Tuesday, 7 April 2009

"Progression" from electric to acoustic guitar

I’ve lost count of how many ‘creative’ acoustic guitar players are out there these days, slapping their instruments while hitting harmonics in open tunings and then telling a tired tale of how they have evolved from metal guitarists into somehow “superior” acoustic players. I play guitar. Sometimes it’s acoustic, sometimes classical (nylon string), sometimes electric. To me, none of them are superior or inferior to the others. I’ve never understood the idea that one may ‘progress’ from one type of guitar to another? How can an entire type of guitar be ‘better’ than another?

Speaking of the differences between acoustic and electric guitars (because it comes up in conversation all the time between players), I frequently draw comparisons to the differences between black & white, and colour photographs. Do professional photographers “only take black & white photos”? Or “only colour”? Of course they don’t. A fine black & white photograph has a timeless and truly stunning quality. A colour photograph has qualities of its own. Is one of these types of photograph in any way superior or inferior to the other? Aside from recognising that colour photographs are an evolutionary step from black & white, they are different things and cannot be compared.

While ideology pertaining to terminal equality between the electric and acoustic guitar may be well argued, there are some hard and inescapable facts which need to be recognised:

If you play electric guitar and can bash out a few, well played chords in a decent band, you can fill a large arena. The ‘creative’ acoustic guitar players will only have limited success because what they do has limited appeal. What they do has limited appeal because the nature of the style is limited. The well respected pioneers of creative acoustic guitar playing (Michael Hedges, Preston Reed, and a couple of potentially contentious and debatable others) played, and in Preston Reed and Tommy Emmanuel’s case, still play small venues. Yes, it is possible to make a living, but nobody is ever going to fill more than a small venue with an audience for it.

So what is better, a gallery of black & white, or colour photographs? Or is that a question which even applies when there is room for both? Looking at the cold, hard facts again, (using this analogy and extending this further), how many new digital cameras could you sell if they only took black & white photographs next to a camera that could do it all?

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