In Defense Of The Home Guitarist

...article in the Jan.'98 GUITAR mag...

In Defense Of The Home Guitarist by Pete Prown

We all have The Dream at some period in our lives. We picture ourselves live and onstage, spread-eagle before a throng of screaming fans, and ripping our way through the most balls-out solo in the history of music. Ahhhhhh......

Time for a reality check. While many of us will play in garage and college bands, or even go so far as to become semi-pro or pro working guitarists, there is a far quieter but still plentiful creature in the six-string kingdom that needs to be darted, tagged, and studied under strict laboratory conditions: the fabled home guitarist. The home guitar picker doesn't get the fame or glamour of the stage-loving performer, but he or she is often just as good a player. Maybe better. Let's take a closer look at this arcane member of the sub-genus guitaricus homebodyium.

The raison d'eter behind this species of player is that not everyone is cut out for the stage; in fact, many people simply have no desire to perform. The musicians and rock stars you've grown to love over the years may be terrific players, but they have another side to their artistic personality, one that requires an audience: They need that immediate response (read "ego gratification") from someone else whenever they start jamming. Nonperforming guitarists, on the other hand, don't have that chromosome. They prefer to jam on the front porch, in front of the latest installment of Jeopardy, or in the peace and quiet of the home-project studio. They couldn't care less about an audience, except, of course, when in The Dream mode.

This is hardly to say that home players aren't real guitarists. After all, who's to say you're only a real picker if validated by live performance? Granted, there is something magical about playing in front of other humans, but that's not the whole story. If it were, there wouldn't be any cause to celebrate the rarefied "studio guitarist" who cuts jingles, soundtracks, and pop backing tracks all day, then goes home to have dinner with the family and, perhaps, watch Jeopardy.

Actually, there are all sorts of cool nonperforming jobs that involve guitars. There are guitar teachers, repairmen, builders (aka, luthiers) and, in just about every axe factory I've ever visited, a whole battery of guitar testers who check the quality control of each and every guitar leaving the building. These guys jam all day long. Nice gig, eh? And, given our numerous gear reviews, a lot of us who work at Guitar and Guitar Shop magazines would qualify as either music transcribers or professional product testers. Is any one of us-the aforementioned guitar pros-less of a player than the dude who gigs every night at the Holiday Inn bar? I don't think so.

There's also the species of guitarist which includes the salesman who works in the men's clothing department at Sears, and the guy who fixed mufflers for a living at Meineke. These cats don't have anything to do with the guitar professionally, yet I'm sure that some of them go home at night and just burn on their instruments...while watching Jeopardy, of course. I've also walked into music stores and been floored by an unassuming customer in the corner who's making those frets work for a living. There are great players all over the place who just play for the love of it. Isn't that the reason we all play?

We all live for those magical, private moments when a guitarist figures out a new lick at home, reaches some new technical plateau, or writes a new song. One morning, 40 some-odd years ago, Paul McCartney woke up with a melody in his head, grabbed his guitar, and started singing, "Scrambled eggs..." When he retitled the ballad "Yesterday", he created one of the most played and recorded songs in human history. Surely, the art of songwriting is one of the most sublime activities of the home guitarist. (Speaking of the Beatles, keep in mind that the group reached the zenith of its writing and studio genius after the foursome quit performing live, in 1966)

Even if you just pick up your guitar to practice or to groove on a riff (during-what else-Jeopardy), it's just as real as jamming in front of 500,000 people at Woodstock. Don't be fooled by capitalistic notions inferring that the only things that validate you as a guitarist are album and ticket sales. If you're sitting in your backyard, picking a tune, and feeling good, then you're as genuine a guitar player as any that's lived. Just pickin' itself is its own reward.