A New Way To Play: Meet the guitarists who are taking over TikTok

The fastest growing social network of recent years is also proving a fertile ground for young guitarists to make a name for themselves – it’s time to get to know the rising stars of guitar TikTok.

When you think of TikTok, if all that comes to mind is dance trends and comedy skits then you’re missing out. The platform experienced an explosion of global popularity over the course of the pandemic and now boasts over one billion active users each month. It’s therefore no surprise that musicians from across the globe have taken to this Gen Z-dominated, video-based app to showcase their talent for the world, but did you know that TikTok is also home to a diverse and unique community of guitarists?

If you didn’t you’re about to get educated, as we tracked down three of the biggest names in the world of Guitar TikTok – each of them boasting their own unique relationship with guitar, and quirky new ways to play. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the way that TikTok guitarists approach the instrument may boggle the minds of those who favour the good old days of hair metal, big-time amplification and jam-packed pedalboards. But fear not, the magic of guitar is not going anywhere, but an exciting shift in the ways in which we play and share our music is about to erupt with the rise of the next generation. Let us get you acquainted…

Conor Albert (@Conor_Albert)

Conor is a London-based artist, songwriter and producer who is conquering TikTok with his quirky aesthetic videos and soulful, jazz influenced guitar. At just 21, he has released two EP’s and has a following of over 50,000 on TikTok. His ways of making music are far from traditional, but show that the future holds endless possibilities for re-inventing what we expect of a guitarist.

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Conor Albert
Image: Josh Halling

Tell us about your history with guitar…

“I started playing when I was eight but I started producing before then, so guitar was only there to serve the production which is kind of what it is now. I don’t really consider myself a guitarist or a keyboardist or bassist; I’m using those instruments to serve a purpose. I’ll hear something in a song and I’ll learn it so I can put it in one of my songs. When I was a teen, I started getting into neo-soul and hip-hop and that was a big kick up the arse to start playing a bit more. It’s been a lot more serious since then.”

Tell us about your relationship with TikTok, where did it all begin?

“My manager was encouraging me to get on it. I’d never really used it, I downloaded it once and it was just girls dancing, I remember deleting it but I was posting them on Instagram anyway as I’d started posting beats last October, so he suggested I may as well post them on both. I think I just got kind of lucky at the beginning, the third or fifth video ended up becoming used in a TikTok trend so it got a lot of attention.”

@conor_albert

ok we back !!! 🎸⚡️ #jams #beats #lofibeats #neosoul #rnb #jazz #guitar #bass #drums #loop #loops #jam #lofibeat #hellyeah

♬ original sound – Conor Albert

Who influences the jazzy-indie sound you produce?

“There are a lot of influences from when I was really young that I attained through osmosis I suppose; early Justin Timberlake, a lot of stuff produced by The Neptunes and a lot of early 2000s hip-hop was always around the house. The chords and harmony in those records subconsciously entered my brain when I was around 15. My theory is that those are the formative years of your musical taste and it amalgamated at that point. I started listening to loads of FKJ, I became creepily obsessed with him and I watched all of his live videos and brought the same keyboard he had. I think at that stage that was kind of a good thing to do, to copy him a bit, it was a really good form of practice of what was to come. Around that time I also loved classic neo soul records like Voodoo by D’Angelo, and artists like Hiatus Kaiyote. More recently I’ve been more into pop-folk like John Mayer and Phoebe Bridgers, I never really got into them before I feel like I’m late to the party!”

Conor Albert
Image: Josh Halling

Tell us about your gear and set up, how do you record for TikTok?

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“I do everything through the computer, I’ve never had an amp or pedals. Before the rehearsals started for a show I was doing a while ago I bought loads of pedals, I spent so much money thinking this is what you have to do to be a guitarist because I was in a transitional period where I wanted to switch over from playing keys to be a guitarist so I bought all these pedals and then realised that I didn’t need them at all, and for the sounds that I did need I would have to spend so much money and the pedal board would become ridiculously big. I ended up selling them all and just bought the Boss ME-80. I think a lot of people slag it off, but it has every effect and sound you could ever want! I’ve been using it for live shows but for TikTok it’s all just in the box and using AmpliTube 4 and Ableton.”

