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“Guitarists cannot merely publish a spontaneously produced video of their playing, yet neither can they afford to release anything less than perfect”: New study sheds light on demands on modern guitarists

The study also touches on the need to become a “virtuoso-guitarist-composer-innovator-producer-promoter-YouTuber-teacher-entrepreneur”.

Man filming himself playing guitar

Credit: chanakon laorob/Getty Images

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A new study has been published examining the evolution of the guitar virtuoso and attempting to understand the demands placed on modern guitarists in 2023.

Rock Guitar Virtuosos: Advances in Electric Guitar Playing, Technology, and Culture has been published by UK-based academics Jan-Peter Herbst and Alexander Paul Vallejo via Cambridge University Press and offers a deep dive into the role of the modern guitar hero. It is available for free download for a limited time.

Herbst and Vallejo’s study grapples primarily with the changing nature of the role of the guitar hero since the 1960s and takes a particular interest in the modern guitarist’s relationship to the notion of authenticity, especially when it comes to playing guitar on social media.

“Guitarists appear to be caught in a paradox,” note Herbst and Vallejo [via Guitar World]. “They cannot merely publish a spontaneously produced, seemingly authentic video of their playing, yet neither can they afford to release anything less than perfect. If performances are perfect, guitarists must prove authenticity or be accused of cheating.”

The study points to 2019 allegations that Instagram guitarists were faking their technique, with names including Manuel Gardner Fernandes and Syncatto’s Charlie Robbins facing – and denying – accusations.

Herbst and Vallejo also observe a new trend emerging among a new generation of online guitar heroes such as Mateus Asato – they don’t need to release albums to build momentum.

The study also acknowledges the demands on artists to do more than ever beyond just turning up and performing.

“Guitarists write, arrange, record, and produce their music in a DIY manner, often adding extra elements such as electronic beats, live electronics, and other forms of contemporary sound design,” the authors write.

“They create artwork and animated videos for their songs. They run websites and sell their music, tablature, lessons, and merchandise on other platforms. They regularly produce videos for their social media channels.

“What once was delegated to labels, managers, or other support staff is now carried out by artists themselves. They have become ‘cultural entrepreneurs’, defined by the ‘hyphen’: virtuoso-guitarist-composer-innovator-producer-promoter-YouTuber-teacher-entrepreneur.”

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