#1
Why is it that so often guitarists (or, really, musicians in general, but I'm a guitarist, so that's my focus here) never really seem to progress their chops once they get out there? What I mean is, often, the level of technique displayed on an artist's debut record sets the bar in regards to skill set for the rest of their career. It's rare to, say, hear a guitarist start with pentatonic blues solos on their fist record and then, over the course of time and releases, incorporate more advanced sweeping techniques or two-handed tapping or whatever. Many times, they kind of find what worked for them the first time and stick with it.

There are, of course, exceptions. Judas Priest began their career with the relatively simple blues-based leads typical of metal's early era, and then eventually moved onto more intricate techniques by the time they got to Painkiller in the 90s. Fates Warning also finds ways to push the envelope from record to record. Mark Tremonti has progressed somewhat since his early days in Creed. However, these examples, as far as I can tell, are exceptions rather than the rule.

This phenomenon doesn't just apply to guitarists who start simply either. Yngwie Malmsteen began his career showcasing already virtuosic ability, but has continued on pretty much the same kind of level ever since , even though later guitarists have created and honed some really cool techniques. You won't, for instance, see Yngwie trying out any of the piano-style two-handed tapping of players such as Chris Broderick, Michael Romeo, or Tosin Abasi.

I just wonder why this is or if anyone has insights. Is it a matter of "if it ain't broke don't fix it," or is it just that touring musicians don't have the time anymore to develop new techniques? Does the advanced guitarist, at some point, cease to try to further dexterity in order to focus on creative diversity?
What are your thoughts?
#2
Sorry this double-posted. My internet is being wonky. Hopefully one of the mods can get rid of the extra.
#3
I don't know of many musicians who don't always try to improve, but once they start into recording, the emphasis tends to be more on advancing their songwriting than technical ability on their instruments. Some also improve in other ways.

For example, when the Beatles started, Paul McCartney played guitar and bass, maybe a little piano. as their career as a band progressed, he developed into one of the best songwriters ever, and his playing branched out into more keyboards, wind instruments, drums, better as a guitar player to the point now I doubt you can find an instrument he can't play and play well. On his first solo album, he played everything. If you've ever heard the song "Maybe I'm Amazed", that's one he recorded completely by himself.

Ian Anderson, of Jethro Tull, did the same thing. Martin Barre was originally a flute player, I'm not sure if Anderson learned it from him or not, but he originally just played flute and guitar, and wrote fairly basic rock and roll songs. By their 3rd album, his writing had progressed greatly and he was playing guitar, bass, keyboards and on the "Thick as A Brick" album, he even played some horns. Still later on, his songwriting on albums like "Songs From the Wood", "Crest Of A Knave" and the more recent "Roots to Branches" is phenomenal. Now, like McCartney, he can play almost anything and has recorded several songs by himself. On stage, the band all swap to different instruments, on "Fat Man" for example, and one other I saw them do. Everyone plays something else.

Joe Walsh started as a guitar player, but also played a lot of the keyboards in the James Gang and his own solo albums, and with the Eagles. His songwriting progressed a lot too. Edgar Winter actually started on guitar when he was a kid, learned piano somewhere along the way, and sax in high school. Now he too, can play almost anything and is also one of the best songwriters in the rock business. He has also recorded songs by himself, and onstage, he played the 2nd drum part in "Frankenstein". I'm pretty sure he also plays several other instruments. George Harrison played several too, and learned sitar while the Beatles were still together. He was still one of the most melodic guitar players I ever heard. Every lead he played sounded like it just grew there. If you listen to his playing on the "Traveling Wilburys" albums, he improved a lot as a guitar player too. (Jeff Lynne, mentioned later, played and produced the Wilburys)

So many of these guys may seem to have stayed fairly constant in their guitar playing, but they had a lot of other things going and put a lot of energy into songwriting and learning other instruments as well. Some have also improved a lot too. Jeff Beck is a good example, he was an everyday rock guitar player while he was in the Yardbirds, but listen to him now...Clapton has improved a lot too, and a few others. The song "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas, originated as a little doodle Kerry Livgren was using to learn to finger pick an acoustic, which they didn't use much in their recordings. I've listened to their 1st 3 albums a lot, their songwriting, mostly Livgren, evolved a lot, and the individual players improved as they went too.