What’s your advice for guitarists looking to get on TikTok?

“I think there’s two things. The first one is just getting some kind of style. I think I got lucky that I found something that worked later on. Early this year I did cloning videos where there’s multiple of me in a room playing all the instruments. People have done that before like Jacob Collier but they’d only done it in select videos and I was doing it every day. I think if you have a good style it’s like a marketing thing, if you see something three times, you’re more likely to follow. You can be the most amazing guitarist but if you don’t have that aesthetic people won’t always click.

“When I first started I was doing a video every day and that was stressful but I think in this day and age it is kind of necessary. People think you’re busy and ‘popping off’ and it creates a perception in people’s minds, they are constantly aware of you. I was getting messages from people all the time I might have known for the last year that now suddenly wanted to work with me. That’s exactly what happened with me and Tom Misch. We had been aware of each other for a year or so and he was like ‘Yo, we should get in the studio!’”

Jon Dretto (@jondretto)

23-year-old independent artist, Jon, has gained over 500 million views across social media. Based in Upstate New York, he tours with his band Xistance and a range of other artists. With a degree in Music Business and Music Performance, Jon really knows his stuff when it comes to making it big as a guitarist in 2021.

Jon Dretto

Where did your TikTok journey begin?

“A musician friend had a TikTok page in early to mid 2019. He urged me to hop on the platform because he thought I would do great on it. My first video got over two million views and it wasn’t actually about music, it was a video of a car and a flooded parking garage. Shortly after I started posting videos of me playing guitar and singing. Since then I’ve gone viral countless times, and had around half a billion views in total.”

Tell us about how you became a guitarist…

“I’m 23 years old and I’ve been playing guitar for about 16 years now. My Dad had owned Music Lovers Shoppe for 30 years in Rochester, New York so there were always musical instruments coming in and out of my house at a young age because of his passion for not only the business, but the instruments themselves. One day he came home with a little Squier Strat for me to have as my own guitar.

“The next day, my dad was driving down the street coming home from running errands and he saw me at the edge of the driveway strumming the guitar with one hand. I had a little table set up, my money chest where I saved all my coins as a kid and a sign that said ‘guitar $10’. My dad pulled up to me and said ‘Oh man, don’t be sorry if you didn’t make any money today. It’s very hard to make a living in music.’ And I responded, ‘Dad, please. I made almost five bucks today!’ Not long after I saw the movie Crossroads where Steve Vai and Ry Cooder did a lot of guitar work for the soundtrack. It was there and I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Jon Dretto

Why did you turn to TikTok?

“I first realised TikTok could be a major asset in growing an audience when I started to get comments and messages from some of my idols early on, that was amazing to me. I could reach some of the most influential people and artists from the comfort of my own home, for free. Social media will always amaze me that way. I use social media as a tool to challenge myself to constantly create and learn. Whether that means playing music that I haven’t yet been exposed to, learning music that’s popular right now, putting my own twist on popular music or playing original music, I’m always trying something new. I’m very proud that I get to do the thing I love for my career at a young age, while I have the energy to do it. I don’t wake up every day and hate my job, I absolutely love what I do.”

@jondretto

Say So #dojacat #guitarcover #guitarist #music

♬ original sound – Jon Dretto

You have many guitars and a lot of gear, do you have any favourites?

“Each guitar has a different voice, so it’s hard to pick. That being said, I do gravitate towards a double humbucker 24 fret guitar like a PRS Custom 24, or a Kiesel Aries Neck through. As far as Strat style guitars go, I am very fond of the PRS Silver Sky. I have so much gear, I find some of the most interesting gear isn’t even the pieces of gear I use all the time or at all.

“I have plenty of guitars with fancy woods and finishes, but so do a lot of people. No one has the guitars that my dad and I have built together and although I don’t play them, it was so fun as a kid for us to bond and create something together. My dad and I will pull them out of the cases every once in a while and think back on all the amazing memories and of course plug them in!”

Jon Dretto

What’s the future going to look like for you?

