As this time rolls around every year it's a great reminder to reflect on the blessings in your life. In a lot of ways family, health and the like seem like much better candidates for gratitude than a musical instrument. But it would be disingenuous if I didn’t acknowledge the role the guitar plays in my life. No matter how bad of a day I have, I can always pickup the guitar and, along the way, my spirits too.
So with all due respect to the blessings of family, career and health in my life, here’s a list of five guitar-related things I’m grateful to have:
5. Modern Technology
I love a classic tube amp as much as the next guy, but what you can do on your phone or an iPad today is simply stunning. With the right hardware and few well-chosen apps you can create a completely mobile, self-contained writing, rehearsing and recording studio.
When you add ubiquitous connectivity and the ability to publish and share your work so easily with others, it’s hard to believe that won’t somehow fundamentally change the music we create and listen to.
4. CNC Machining
The quality of guitar manufacturing has improved by orders of magnitude since I first started playing in the 80’s. A $400 guitar today is a much better-made instrument than the inflation-adjusted equivalent of one in, say, 1986.
Purists will argue that today’s instruments have lost the quirky magic of yesteryear’s hand-made guitars. Perhaps. But I still believe the hands matter more than the wire and the wood. I’m pretty sure that if you put a budget-priced Squire Strat in Eric Johnson’s hands it would still sound amazing.
I’m also willing sacrifice a little manufacturing “magic” for the increased availability of reasonably-priced instruments to more potential players. This isn’t golf, it’s music. It shouldn’t be limited to those who have big bank accounts.
3. Quirks of History
The musical and cultural phenomenon of the electric guitar is a marvelous tale of historical circumstances. The confluence of manufacturing, materials available, and the shift in musical tastes elevated the guitar from a supporting-role to the pre-eminent instrument of one of the most popular musical styles of all time.
If I had been born 50 years earlier, I wouldn’t get to enjoy the place the guitar has in our culture (even if it’s in its decline). How lucky are we play an instrument following in the footsteps of the likes of Buddy Guy, Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen and so many more? Answer: very lucky.
2. Playing with Friends
I’m lucky enough to play regularly with other musicians. It’s one thing to pickup the guitar and push your own personal boundaries. It’s quite another engage in a musical conversation with other people. The thrill of group playing and performance never wears off. Sharing music with people you love playing with can turn anyone’s frown upside-down.
Not only is it a great way to push your own musical limitations, but it really teaches you to listen in a way that you don’t when playing solo. The interplay of each musician becomes an intoxicating real-time dance of sound and movement that you just can’t get anywhere else.
1. A Lifelong Pursuit
I like a challenge. I like knowing that twenty, thirty or forty years from now I’m still going to find new things to learn with the guitar. I suppose some people would find that daunting or discouraging. I think of studying and playing the guitar as a lifetime of thoughtful, rewarding entertainment. It makes me feel sorry for people who don’t have a passionate interest like this in their lives.
So as you fill up turkey, stuffing and pie, make sure to take a little time and reflect on all the wonderful things in your life, including the joy that a pursuit of music brings to your life.