1. I've been burned by classical guitar music too many times before, so anything that sits comfortably in that genre is out. If you don't have serious problems with the music of Sor, Giuliani, Ponce, Rodrigo, Tarrega, Villa-Lobos, etc., I would avoid this question if I were you.
2. Think really hard about recommending something that's very much of a certain style; again, I don't have problems with that in general, but in this case I've found that it usually results in a type of playing that conforms to particular idioms, at the expense of boundary-busting expressiveness. If you've thought about it and it feels right, by all means lay it down.

Thanks in advance.
posted by invitapriore to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
What was it about guitar that attracted you in the first place? If that's no longer there, or is old hat, then maybe it's time to consider another instrument.
posted by storybored at 12:43 PM on March 28, 2011

Meet Ronnie from Botswana.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:59 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just out of curiosity... what do you mean by having been "burned" by classical guitar music? How does one have a "serious problem" with the likes of Sor, et al? I can understand being bored or uninspired, but it sounds like these composers have somehow given you a personal betrayal, or perhaps taken you out to a bar then skipped on the tab.

Try listening to Michael Hedges.

Also, I found that samba and bossa nova really gave me an injection of new interest in the guitar after a number of years. There is a niche for tango guitar as well, and every gypsy jazz ensemble needs a talented guitarist with technical depth and a good ear. These are areas where the guitar really became fun for me again.

Hope you can find rediscover your inspiration.
posted by chicxulub at 1:24 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Derek Bailey playing Laura.

Arturo Tallini playing Giacinto Scelsi's Ko-Tha (a piece written for guitar, but not necessarily for a guitarist).
posted by No-sword at 1:27 PM on March 28, 2011

Allow me to introduce you to Kaki King.
posted by jbickers at 1:41 PM on March 28, 2011

Have you listened to a lot of tapping? Stanley Jordan was the first guy I ever listened to who did this, even before EVH popularized the technique.

Also, what about slide or steel? Lots of interesting things there.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:04 PM on March 28, 2011

Are 2 of them allowed? I still love the guitar, but I lost interest in playing and listening to classical guitar music a long time ago for similar reasons. I'd rather listen to the oud or baglama nowadays. But I'd make an exception for the Assad brothers, for example this performance blows me away. Their compatriot Egberto Gismonti also takes the nylon string guitar to a different level for me, maybe to echo chicxulub it's just South Americans that really 'get' the instrument?
posted by amestoy at 2:17 PM on March 28, 2011

Response by poster: chicxulub, I guess I took it so personally because I spent years under the impression that the classical guitar repertoire was as interesting and varied as that of other instruments. I realized that that belief was unfounded, and I felt like my time was wasted and my prospects for enjoying the instrument were few. I am also prone to exaggerated sentiment in my prose in general, for what it's worth.
posted by invitapriore at 2:35 PM on March 28, 2011

seconding no-sword on the Derek Bailey rec.

I'm sure you're at least a little familiar with Marc Ribot, but maybe give some of his solo albums a(nother) listen: Book of Heads, Yo! I Killed Your God and Saints are some of my favourites. he's also done a really cool record of Frantz Casseus compositions, and his work on Zorn's Masada Guitars project is pretty astounding.

Eugene Chadbourne, Arto Lindsay and Glenn Branca never fail to restore my faith in the guitar as an instrument of destruction. and in terms of "rock" guitarists, Peter Laughner, Robert Quine mid-to-late Black Flag-era Greg Ginn and Pere Ubu's Tom Herman get pretty out-there and interesting.
posted by tealsocks at 2:40 PM on March 28, 2011

I agree with No-sword, I think slide really justifies guitar, especially the really atonal droney stuff. Here's a showy example by Jack Rose.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:43 PM on March 28, 2011

At the risk of this devolving into a my-favorite-guitarist thread: Joscho Stephan. Can't play anything like that with a piano or a horn.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 3:01 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

What follows is not a "guitar music" recommendation—I never took the instrument seriously in a classical context, and can't offer that sort of recommendation (fortunately, there's everybody above for that)—but it might be a worthwhile exercise if interaction with the instrument itself grows dull for you, so I'll tap it out anyway.

Have you ever explored your talents as a recording artist? The guitar as a performance outlet has always been fairly shallow for me, but as a paintbrush with an old 4-track recorder or a computer has been an endless world of creativity and excitement.

Buy a delay pedal and something to record on. Close-mic your best classical guitar with a pair of Apple earbuds sent through a messy point-to-point amplifier circuit you glued together the night before. Develop virtuosity in texture and visceral rhythm. Take every musical idiom programmed into you and bend and distort it until it is unrecognizable. Then mix them all, and play the recording back in 7.1 surround. See what your ears find.

Discover the point where melody and form almost but not quite dissolve into a wash of Brownian noise. Explore how your brain fills in the blanks when melody and rhythm are half-heard and barely perceptible. You might find what you almost-but-not-quite hear inspiring.

