Vaccines, vaporware and vague accusations of theft: these are the biggest guitar beefs of 2022
Can musicians survive without social media? Does tonewood matter? And, most importantly, is Neil Young a puppet of an evil shadow-government? All this, and more.
Matt Bellamy of Muse. Image: Daniel Knighton / Getty Images
Who doesn’t love some drama? As 2022 draws to a close, the dust is settling on some truly wild controversies – whether it’s amp-design dilemmas causing cat-fights or music legends going toe-to-toe with each other, it’s time for Guitar.com’s top 10 pieces of guitar drama from 2022. Strap in – this might get nasty.
10. Paul Reed Smith vs Tonewood Sceptics
Well, his argument was a little more nuanced than that. But what he said to Rhett Shull and Zach Broyles on their Dipped In Tone podcast basically boiled down to: “of course the wood matters!”
There is an idea that, on an electric guitar, the only thing that matters is the pickup – everything else gets lost in the conversion between acoustic vibrations and electrical signal. Paul thinks that’s bunkum: “If the instrument doesn’t matter,” he said, “then a concert violinist would go up to a Neumann microphone and the violin would not matter at all. It’s his hands and the microphone that’s all that matters – that’s it, according to the internet! What a load of crap.”
Of course, it’s important to remember that this debate is never, ever going to be settled. Guitar tone is subjective – it’s down to the player, or, in this case, the person who stands to profit from your purchase of a flame-maple-topped PRS Custom 24.
9. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame vs Actual Rock Music
Like clockwork, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame reveals its nominees and provokes a slew of op-eds (including from yours truly) about what the words “rock and roll” in its name have come to represent, and how they’ve had to stretch – perhaps uncomfortably – to encompass Lionel Richie and Eminem.
Wait, Eminem? Yes, Eminem. He was inducted into the Hall this year, instead of, um, Rage Against The Machine, the MC5, and the New York Dolls, who were all snubbed. We’re not bitter, honest: it is genuinely reasonable for the Hall to broaden its genre-horizons and acknowledge rock and roll as an attitude rather than a sound. But if you do that, why on earth were A Tribe Called Quest, Fela Kuti and Kate Bush also snubbed?
8. Joe Bonamassa vs Social Media
It’s perhaps unfair to categorise Joe Bonamassa’s brief departure from Instagram as ‘drama’ – needless conflict was, of course, one of the things JoBo said drove him off the thing. Regardless, it kicked off a ton of debate: should musicians bother with social media? Does seeing their posts bolster a listener’s enjoyment of their work, or just distract from the main event? The toxicity, the hate, the algorithmic nonsense, are they all worth it in the end? For Joe, the answer with Instagram was “no” – sort of. His account is still being run by his team, which is itself indicative of how necessary it is to have a social media presence these days. Whether you like it or not.
There’s no straight answer to the social media question – but it’s a discussion worth having. Social media can have a huge impact on anyone’s mental health, let alone an artist with a much bigger following than the average person. But for many, it’s just not practical to abandon it completely.
It is undeniably a good thing, however, that for most guitarists Instagram is the de-facto social media for sharing your playing and your pedalboard photography. Not because it’s a particularly great platform – but better Instagram than whatever the hell is going on at Twitter right now. (ed. note: remove if Twitter has collapsed by time of publication).
7. Neil Young vs Joe Rogan
Speaking of platforms: Neil Young made waves early in the year by dramatically removing all of his music from Spotify in a spat about COVID-19 misinformation. In 2020, Spotify acquired exclusive rights to host The Joe Rogan Experience, a podcast in which a former MMA commentator nods as his guests complain about cultural marxism. Young accused Rogan – and therefore Spotify – of hosting misinformation about COVID-19, such as in an episode featuring Robert W Malone, proponent of the conspiratorial mass formation hypnosis/psychosis theory. ‘It’s me or Rogan,’ Young said. And Spotify chose Rogan. Young stuck to his word and left Spotify, as did Joni Mitchell and a handful of other artists.
The protest kicked off plenty of discussion about free speech and Rogan’s own past controversies, but also about Spotify’s economic model: many artists felt aligned to Young’s dissatisfaction, but simply couldn’t afford to leave the platform both because the drop in income would be too much, and/or because Spotify remains an essential way of gaining new fans. Much like the social media question, artists are being asked to balance their own values with what is required of being a musician in the 2020s.
6. The Grammys vs knowing what metal is
Look, we’re not expecting the Grammys to know who Conan or Artificial Brain or Venom Prison are, but Muse? For best metal performance? Granted, the song nominated (Kill Or Be Killed) did have some palm muted riffs. But chugging alone doesn’t make a great metal performance, and there were countless bonafide metal bands releasing music this year. What do we have to do to get the Academy to nominate some bands from, well, the actual metal scene? I can’t find a postage address to send them underground black metal cassettes, so I’m all out of ideas.
