Zero—that’s how many rock songs made it into 2017’s top 40 singles list. One look at this number and it becomes obvious that the age of guitar gods like Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton is long gone. This, however, is not necessarily a bad thing. According to Muse frontman Matt Bellamy, instead of being a lead instrument, the guitar has simply transitioned to a more textural role—which opens up a world of possibilities to aspiring guitarists and audiences alike. By forcing modern guitar players to get creative with how they use the instrument, the world may finally be able to go beyond the same old riffs and licks that have been a mainstay in the guitar world for several decades now.
Sure, rock music will always have a special place in the hearts of true fans. However, the fact the Gibson, one of the world’s most prominent guitar manufacturers, is about to go bankrupt points to the fact that it’s no longer as big a draw as it used to be. Audiences in both the UK and the US have simply come to favour pop and hip-hop a lot more. So, does this mean that it’s time for guitarists to trade in the many guitars and accessories in their collection for a laptop and some digital music production software? Well, the short answer is no. They could, instead, explore ways to mix their rock influences with something unexpected like dubstep or orchestral music and craft something truly refreshing and interesting.
Aside from a couple of exceptions, artists that have serious staying power typically draw it from their ability to reinvent themselves. Take Taylor Swift, for example. Her earlier albums sound nothing like the ones she’s putting out today. The same goes for Paramore. This is because no matter how good an artist sounds right now if they keep putting out the same type of material over and over again, audiences will sooner or later lose interest. This ultimately means that if rock guitarists could also successfully reinvent themselves and make their playing more relevant to contemporary listeners, then they should be able to get the world interested in their craft again as well.
The world needs more Morellos
Tom Morello of the band Rage Against the Machine had the right idea when decided to go against the grain and use Digitech’s Whammy pedal—glitches and all—to squeeze all sorts of iconic non-traditional sounds from his guitar. It added a truly unexpected layer to the instrument, which audiences instantly fell in love with. At the end of the day, if only more guitarists started adopting the same kind of pioneering mindset, then guitar-driven music may very well get its second wind.