Well, the sale of guitars has actually gone up in recent years, reported Rolling Stone , but the result is an over saturation of technical instrumental guitar music, and that music’s just stale. We’re just as much to blame, however: The general public want to listen to music that’s digestible, in stark contrast to most of the instrumental musical jargon that uses guitars instead of vocals. Popular music is standardised, and largely use vocals since, biologically, we’re hard wired to notice them most – it’s the hook to latch onto while listening that the public need for music to be engaging. Many instrumental artists in the past have found mainstream appeal with guitar lead music, such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Steve Vai, etc, and these names are very culturally important to us. This kind of music has lost it’s way in recent years though, with too many new artists focusing on technicality too much, losing much of their musicality in the process.
Enter Polyphia, Covet, and Jakub Zytecki, who release guitar music that rips. What makes these artists different from all the drivel out there is that they’re songwriters who use guitar as a tool to write songs. Polyphia use very technical riffs, but they’re still catchy and musical. Yvette Young of Covet uses a piano like approach to guitar, favouring two handed tapping, fingerpicking and alternate tunings to create sparkling soundscapes. Jakub Zytecki is one of the most musically aware guitarists on the planet, with his music taking inspiration from anything and everything. Even without vocals as the main hook, people still love them for what they do, and they’re making waves in the modern music world because of it. They still have an incredibly high level of skill that they showcase on guitar, but they use it to serve their songs, not to show off.
I think technical guitar based music is great in its own niche and has its purpose there. There is a fine line between interesting and overly technical though. The artists I’ve mentioned all get criticized for being overly complex as well as being too simple, and depending where your tastes land on the musical spectrum both opinions are correct in some way. I think the main difference is their intent when writing. They intend to create something to appeal to a broad audience while still having enough complexity to retain interest, so that’s what they do.
When asked about the future of guitar music, Tim Henson of Polyphia seems to have put it best by saying; “I see it being less guitar-centred, and more musical. Because I hope that guitar music dies. I want it to die a painful death, because so much of it is just bullsh!t. And I feel like people should focus more on the music itself and use the guitar as a tool to make music versus, like, ‘I’m going to play guitar music,’ you know what I mean? Because so much of it is just not good.”
Just write music, not wankery, and you should be alright in your up and coming instrumental act.