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Artist Spotlight: A Conclusion

Over the past few weeks, we have been looking at a number of different guitarists. Each of them operate in different but not too dissimilar areas of the industry, and there were many unique insights from each of them. However, rather unsurprisingly, there were many shared thoughts too. We will be discussing them all in this blog post, as a general overview and giving us a chance to analyze our findings. 




As a reminder, here are the artists that I spoke to. I would suggest checking out each of the blog posts before continuing:


Charles Roper


Joe Boult


Michael Kaplan


Nik Sampson


Nat Martin


Observations

There are many things we can take away from each of the interviews I conducted. However, let us focus on the main points that stand out with each of them.


Self-classification

I have found that it is hard to pin down exactly what each guitarist thinks of themselves. There is always an element of ambiguity in their response. Charles referred to himself as an instrumental rock/fusion guitarist and educator” - a fusion of what exactly? The answer is probably many things, and it screams versatility. Being an educator also throws into question to what level. This brings us back into being versatile. 


Similarly, Michael says that he is a “musician first and a guitarist second”. The guitar is a vehicle for him to express himself musically - taking into account the other responses he gave, it is clear that the best type of music for him is the one he is working on in the moment. 


Only Nik Sampson’s answer of being a ‘rock or metal musician’ is somewhat focused. That being said, if you know anything about rock and metal music, you will understand how much of a ‘melting pot’ it is and how many different techniques and styles you must approximate to pull off the performance properly. 


Appreciation of Music

This is something that everyone one of the guitarists I interviewed shared, and a thought I also subscribe to. There is always something to take from a song, even if you do not like it, or at least not the biggest fan of it. 


To quote each of the artists:


  • Charles - “open your ears to as much as possible”,

  • Joe - “I genuinely listen to everything from James Blunt to Cannibal Corpse”

  • Michael - “I listen to all kinds of music and learn something”

  • Nik - “try to find something in it that is interesting or at least creative or new” 

  • Nat - “I've listened to a wide range of music - have a decent set of ears to pick things out”


As I said in one of these blog posts, it is a sign of a consummate professional when they really struggle to make entirely negative observations about a song - not that it is not possible at all. 


Versatility

This is the keyword that keeps popping up, and was also the summary of my dissertation at university. A modern guitar player must be versatile, unless you are already an established superstar. Sure, Steve Vai could live out the rest of his career playing his own unique brand of music, but he has built his career in such a way that he is actually able to do that - it also helps that he came up in an era where it was perhaps slightly easier. What about the modern day, regular musicians? Guitar player or not. 

Everyone I have spoken to has a history of teaching, or it is still a big part of their lives. Whilst they all enjoy it thoroughly, I definitely do, it is also necessary to sustain their careers. 


As for judging a book by its cover, all five interviewees have skills up their sleeves that you would not expect at a first glance. This is partly down to your own preconceived notion of how someone should look or present themselves, but also because we must be versatile in order to survive. 


Everything but the Playing

I have said this a million times, but I will say it again - everything but the playing! It is understood that sometimes one’s skill on the guitar is secondary to other aspects of being a musician. For example, everyone I spoke to regarding this short study was extremely helpful, taking the time out of their busy lives to answer my questions and provide pictures. This goes a long way as is a valuable piece of advice for all aspiring musicians - just be a nice person!


With regards to the gear that they use, choices have been made based upon what is required of them and not necessarily what they have been told to purchase through advertisement campaigns. 


Michael, for example, does not really like to use digital solutions for his own purposes, and likes the modular aspects of a traditional pedalboard. Whilst the differences in sound are miniscule, if indeed they are there at all, he knows he is not as comfortable using that equipment and that could reflect in his playing. Many of these players like to use products from the Helix family of devices from Line 6, myself included. 


A point I mentioned when discussing buying a guitar (see the blog post here), was that you should always make the effort to try out equipment first and make your decisions from there. For example, the Quad Cortex from Neural DSP sounds amazing, but the foot switches are too close together and the power supply is placed poorly. Making decisions such as this is something else you should learn to do. 


Other points that are not related to the playing include:


  • Showing up on time, if not early, to meetings and playing opportunities,

  • Being sociable as well as a nice person in general,

  • Taking instruction and criticism in the way it is intended, 

  • Making yourself known (you won’t become successful by sitting around, waiting for it to happen).


Forging Your Own Path

A short while ago, I wrote a blog post studying some unique players, and how you can use their lessons to help you stand out as a guitar player (that blog post can be found here). In that blog post, I discussed how it is important to try and develop a unique approach to technique, persona and aesthetics - consider all of those points and create a framework for yourself, just as the five guitar players here have done. 


Linking back to the preliminary blog post I wrote for this short series (to be found here), I offered three challenges based on gear - the task was to guess who used it and what style of music they played. Like Lee Ritenour uses a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier, you could use the same to play reggae if you wanted! Likewise, you do not need a vintage, hollow-bodied guitar in order to play jazz - do it on a Stratocaster if you want to!



Final Thoughts

Everything we have discussed or learned over the course of these seven blog posts is all incredibly valuable information. I would suggest you read through everything and draw your own conclusions and make your own observations - perhaps you will take something else away from this and that can only be a good thing. Ask yourself, are there any familiarities between yourself and the journey any of these artists has embarked on? Maybe you started to learn the guitar for the same reason, or perhaps learned in a similar way. There is no reason that you would not be in a similar position to any of them in a few years!


Make sure you remember this, the musical world is ever changing, and it is possible that your mileage may vary. Stay on top of things and keep doing what feels right to you! Yes, you should take some risks but you have to pick and choose them carefully.


I would once again like to thank each of the players that helped me out with this little project, without them it would have been a fruitless endeavor. I would encourage you to check them out, and also the projects they are working on.


If you need a more personal, tailored approach to finding your own voice on the guitar and working towards becoming a better version of yourself (as a musician!), then get in touch with the American Guitar Academy. Each of the brilliant teachers has their own strengths and you will definitely learn more than you expect to!


Alex

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