Where Are All The Guitar Heroes?

No More Heroes Any More?

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Strange things are afoot in our musical world. Whisper it quietly, but the notion of the guitar hero is dying out. Superstar guitarists are a dying breed. This article in the Washington Post said as much, so it must be true, right? Well, yes and no. It is an interesting thing to ponder though. Where are all the guitar heroes nowadays?

Those of us of a certain age (I’m 35, for example) will remember the days when people like Slash, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen were as much of a reason to listen to a certain band as the band itself. The image of Slash, for example, with his trusty Les Paul in the November Rain video playing his solo outside the church is forever imprinted on my brain. As young music fans, especially those of us who were learning the instrument, listening to one of the big guns in guitar music was a proper draw.

It’s hard to say what it was that made them so worship-able. Clearly they were super talented, and they looked cool. But there are plenty of players nowadays who fit those two criteria, yet there doesn’t seem to be the same attachment among today’s music fans for the box office guitarist. Sure, there’s people like Joe Bonamassa and John Mayer, but they’re not in the same adulation sphere as the names we mentioned previously. Not even close.

Where’s Your God Now?

It could be argued that it isn’t just guitar gods either. It’s almost like the entire cliche of the ‘rock star’ has died too. This could be linked to the growth of electronic music over the past decade in particular. Nobody looks at a dude behind a laptop and wishes they could be like him. But music has evolved. That much is clear. Perhaps the guitar gods of the past have gone underground, to an extent, replaced by a new breed of player.

It brings to mind the over-arching story in the TV show & book American Gods. In a nutshell, it tells the tale of the old gods battling for relevance in today’s world, especially when they’ve largely been usurped by newer, more contemporary gods. Now consider YouTube. In the past we had the guitar heroes put forward by record labels, magazines, TV appearances etc. Now, the guitarists people look to are the people making videos from their own homes.

People like Ola Englund, Misha Mansoor, Fred Brum and Rob Scallon are among the ‘new gods’ people flock to online. The levels of adulation and respect are probably similar to what I felt towards Slash et al when I was growing up. Yet these new gods are so much more personal, more engaging and easier to relate to than the old gods. You type a comment under a video, and there’s a chance they might even reply directly. They’re also more than keen to talk about the gear they use and the techniques they employ.

Flying the flag

Ok, caveat time. Despite what you’ve read above, it’s important that we point out there are guitar heroes out there in the more traditional mould. Brent Hinds from Mastodon, Ben Weinman from Dillinger Escape Plan and Mark Morton from Lamb of God stand out. You can see with each of these guys that they have a very definite style, are all technically superb players and are all responsible for inspiring people to try new things on the guitar.

So it’s not that there aren’t guitar heroes out there. On the contrary. But perhaps it’s more that the world has changed and people don’t want heroes like before. In the days before internet and social media, our access to music, bands and players was – to a certain extent – curated. We were exposed to whatever Kerrang, or the NME, or Radio 1 put in front of us. Now of course it’s different. If someone doesn’t immediately grab us we can use the infinite resources at our disposal to find someone else to scratch that itch.

Conclusion

It’s clear things have changed in the world of heavyweight guitarists. As much as anything that’s down to the fact we’re exposed to so much more music, bands, artists and – let’s be honest – distractions now than we ever were. But when we’re talking about guitar heroes, we’re simply referring to the higher profile players who remind us why we picked up the instrument in the first place. The guys and girls who make it sound like we want to make it sound.

So yes, things are different. But fear not. For as long as there are guitars, there will be guitarists. And as long as there are guitarists, there will be guitar heroes.

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