The future of the guitar – what is it?
Where is it?
We`re still using designs that are around 60 years old: Gibson Les Paul, Fender Stratocaster, Flying V, Explorers, Jaguar, Firebird etcetera. Commonalities include double or single cutaways, magnetic pickups, tone selectors, strings, tremelo arms, bridges, frets, tuning pegs.
All of the icons in the guitar world use guitars that adhere to these historic designs.
Last week I had a play on a small bodied Playstation III Guitar Hero Les Paul style controller and the whammy bar was incredible. Nice and light, easy to get around – small horns & good upper neck accessibility. Because the whammy bar ins`t sprung and there are no string it was dead easy to gain the level of control exhibited by trem master Jeff Beck – check out his track “Where were you” for a superlative example. I`ve seen Jeff Beck live three times and he is on another (tremelo) level altogether.
About 20 years ago I had a cheap Marlin stratocaster but it had a smaller than usual stratocaster style body, and this made it immensely light and easier to play (and throw around). Is the future of the guitar in fretless, stringless neck design where the mere tactility of fingers across a surface or through a laser beam creates sound? At the moment we value and prize the skill and agility of fingers across strings and personally I can`t think of anything worse than simulated feedback, crisp digital homogenised sampling and fake plastic sound. Here are some examples of the real thing.
In terms of ergonomic usability guitar design is still in the dark ages some might argue. Johnny Winter uses an Erlewine Lazer, probably because it combines a hornless, headless, lightweight, slim highly accessible design with the basic core of traditional guitar design and construction – he gets all the right sounds with a new ergonomic design.
My old Les Paul weighs a f*****g ton, it looks beautiful and the sustain lasts forever but it makes your shoulder ache after half an hour. Changing the design materials obviously alters the sonic possibilities, range, feel and capability. We dont want to move too far away from what we`ve got…imperfection – again.
It`s the imperfection in the design of guitars that makes them so beautiful and awesome and capable as divining rod potentiometers for the range of human emotion.
If we clean up the circuitry, make them noiseless, digital, stringless, tactile surfaces then we`ll be taking the human aspect out of the instrument.
It would be a real shame to move away from strings, pickups and amps and the vast range of possibilities this old fashioned and simple combination of objects provides. It`s about moving forwards into the future but in the right direction.