From Les Paul to Hendrix to EVH to Tom Morello, there have been a string of guitar innovators throughout the last century, but what is it that sets them apart from your average Joe basement guitarist and leads them to push the boundaries and come up with extraordinary techniques, music and innovations?
Historically speaking, most innovations are created out of a necessity to fulfill a need, either that of an individual or entire societies and civilizations. In the world of guitar there have been innovations in terms of equipment, effects, styles and many others, but leaving aside innovation related to gear, let’s take a look at innovation as it applies to guitar technique.
Technique is important in guitar playing, especially in the beginning as you need a certain amount of it to get to the point where your playing sounds good; you get the fret-buzz under control, your calluses start to harden, and you begin to feel you’re in control of the instrument. As you progress you acquire the techniques needed to play more advanced pieces and so forth until technique becomes somewhat redundant, or rather, technique is no longer holding you back.
Here’s the rub
If you’re playing anything written by the aforementioned guitar players (any many more too numerous to mention) then what you’re learning is the product of their innovation, or their desire to achieve a particular sound drawn from their own imagination. If you want to be an innovator yourself, you first have to have a need, or rather the desire to accomplish certain things on the guitar; now, turn that need into a burning desire and you’re well on your way to becoming an innovator. I’ll admit it seems like everything’s already been done and that there’s nothing new under the sun, but every once in a while someone comes along and just blows everyone away.
The following video is the guitar lesson part from Eddie Van Halen’s recent interview at the Smithsonian on the very subject of innovation. He demonstrates how he came up with tapping and more interestingly how most of his high-wire guitar techniques and tricks were born out of necessity. Enjoy!