The evolution of the modern guitar and how to choose the right one for you.
Thanks to Sigmund Freud the simple, innocent act of stroking a long hard piece of wood has come to be thought of as a substitute for wanking. This is unfair to guitarists. We actually contend that most masturbators are trying to imitate us. So to all you wizards of the air (silent “h”) guitar, I say: put down your procreative tool and pick up a pro creative tool instead.
The problem is, with so many types of axes out there, it’s hard to know which one to choose. Just like life on Earth, guitars have evolved greatly over time. Arguably, guitars are a metaphor for our life in general and our own lives in particular. Consequently, one must choose an instrument carefully, else risk an identity crisis. Verily, every great age of man was defined by his tools. Now that the stone, bronze and iron ages are history, I invite you to the age of heavy metal, or perhaps, Steely Dan.
Guitars originally came from Spain, and although Spanish people in the 16th century looked like rock stars, they sure didn’t play like them. These are great for playing pretty little pieces that no one listens to. Plus, classical music is really hard to play and involves taking actual lessons. Buy this if you either a) are Spanish or b) adamantly do not want to rock and roll all night and party every day.
2) Steel String Acoustic
Great for power ballads and country music. Amazing technology (box of wood) means you don’t need an amplifier. More painful on the fingers than a classical guitar due to the tighter steel strings but also have a thinner neck, so once you build up horrible calluses on your fingertips, actually a lot more comfy in the long run, especially if you’re a dwarf.
3) Twelve String Acoustic
Great for big harp-like sounds that just insist you get stoned and sing about not killing people whilst making love and/or feeling copasetic. Takes about three days to tune properly, so set aside some time before the big love-in.
4) Hollow-body Electric Guitar
Ushered into the world by 1920s jazz legend Charlie Christian, who was sick of never being heard over his band. After he stuck a modified microphone on his axe, he blew the blowhard horn blowers off the bandstand. Dark, muted tones are perfect for small cafes and rhythm and blues records. Easily the prettiest guitars around, though they’ll cost you a pretty penny – at least 200,000 of them.
5) Gibson Les Paul
This is the granddaddy of them all – one of the world’s very first solid-body electric guitars. Originally derided for being no more than a plank of wood with an electric pickup device, they are now some of the most revered planks of wood in the world, edged out only slightly by those associated with Jesus Christ. A mint-condition 1959 Les Paul can cost more than a house, but who needs a house when you’re a freebird or a ramblin’ man? Don’t forget to purchase insurance, though.
6) Fender Stratocaster
The Stratocaster went on to become the most popular guitar in the world, spawning a host of cheap imitators that sound nearly as good but lack the official pedigree. (Solution: replace the sticker with a fake Fender one and save big). Three pickups give you more tonal variation, a vibrato bar makes it easy to make your guitar go mental, and deep cutaways where the neck joins the body means you can easily play notes high enough to engender random DNA mutations and shatter cocktail glasses (hint: wait until the end of the set to do this or you’ll have to contend with drunk, grumpy mutants).
7) Bass Guitar
You may not get as much guitar-god glory playing bass as you do playing guitar, but the upside is that if you screw up no one will know it’s you, and they’ll probably think it was the guitarist. Many a time I found myself half way through a tune and discovered I was playing the entirely wrong song. Everyone just thought we were being avante-garde (French for “clever-lousy”). Playing proper bass requires that you’ve got some funk in your soul, and generally, large appendages. Which is probably why so many black guys play bass.
8) Line 6 Variax
I myself have just purchased one of these babies. Widely pooh-poohed by the elite guitar community, it nonetheless represents the future of the guitar. Using computer modeling technology the Variax is able to reproduce the sound of virtually any famous guitar, including acoustics, bass guitars, and a slew of standard guitar brands. And though it looks a bit lame, according to the present-day calculus of cool, lame is now officially considered cool. Take that, you rock and roll dinosaurs! We’re gonna rock, rock, rock around the digital watch/calculator tonight. The problem, of course, is that now with so many wonderful sounds to select from, I can never decide which one to choose.
Of course, this explosion of offerings, this addiction to options, is a hallmark of the modern world. See what I mean? Guitars really are a metaphor for life. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need, if only for a moment. It’s hard to imagine where Guitarwinism will take us next, but I for one can’t wait for the day that I can play using only my brain and a wireless transmitter. This, of course, would leave my hands free to administer to other things.
What? Lighten up, Sigmund. I only meant that I could applaud myself. Yes, I admit that would also be a form of wanking, but what do you know? You’re dead. And you only played the stupid violin. Sometimes a guitar is just a guitar. If anything, I think we should all be picking on clarinet players.
Photo: ‘Ghost Crow’ by Alembic. This article originally appeared in Think Magazine