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Some thoughts about music, technique and guitars


I have been listening to the evolution of guitar playing for 45 years and I am still struggling to balance the obvious explosion in guitar technique with the lack of an emotional impact on me from the clear talent of most of the modern “shredders”.


When I listen Greg Howe, Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, Tony McAlpine, Steve Vai, Richie Kotzen, Paul Gilbert, Frank Gambali and the myriad of other technically brilliant players I am reminded on a cynical quote from Frank Zappa when he was asked about John McLaughlin. “You have to admire how fast he can move his fingers” was Frank’s damning praise. Of course, soon after this interview, Frank released the totally narcissistic Shut up and play ya Guitar series. Perhaps, he was making a typical sophisticated Frank Z statement about the emerging excesses of long guitar solos taken to extreme by Eddie Van Halen and even, Angus Young, in their live sets (which I still prefer to long drum solos :-)) Even so, listening to these folks does amaze me. They have finger motion down.


Then I listen to Shawn Lane’s solos in Ten Fingers Flying  or any of the Bill Connors on the acoustic Theme to the Guardian and his electric playing with the second Return to Forever's Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy or Alan Holdsworth’s work on Soft Machine’s Bundles or Larry Carlton’s solo on Steely Dan’s Gaucho or Kurt Lorange’s work with Richard Clapton, I am moved as well as amazed. Terje Rypdal's sound sculptures have always entranced me. I listen to Chris Whitley’s (vale Chris) unbelievable updating of acoustic slide and standard tuning work and I know that evolution of technique (he took slide guitar to a new space) doesn’t mean, by itself, that technique alienates.


I am starting to understand that all music is about wholism. It is the interplay between pacing, space, rythm, sound, colours, lyrics, dynamics and intent. Light and dark. There is something that is "just right" and that is rare and beautiful. In many cases, "just right" is highly personal but, in some cases, it can be universal.

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