I have played the guitar since the third Monday of September, 1978. I bought my first electric guitar, and Ibanez Iceman, in 1979 and in doing so I joined a fringe element of mankind. Rock guitarists, I would discover, share knowledge of a handful of truths about the word, and about us that outsiders can never know. A rock guitarist is a creature that could only exist in the late twentieth century. We played a new kind of instrument and a new kind of music in a new kind of world. From the mid-1950s until the mid-1990s as the modern world moved away from serious spirituality towards religious materialism the rock guitarist would become an anathema. Classic rock music lovers today loudly ask where are today’s guitar heroes? The current batches of demigods are in their twentieth year of their career on average with not a lot of young guys coming up the pipeline. The reasons for this are subtle.
When Les Paul invented the solid-body electric guitar in 1940 it is doubtful that he fully understood what his creation would eventually unleash. As the solid-body guitar became mated with the powerful amplifiers of Hiwatt, Vox, and the sublime creation of Jim Marshall it evolved from a musical instrument into a portal that removed the barrier between the conscious, subconscious, and the divine. Most rock guitarists recognized this on some level, and even a few are fully aware of the secret. The act of playing the guitar at high volume creates a closed-loop vortex wherein the music flows from the player’s mind out through his fingers, and then is zapped back into his head. Plato talked of divine enlightenment, and the act of the creation of music is divine, and this is the secret element of this closed loop. To put it another way the guitarist is in direct communion with his creator via his guitar and amp.
How the electric guitar works is that electrical current is fed through magnetic coils called “Pickups”, and the pickups transmit the vibrations of the guitar strings out to an amplifier. The amp takes that signal and makes it louder by pumping the vibrations of the strings through (usually) 12-inch speakers. Once the amp is set to a certain volume a good guitar player can manipulate the exchange between the string vibrations, the magnetic pickups, and the magnets in the amp to cause sustain or feedback. Feedback is where the sound from the amp is cycled back through the guitar. If fire sang it would sound like a guitar feeding back. There is a second kind of feedback that occurs within the player’s head as the gifts of skill and knowledge flow out from deep within the brain, and then return through the ear seeming to inspire more creation. It is a form of fusion; which is what powers the sun, but instead complex heavy gasses being compressed it is ideas and inspiration.
I used the word demigod because that is what it feels like when standing in front of your fully cranked amp blasting cords, and unleashing screaming scales. There is a transmutation that takes place as the guitar is played, and the player temporarily becomes something more than mortal. Between the player and his audience there is transubstantiation as the listener becomes part of that divine closed-loop vortex which in turn unlocks parts of their mind. This process can actually have a negative effect on some guitarists as they try to reconcile the difference between the guy they are while they are playing and the guy that they revert to the rest of the time. Unaware of their inadvertent divine interface, many guitarists seek to recreate that high through the ingestion of artificial substances. This is what happened to Hendrix; almost lead Clapton to kill himself with heroin, made Page, and Van Halen drink like fish. The tragedy is that these substances become a barrier between the player and the divine, and the players that don’t end up prematurely dead face a harsher fate of becoming only a shadow of their former selves.
For the guitarist who has self control or has discovered the truth life takes and interesting turn. That connection to the creator provides a cushion between the hard realities of life, and the possibilities that exist here and beyond simultaneously. We can make people dance, smile, and even cry with our instrument. The rock guitarist intuitively understands that good music connects us to the larger universe and our deepest selves. Now rock guitarist may move on with their lives and put the guitar away, but their intuitive knowledge of deeper truths of man and the universe remain. We know that people are not bad but simply lost; lost from that connection with the divine. The rock guitarist may no longer play regularly yet when that guitar is picked up and plugged in it becomes a time machine as well. The feel of steel under the fingers transports the player back to the very first day they picked up the guitar. The connection is quickly reestablished and the act is much like drinking from a mountain spring.
Guitarists can also pick out other guitarists in a crowd, but they couldn’t tell you how. When this happens total strangers speak as brothers or sisters. They will discuss their guitars, crazy gigs, and other guitarists. I have never met a fellow rock guitarist who felt like a stranger. The reason behind this is simple in that the same divine thing that inspired me also inspired them, and because I was part of that divine loop I was connected at some level with every other rock guitar player who had ever played and will ever play in the future. It isn’t something that I can quantify; it is only something that I know it true.
I described the rock guitarists as an anathema because we are a threat to the current establishment of social cool. Today it is considered foolish to feel connected to the divine; it is popular belief that to do so is primitive, and backwards. The rock guitarist embodied a truth that people could connect to something pure through music, and this is a threat to the materialistic 21st centurions. So we wait and we teach the young. The revolution will continue one day when the time is right.