“One year ago I could not tell you that I would be where I am today, so for me to look out and think where I will be is impossible. I do know that wherever I am, I will be creating music and sharing it with whoever will listen. I do believe TikTok will still be a part of my life in some way shape or form. Technology evolves fast, so it is hard to say if the app will even resemble what it is in the future, I think it will though.”

Maya Delilah (@mayadelilahh)

BRIT school graduate, Maya, has more than 157,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. Her first EP, Oh Boy was released in 2020 with her second due to come out later this year. At the age of 20, Maya is ready to eliminate the stereotype that guitar is ‘a male instrument’ and her future as a musician is looking spectacular.

Maya Delilah

What made you want to share your music on TikTok?

“It became apparent very quickly how powerful a platform TikTok was and how it was pretty much the only place that you could reach masses of people just overnight with one video. I realised after posting a handful of different videos (some singing, some playing guitar, some talking) that the ones that people were most engaged with were the ones of me literally just sitting on the floor playing the guitar, which is the thing I love to do most, so it was really a win-win situation.

“When it comes to promoting songs it’s harder to connect with people but I find it a fun challenge to try and create a video that will pull people in enough to go and listen to the song or pre-save it – it’s just another form of creativity. I think because it’s such a big platform now, most guitarists, however far in their career they are, are using TikTok to promote and share their music, so I’d say John Mayer, an acoustic guitarist under @ethan_hibbs and bass guitarist Blu DeTiger are my main influences on the app.”

Tell us about your relationship with guitar…

“I started playing acoustic when I was eight years old, and it quickly became my favourite thing to do. I was very into folk until I was about 16 and joined The BRIT school where I walked in on my first day and noticed a load of boys on one side of the room all playing the electric guitar and on the other was a load of girls, the majority of whom were singers and it felt like the biggest stereotype.

“So, after that I went and bought my first electric guitar and decided to go in and try to break that stereotype. Since then, I’ve been inspired by guitarists such as Tom Misch, John Mayer, Derek Trucks, Joe Bonamassa and many more and am constantly learning from them to develop my playing.”

@mayadelilahh

🤍

♬ original sound – mayadelilah

Tell us about your process of recording for TikTok, what’s the set up?

“When I record a TikTok I will usually create a loop either on my Boss RC-3000 or straight into Ableton and from there record a solo live straight into Ableton. I then sync my video to the audio, so it has the best possible sound quality. Honestly, I’m not much of a gear person, I am very much wanting to be and to get into pedals but for the time being I just really enjoy plugging in my favourite guitar, which is a Maton MS 500 SB, into my favourite amp, a Fender Princeton Reverb.”

Do you think aesthetic and style is a big part of making it big on TikTok, or can music alone make you go viral?

“I think that music alone can make you go viral if it’s music that can connect with a large range of people. I think there are factors that are involved with capturing someone’s attention, like good lighting and a video that doesn’t drag on too long and yeah maybe if someone has an interesting look it helps but I’ve seen videos, for example, of a trumpet player in a very dark church to the point you could hardly see him but the music was so beautiful his videos were reaching millions.

“I think that people can get too caught up in trying to follow trends in order to have a viral video and that can often lead to them building the wrong audience who in return may not stick around when you show your authentic self later on. I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all to follow a trend as long as you are making it your own and your character comes through, as that’s what I’ve noticed people really want to see along with the music. Try to make the sound quality as good as you can too, and remember that it can also take many tries and fails to get a video to connect to people so don’t get disheartened and keep going!”

Maya Delilah

Do you hope to stray away from TikTok one day or do you think it will always be a part of your music career?

“I already am lucky enough to be doing so many other things outside of TikTok, and my favourite part of my career is recording music and performing it in front a live audience and although I am extremely thankful for how much social media has enabled me to share my artistry, songs and playing, I do hope one day to have my career less social media based. This is not to say that I wouldn’t stay active on it because I do absolutely love it when I come up with something I’m super inspired by and can just quickly record it and have it in front of people within the hour.

“I also love being able to interact and connect with so many people across the world with music day or night. The number of musicians on TikTok that has inspired me and my own music is insane and that wouldn’t be something I’d ever want to stray away from.  I also think realistically the relevance of social media within the entertainment  industry will be huge for a long time. To not take advantage of how powerful it can be would be silly.”

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