A Guide to the Modern Day Guitar Hero
written by guitarist of Dublin Band - 'RECO'; Mark O' Loan, and Róisín Ferguson
London, 1966. Word is going around that there is a new, exciting guitar prodigy from the United States in town to play a show at the infamous Bag O’ Nails club. You go to the show, your expectations bubbling and as you walk in, you see McCartney, Clapton, and Townsend all in attendance for the same reason as you; to see the one and only Jimi Hendrix. Then as if on cue, on stage he walks, to a cultured crowd of fans and critics, both of whom were soon to become his disciples.
In a world where digital media rules all, gone are the days of hearing about a musician and then awaiting patiently for weeks to hear them play for one sold out show in some small venue on some back- alleyway. If someone were recommending a band to me today, I’d simply type their name into Spotify and listen to the first thing that comes up. I’m all for making music as accessible as possible, but as music became more digital, the analogue prowess seemed to die out, taking the idea of a guitar hero with it. Names such as Clapton, Hendrix, SRV, Gallagher, Page, Edge, May and many more were all common occurrences in the household 30 – 40 years ago. With the rise of the internet and social media, the idea of a guitar hero may have somewhat changed, but what is very clear is that it still very much exists.
In a time where guitar-based music is not in as much demand as it was 30 years ago, John Mayer has stayed true to his craft, and been the face of the guitar for the last 20 years. His guitar playing embodies the spirit of the guitar gods of the past decades and with works like ‘Continuum’ (arguably his most famous album), Mayer has managed to capture the minds and spirits of many young guitar lovers, fans and players. That album in particular solidified Mayer as a man of soul music, whilst having unparalleled blues chops with his hands dancing along the frets. Some standouts on the album are the opener, ‘Waiting on the World to Change’, ‘Slow Dancing in a Burning Room’ and ‘Gravity’. Slow dancing is one of those songs that just have you in a complete choke - hold when listening. The first two notes alone are enough to make the hairs stand on your back. Truthfully speaking though, you can’t put Mayer under one genre, there is no box in which his style and talent fits. However, one thing that is for sure is that the guitar as an instrument and its own modern reputation, has only benefited from the Berklee graduate’s time in the limelight.
Tim Henson and Scott LePage
It’s not an easy task to describe ‘Polyphia’, it’s not even a real word, but to the Texas based instrumental quartet, that doesn’t matter in the slightest. As far as they’re concerned, it's Polyphia’s world and we’re all living in it. Polyphia are an instrumental, genre-blurring, prog - shred band that constantly push the boundaries of guitar playing. With a combined following of over 1.5 million subscribers across their YouTube channels, guitarists Tim Henson and Scott LePage, produce guitar playing dark magic that you genuinely have to see to believe. There is not much out there that sounds like Polyphia, and with the release of their new album coming very soon, they are bigger than ever at the minute. Their 2019 release ‘G.O.A.T’, propelled them into the mainstream guitar world, sounding like nothing else before. They have the skill and technical ability of classically trained musicians whilst having the raw energy of punk rockers. Tracks like ‘Playing God’, ‘Neurotica’, and ‘40oz’ demand your full and undivided attention like an airhostess indicating the way to the emergency exits with arms hell bent and straight out . Their lighting- fast playing, and innovative use of harmonics and alternate picking styles have established them as modern-day guitar heroes, with only bigger and better things to come.
Including a guitarist who does not even have an album of any sort, released anywhere, is potentially controversial. That is only if you have never heard the enlightening sound of Ichika Nito playing the guitar. The Japanese guitarist rose to internet fame on YouTube, with his 30 second video titled ‘i miss you’ amassing over 9 million views. The viral video gained him over 2 million loyal subscribers. His videos, all of which are well under a minute long, leave you wanting more and more every time. I’ve seen it be put that Ichika is what your guitar watches when you’re not home to get some inspiration. His incredible skill and technical ability result in beautiful counterpoint compositions, taking care of the rhythm and melodies all at once. He tends to fall under the math- rock genre, which explains the very complex rhythmic and instrumental patterns. Without a doubt, Ichika Nito would find a portrait of himself hanging in the guitar hall of fame, if he continues to create such mastery.
Extinguishing the fire in the Burning Room
Although guitar music might hibernate from time to time, it is always waiting around the corner, ready to make its way back to the hearts of the many old listeners that loved it as well as new listeners that will carry and care for it, for generations to come. The idea of a guitar hero will continue to evolve but for now, the craft is in good hands, and the relic’d sunburst torch will continue to burn bright.