I'm not saying the world needs to hear your Metal Machine Music, but I am saying that maybe you do.

It's just a thought.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 3:19 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

The next step beyond an ebow would be a sustainiac, which is in essence an ebow pickup that works on all strings. This in combination with a volume pedal will give you violin/cello like abilities on the guitar that you never knew existed.
posted by markblasco at 4:47 PM on March 28, 2011

Well, this is more philosophical advice, but maybe you could give guitar music a break for while.

Don't play or listen to any, for an undetermined amount of time.

Only go back if there is a tension which demands it.
posted by ovvl at 5:12 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

There is an album called 'Malagasy Guitar' by a guy named D'Gary that never fails to inspire (and bewilder) me. It's basically solo acoustic guitar, (very well recorded by Henry Kaiser and David Lindley, no less), vocals and an occasional bit of shaker thrown in. And it's absolutely the most beautiful, soulful, astounding thing you'll hear, like, ever. He is from Madagascar and it's definitely African but sounds more like a Kora player than the modal, bluesy stuff (which I also love).

I would go on and on about the gorgeous cascades of melody, effortless rhythmic intricacies and earth-meets-sky vibe but it's best to just get the damn thing and let it entrance you.

I'm not sure it's the kind of thing that you could then set out to learn - it may be too idiosyncratically inspired for that. But - it will open your musical mind and expand your concept of what the acoustic guitar is capable of.

I also highly recommend Bill Frisell. His live album "East-West" is a good place to start: Drum/Bass/Guitar trio, recorded live in NY and SF. Brilliant approach to the instrument that really ignores the concept of "jazz guitar", opting instead to explore a sublime, intense, thoughtful, visceral, beautiful and timeless sound. Added bonus is drummer Kenny Wollesen, a genius of rhythm.
posted by lukievan at 5:53 PM on March 28, 2011

I'm not quite sure if I know what you are looking for, but here are a couple of songs by a guitarist/composer of the experimental latin jazz progressive rock variety, a sort of Fripp meets Santana. I think he is very expressive and clever with his guitar, and he builds songs beautifully. YMMV

I hope you see something in them.
posted by tumples at 5:53 PM on March 28, 2011

yes indeed, how similar those sentiments are to my own. except i haven't made the search cuz for me dead is dead till it's not. but here's an artist who uses the guitar and it's quite nice

oren ambarchi - remedios the beauty
posted by past at 8:25 PM on March 28, 2011

You're probably well aware of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless (one of the obvious classic examples of pushing the boundaries of what guitars can do). You may not have heard The Coral Sea, a live album by Shields and Patti Smith, in which she reads a book her reading a book of her poetry and Shields accompanies with his usual densely textured ambient noise guitar (sample). While it's the same general sort of thing he's been doing since the 90's, still no one does it better, and there's plenty of odd and beautiful sounds in there that remind me the guitar is capable of more than what we're used to.
posted by abcde at 10:39 PM on March 28, 2011

You may like some droney, doom metal stuff. Boris has a couple albums of drone-y metal, then some albums of more straight forward rock. SUN 0))))) does crazy things. Altar (A Sun 0))) and Boris co-project) is the scariest thing ever. It sounds like it was made with the hammers of hell and not a guitar.

I'm also a huge fan of Nels Cline, who is an amazing guitar player and always makes me want to drop everything and study guitar for the next 10 years
posted by GilloD at 11:01 PM on March 28, 2011

I realize it's the most boneheaded and obvious suggestion, but when I was going through a similar crisis of consciousness with the guitar the musician that got me back on my feet was Jimi Hendrix. As a child I appreciated him as a baseline rocking/canonical figure, but in my teens I was swept up by punk, jazz and obscurantism enough to forget about him for a decade plus. Coming back into it later, with a wider palette and musical experience of my own to draw from, I was struck by how the live recordings (Band of Gypsies, Woodstock, etc.) were so elementally audacious, and amazed how much I simply hadn't picked up on the first time around. It felt like I had finally reached the next plateau. That might not be much of a suggestion, though. What else...

I don't know enough about the genre to know if their phrasing is too idiomatic and/or cliche, but I've enjoyed work in the classical Carnatic and Hindustani traditions by, respectively, Prasana on the electric and Debashish Bhattacarya on modified slide guitar.

The early days of the electric guitar came with a lot of attendant experimentation as the boundaries of the instrument were still being drawn. I never get tired of Les Paul (even though some of those clipped chords eerily presaged the sound of the skipping CD, I can't listen to it without assuming digital malfunction), and Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant play some far out things against a really straight rhythm. It's textbook stuff now, but I feel the frontier spirit of the recordings shines through.

