Music would not be the same without guitar. It’s easily one of the most notable and common instruments. A form of the guitar can be found dating back as early as the12th century, and the guitar we know and love today started being spotted in middle 16th century. It’s versatility, guitar has made itself timeless. Despite it’s lengthy existence, no one is tired of it’s sound. Because of it’s extensive history, with centuries of players and innovators, diving into the endless pool of techniques can seem intimidating. I asked a few guitarist how they got started, and how they developed their sound and technique, and if they had any advice for other guitarist.
“[My style is] a culmination of my heroes growing up and just what was expedient as a songwriter. As a songwriter, you’re always thinking of melodies, hooks, and lyrics, so it makes sense to be lyrical in your playing as well. I’m very rhythmic and melodic, which are the two most important aspects of playing, in my book. My guitar reflects and compliments and the song and the lyrics and makes for a nice mix.
My style from, acoustic to electric, is a little different. My acoustic style is very rhythmic and percussive, I use a lot of finger style picking. For electric— my biggest influence is Jimi Hendrix and I use a lot of his techniques.
My favorite guitarists were all very melodic. You could sing the solos they played. Anyone from Jimi Hendrix to David Gilmore from Pink Floyd, to Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits, or even someone like John Mayer, they’re all very melodic and they make it memorable.
What I’ve noticed, the most important things to create your own signature style and technique is learn songs you love. From all genres, of course. Don’t just focus on one. Don’t limit yourself in your pursuit.
There are some very specific techniques in guitar playing, especially when it comes to soloing, so looking up songs, allows you to learn the specific techniques an artist used. Sometimes, you can’t play the song unless you learn what they did first. For example, Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” he using his thumb on the low E string to hold down the base note while he’s doing melodies with his other fingers. You can’t just pick that up by just listening to a song. If you don’t know his technique, you have to figure out a whole new school of guitar playing because he was such an innovator. So you learn stuff from innovators, you pick up so much, because you have to if you want to learn the song. You just have to zero in and focus on it until you get it right.
Then write your own songs! Write your own parts. Write your own solos to your own chord progressions. That’ll really make it your own because you’re not copying anyone anymore.”
“I won’t listen to somebody and try to make something based off what they do. I’ve realized that’s bad for the way my brain works because I’ll end up making something that sounds too much like them. But if I’m listening to a certain type of music, natively, it’ll start appearing in my style.”
“I’m big on soundscaping. When you play in the pop world, a lot of time, they want you to be able to recreate the sounds on the record. Since everything is so EDM and synth heavy these days A lot of the times they want you to play guitar in a way that doesn’t necessarily sound like guitar in a classic sense.
I make my guitar sound kind of like a synth, or very etherial, or spacey.
[To me,] the gear is really important. I’m really big on having a good pedal board and understanding how to use it. That’s pretty much the key to pop. Since it’s pretty simple to play, it’s not necessarily how many notes you can rip, it’s about getting the right sound.
[Find your sound is] a lot of experimentation. It’s lot of it is just sitting down with your pedal board and your amp, listening to what [another song’s] guitars sound like, and then working with your gear to see what it takes to get there. Soundscaping is all about finding a sound you really like, and recreating it.
In terms of technical playing, it also comes back to learning songs. I’ll find something that’s hard, or something that’s interesting, anything challenging, and then, sit down and learn it. Until I master it. Playing scales and practicing those things will certainly help, but I know, for me, the biggest difference is, if I hear a song with a really exciting guitar part, or something where I’m like ‘huh, I wonder if I’m capable of doing that,’ I’ll go ahead and learn it, and by learn it, I mean actually taking the time to really learn them, not like ‘oh, that’s close enough.”
“The stuff I learned when I started guitar was the blues & classic rock stuff. I learned, ‘all you need is a guitar and an amp, and if you can’t do it with that, you’re not good.’ As I matured, I expanded my realm of influence, so now I’m all about effects, and really anything that sounds good — whether that’s an amp or a computer program.”
“I started by stealing riffs and patterns from Simon & Garfunkel, changing them around a bit, and developing them into my own. [To this day], I’m constantly listening to what’s happening, and I think you just absorb things subconsciously. When you’ve played an instrument for a long time you just hear things and take them into your soul.
[When I start to write,] I normally grab an acoustic guitar and start finger picking. When I’m recording, I have several different guitars I like to play [to get the sound I want]. I have a custom amp that sounds like a cross between a VOX AC30 and a Fender Twin, and that’s my go to amp for pretty much everything.
I have my own esthetic that I like the guitar to sound like. I’ll set that up to how I like it — which is pretty standard for me, get the right gain structure, you know — and then I color it with pedals — so delay, distortion, chorus, vibrato, whatever I want it to sound like — however trippy or heavy, but initial sound always has a perfect, round sound to it.”
“‘My dad got me a First Act guitar, but I didn’t touch it until I got back from a John Mayer concert. After seeing him play, I was like ‘that’s what I want to do.’ After learning John Mayer’s music, I found out who inspired him, I went back to the source. I started listening to and learning from Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, so my playing has kind of mirrored Joh Mayer and his influences. Every artist, no matter what creative field, will take from their favorite artists. Everybody’s unique style is a collection of their influences.
I’m just a melting pot in my sound. Now, when I’m practicing, I use a loop pedal. You can sit for hours on a chord progression and just meddle around.”
With each guitarist came different preferences because there’s no one right way to learn guitar. The most important thing is the keep your ears open and fingers moving along the fret board. As a musician and writer myself the best piece of advice I have ever been given was to learn all the rules, and once you do, forget them. Knowing the rules allows you to grow in a path that works traditionally, whereas forgetting the rules, or, at least storing them in the back of your mind, knowing you canutilize them but don’t have to, gives you an opportunity to create your own path that turns into a masterpiece made specifically for you. Whether you’re a painter, a chef, or a musician, there are fundamental techniques that (almost) everyone agrees on doing to improve their individual craft. But no two people are the same, and what works for one artist may not work for the next. So, when it comes to guitar, the most important thing is to listen, practice, and develop a sound based upon what plays on your heart strings.