Another thing though, when you start playing for a living every night, you get to a point you reach the limits of your ability. You may not improve much, but your playing will get a lot smoother, more flowing, and it becomes second nature, where you don't have to even think about it any more. I played for a living for 8 years, 5 nights a week usually, and sometimes I would play improvised leads without ever thinking about what I was going to play at all. Find the note I wanted to start on and watch the girls dance...Once I got to a certain level, I didn't improve much, but I did develop my own style and over a period of about 3 or 4 years my playing got much smoother. You also get to the point you never miss a note either, when you do it every night...and when the same band plays together for a living, 5 nights a week, they get so tight it squeaks, and you know what the other players are going to do before they do it.

So you do still improve, but in other ways. Some people you haven't heard from in years are still there, they just went into production instead of playing and touring. That's what Jeff Lynne, of ELO did. He's produced a ton of albums. Some people, when their bands broke up, went back into doing session work in studios. That's a different critter than doing live shows too, and you have to develop a different set of skills. Like patience...
Hmmm...I wonder what this button does...
Last edited by Paleo Pete at Oct 25, 2016,
#4
It's a very interesting topic. I would kind of include Jeff Beck in there as well. Although he was already considered a great when Blow by Blow came out, some of his best playing has been in his latter years. But yeah, Judas Priest was the first thing I thought of when I started reading your post. I mean who didn't go WTF?!! when they first heard KK and Glenn shredding on Painkiller. It was crazy.

I think it's normal for musicians to begin to focus on other aspects of music as they grow older. I know for myself I was into all the Shrapnel Records/MIT shredders when I was a young lad, but my tastes changed like I got into jazz/blues/funk/experimental guitarists. And for many professional musicians I think the focus eventually turns to the craft of songwriting. You can be technical all you want, but in the end you want to write a great song and improve that skill with each record. Plus many of these guitarists in metal bands have to keep playing metal to sell records, while their own musical tastes evolve into other genres. That's why I like Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden. He evolved into a very tasty guitar player as he incorporated his increasing interests in blues. I mean who knows - half these guitarists may not even listen to guitar music anymore - they may be into electronica.

Of course, the other side would be what about guitarists that DID become ridiculously complacent and tossed their talents into the wind? I always think of Vivian Campbell of Dio. He arrived as young Irish phenom - the next Gary Moore. He was rippin' it up on those Dio albums. Then he suddenly joined Def Leppard and it's like he never shredded again.
Last edited by Sayonara6String at Oct 25, 2016,
#5
I know, speaking of myself as a player, I got to a point where I could basically play all the melodies that cropped up in my head and the more advanced techniques seemed like a lot of work for something I'd probably never use anyway. I'd rather use that time writing than practicing disgusting-sounding Locrian lines I'd never use, you know?

Adrian is easily my favorite guitarist in Iron Maiden, but concerning Janick and Dave, it seems like they've been doing roughly the same sort of thing for decades - Dave with his legato trills and Janick with his generally sloppy playing (not sloppy by normal player standards, but sloppy compared to, say, the likes of Petrucci or Satriani). Even then, you see recent interviews from the Iron Maiden guitarists talking about how they don't compose their solos anymore and they compete to see who can just lay something down the fastest so they can go back to pub or whatever. "Adrian did his solo in ten minutes, but I cut mine in five!"
Last edited by PJIII at Oct 26, 2016,
#6
People plateau physically relatively quickly, that's why you're not hearing much improvement after the first few albums, from a technique standpoint.
#7
Quote by PJIII


Adrian is easily my favorite guitarist in Iron Maiden, but concerning Janick and Dave, it seems like they've been doing roughly the same sort of thing for decades - Dave with his legato trills and Janick with his generally sloppy playing (not sloppy by normal player standards, but sloppy compared to, say, the likes of Petrucci or Satriani). Even then, you see recent interviews from the Iron Maiden guitarists talking about how they don't compose their solos anymore and they compete to see who can just lay something down the fastest so they can go back to pub or whatever. "Adrian did his solo in ten minutes, but I cut mine in five!"


I agree - Adrian is my favorite as well, he's one of my favorite players - I also agree that they've all gotten sloppy on the last albums as far as crafting great solos like they used to - their laziness has not gone unnoticed! Listen to the solos on Powerslave album or Somewhere in Time and compare to recent albums, it's evident. I can't complain too much about Maiden though, at least they still put out good tunes and tour.