Lots of neat stuff going on in "noisy" music as well. I saw Boris (with Michio Kurihara sitting in) a few months ago and it felt like the band was reaching beyond their guitars and "playing the room", probing out and exploiting its natural resonances. I couldn't find a recording of theirs that captured the experience, though. What about Rowland Howard and Mick Harvey scrambling all over one another, taking tremolo to slapstick extremes in the Birthday Party? Sun City Girls? And I also love Nels Cline, except his work with Wilco, although it's really no fault of Nels Cline's that I don't enjoy that.
posted by metaman livingblog at 4:56 AM on March 29, 2011

Then mix them all, and play the recording back in 7.1 surround. See what your ears find.

(And post it to Music!)
posted by starman at 5:13 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Interesting question. I'm a serious guitarist as well (to the extent that time affords me the pleasure, at least). My suggestions (and a quick exegesis as well):

1. Guthrie Govan -- Almost anything by Guthrie Govan works. This is boundary-busting playing at its finest. He's firstly and foremost a jazz fusion player, but he does some metal with his side-band (GPS) as well, and is experienced in all sorts of musical settings (he even plays with DJs in techno/rave clubs!) His single album, Erotic Cakes, is a masterpiece: try 'Waves', a melodic romp in slides and hammer-ons; 'Wonderful Slippery Thing', a bubbly funky sing-a-long piece; 'Hangover', 'Fives', 'Sevens', 'Slidey Boy'. (Hell, he even does authentic-sounding country chicken' pickin: 'Rhode Island Shred'.) Some quick shots: and

2. Marty Friedman: Oh, where do I even begin. A former guitarist of Megadeth, but who isn't so strictly metal -- he's got a lot of pop and jazz elements to his playing, and there's a lot of exotic scales that he messes around with. (And that weird up-stroke favouring picking style, and his vibrato!) I'd recommend anything from the Loudspeaker and Tokyo Jukebox albums. Try these for a start: the majestic 明日への讃歌 (in English, "A Paen to Tomorrow") and 天城越え ("Beyond Heaven's Castle")

3. Kiko Loureiro: Formerly a metal guitarist, but on his own he's branched off to do some really Caribbean/Cuban-sounding metal. It's way smart, and you have to give it a try. For example, give a listen to 'Havana', and 'Arcos de Lapa'.

4. Mattias IA Eklundh: His playing is really unique and difficult to classify. Try 'Lydia's House', 'The Road Less Travelled', 'La Bamba', and 'Heroin Breakfast'. I've heard this guy even use printer sound effects created from his guitar in a musical manner -- something that's rather creative, you have to admit.

5. Dog Fashion Disco (band): This is crazy stuff. For example, in their album 'Adultery', you'll find heavy metal, jazzy bebop saxophone lines, haunting tribal sounds, bossa nova parts (yes, really) violin/cello 'chorals', insane time-signature changes, all merged together wonderfully.

6. Spastic Ink (band): Prepare to have your mind blown. In one link -- this -- 'Words for Nerds': Just listen to the insane genius of Ron Jarzombek's guitars, the jazzy bass-lines, the key and abrupt (but perfectly arranged) time-signature changes, the outside sounds, etc. Check out their album for creative guitar splendour: they even have a song, played entirely on a guitar, that completely mirror's Disney's Bambi! (With all the expressiveness of the orchestra lines too.)

7. Dream Theater/Liquid Tension Experiment: Perhaps you've heard of Dream Theater, perhaps you haven't. A musically and technically superior band, so the guitar parts can be pretty far-off at times. For example, "The Dance of Eternity" is extremely boundary busting -- progressive metal, at times blending with classically attuned parts, and at one part (I think) a rag blues duel against the piano. Dream Theater's ballads are super great too: "Another Day", and "Wait for Sleep" to start off with. Also try any song from their epic masterpiece album, 'Scenes from a Memory'. BTW, Liquid Tension Experiment is the side project of the members of Dream Theater.

8. Al Di Meola: A maestro of jazz fusion. Plays both the electric and acoustic, although he seems to prefer the acoustic guitar more. Some things to look out for, beyond the acoustic playing: his improvisational ideas, the exotic sounds (try 'Mediterranean Sundance', 'Tempest', 'Black Pearls', 'Phantom'), his legendary picking technique and tone (a consistent, staccato-ish, flurry of palm-muted notes) and most importantly, that distinct timing of his. (See this:

9. Some of these guys may not be so profanely 'boundary-busting', but their works are equally creative and if you don't know them (as you might come from a pure classical background) there's tons to explore: Shawn Lane, Eric Johnson, John Petrucci, Paul Gilbert, Neil Zaza, Steve Vai, Greg Howe, Mattias IA Eklundh, Neal Morse, Yngwie Malmsteen, Zakk Wylde, Alex Hutchings, etc. Oh, and bands: Behold... the Actopus, Diablo Swing Orchestra, Symphony X, and a whole lot more (I'll expand if you're interested).
posted by wz at 11:03 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

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