5. Thomas Blug vs Blackstar
The world of pedal and amplifier gear is full of different builders iterating on the same circuits over and over – which is why it was a bit of a shock to hear BluGuitar’s Thomas Blug explicitly call Blackstar’s designers “thieves.” In a lengthy YouTube livestream, Blug was adamant that in designing its Amped 1, Blackstar had lifted the power supply design from BluGuitar’s Amp1 in its entirety. He specifically pointed to a toroidal transformer seen in both products, claiming that the custom windings used in the Amp1 were replicated exactly by Blackstar.
We still only have Blug’s word that the transformer windings are exactly the same. It seems strange that they would be, given that the BluGuitar is entirely analogue and makes use of a nanotube, and the Blackstar has various digital features such as power-tube modelling and cabinet simulation. But, it’s what Blug is alleging. Although he’s clear that he doesn’t want to litigate, Blackstar is yet to respond publicly to the rather serious allegations, and the strong language being used by Blug.
4. Eric Clapton vs His Legacy
Eric Clapton’s legacy was already a, shall we say, ‘complicated’ one, what with his 1976 on-stage rant filled with slurs, praising Enoch Powell and telling non-white members of the audience to leave the venue and, ideally, the country as well. While Clapton later admitted regret over the incident, he also chalked up his views at the time to him being far from sober for most of the 70s.
A little harder to brush under the rug of time and cocaine, however, are his recent dalliances with anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. Chances are you’ve already heard about them, and/or sent us some death threats about our coverage (thanks for those), but this year Clapton’s journey down the rabbit hole continued as he claimed that “mass formation psychosis” was to blame for the UK’s high rate of vaccination. Yes, the same theory that caused Neil Young to yank his music off Spotify.
Clapton tried to set the record straight by saying, explicitly, that he was not pro- or anti-vaccine, just a fan of freedom, despite almost exclusively giving interviews to anti-vaccine outlets since 2021. This was also in the same interview where he, just moments ago, expressed support for mass formation psychosis, widely regarded as an anti-vaccine pseudoscience.
3. Sum 41 vs Radiohead
Onto some lighter topics, such as Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley getting in too deep with some Radiohead drama. Chatting to NME he stated his confusion at their attitude to picking a setlist, saying: “I’ll never understand a band like Radiohead, who I love, but will perform nine songs nobody cares about and then a track like Karma Police, which makes the whole crowd lose their mind. Why wouldn’t you want to do that with every song?”
Here’s an idea for a challenge: imagine you’re in Radiohead, and every night, pick up a guitar and play Creep, your overplayed hit with a single chord progression that you have publicly admitted to hating, as have most of your dedicated fans. Then, and only then, you might gain some insight into the answer to Deryck’s question.
2. Joan Jett vs Ted Nugent
Why did Ted Nugent randomly decide to blast a decade-old best guitarists list from Rolling Stone? Why did he single out Joan Jett’s inclusion, saying you’d have to have “shit for brains” and be a “soulless prick” to put her on there? Why did he also make a barely-comprehensible (yet somehow still offensive) comment about her sexuality? As with most inflammatory things the Nuge says, the answer lies somewhere between “to stir up controversy” and “fuck knows.” What we do know is that Jett’s reply was brutal. “It’s what I’ve dealt with my whole life, being written off,” she said to the NME. “Ted Nugent has to live with being Ted Nugent. He has to be in that body, so that’s punishment enough.”
“He’s not a tough guy. He plays the tough guy, but this is the guy who shit his pants – literally – so he didn’t have to go in the Army,” she added.
There is one piece of neutral fact-checking we’d like to add here, as Jett’s comment isn’t entirely correct. According to a number of sources, Nugent didn’t just “shit his pants” ahead of his draft board physical – his trousers were also caked in urine, as well as excrement. So make of that what you will.
1. Boaz Elkayam vs The People
Yes, the most controversial piece of drama this year is also the most convoluted. Such is the story of the Boaz One, a Kickstarter guitar with an intriguing USP: entirely plastic, and entirely modular, it would let you swap out the body and electronics in seconds. This was interesting enough for hundreds of eager guitarists to jump on board and back the project. What could go wrong?
The kickstarter concluded in 2019, and production was due to start in early 2020. Not a great time to get a project off the ground, as COVID-19 through a global-pandemic-sized spanner in those particular works. But, a pandemic-related slowdown is not the whole story: not long after it became clear the project would be hugely delayed, those who backed the guitar on Kickstarter were encouraged to purchase another guitar, one made from the unfinished moulds before the final production guitars started to roll out to backers. The funds raised from these extra guitars (named the Plague Guitars) would be used to help the backer guitars be made.
This was, however, news to Boaz Elkayam, the project’s namesake and lead. He claims he only found out that backers were buying extra guitars this year – and that he had no idea where the money for the extra guitars had gone. Although the backer guitars are being built, enormous questions remain as to how a separate sale was run without Boaz’s knowledge, and whether those who bought an extra guitar will ever get their money back, and, more generally, who actually has that money?