David Lamkins picked up his first guitar a long time ago. As best he can recall the year was 1967: the year of the Summer of Love. Four decades later David has conjured up an amalgam of folk, rock and jazz solo guitar music for the occasional intimate Portland audience.
location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: attitude, business, fetishism, technology, @musings info

Are guitar players stuck in the past?

It's not so much that guitar players are traditionalists as they are "practicalists" (is that even a word?). Players select instruments that help to make music in some manner that appeals to them.

Instrument manufacturers, on the other hand, are always looking for the next big thing. The manufacturers introduce tons of new instruments based upon technological innovation and fashion. With very few exceptions (Steinberger and Ovation instruments come to mind) the manufacturers do not create innovation, but rather follow the leads of trend-setting musicians. And of course there are simply cases where manufacturers attempt extreme cost-cutting measures and try to dress it up as radical innovation (e.g. solid-state amps).

Given that a lot of so-called innovation is either a variation on a theme or a few warts or sequins stuck onto an already functional design, it's not surprising that we keep coming back to basics. There are so many products that are modern rehashes of old ideas... Even in the digital realm, the focus is on emulating or improving "classic" instruments. This is nothing but a cost-cutting approach to selling a product: the consumer can buy a multifunction guitar or amp or pedal for a fraction of the cost of a collection of the "real" instruments which are evoked by the modeller.

Someday someone will do something really shocking (shocking to our musical culture) in the digital domain, and that will spawn a new market. Don't look to the manufacturers to make that leap; they are not, by nature, risk-takers. But once a musician goes there, watch for the manufacturers to jump on the bandwagon and produce a long succession of "new-and-improved" versions of the seminal idea for as long as the market will bear.

Now, speaking as someone who turns 51 tomorrow, I've gotta say that it's neither nostalgia nor musical myopia that drives my own preferences for simple gear. Note that I said simple, and not "vintage". Personally, I don't understand the fascination with vintage guitars. All of the worst instruments I've played were "vintage" (although at the time we called them either "new" or "used"). I'm thrilled at the choice of high-quality guitars available at all price points since the 1990s. As far as electronics goes, I've become a minimalist. I've used digital amps and effects. I've used collections of stomp boxes. I've used guitar synths. I've built my own gear: amps, effects, guitar electronics, even a guitar synth (in the 1970s, no less)... I've done my bit as an innovator and have come back to the musical fluidity borne of getting the most I can out of a simple rig.

In the end, it's always about the music...

June 07 2005 21:23:17 GMT