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"Power" for Playing Guitar... What Kind? How Much?

Kerry King image from: www.revolvermag.com


Eric Johnson photo by Ivan Chopik @ Guitar Messenger (check Ivan's EJ interview!)

March 16, 2010
Ever notice how the power & attitude of music and the strength required to play your instrument are two separate things?

When going for that big bad payoff lick-- with your guitar face on, jaws clenched, breath held, toes curled and knuckles white-- are you able to deliver the lick or are you now locked up?

Remember that your guitar's neck size, string gauge tension and action are the same as they were a minute ago when you were doing that chick ballad.

Now examine the above two photos.

The whole Kerry King look communicates that a great degree of strength, power and general all around mean-ness are necessary to play guitar, as if the music of Slayer requires a 200 lb. jack hammer guitar with bridge cable string tension, steroids and an Iron Man suit...

In the Eric Johnson photo, EJ isn't exactly displaying a serene, mellow moment but he doesn't resemble a professional wrestler either. He could be a sibling of Dana Carvey, Luke Skywalker or Ellen Degeneres. But the truth is, both Kerry and Eric are handling virtually identical physical parameters. Not completely identical though, since EJ's Strat probably has a thicker neck, taller action and higher tension strings. Otherwise...

Now, the typical Slayer fan probably doesn't think much of Eric Johnson, unless they play guitar, in which case they may at least appreciate certain aspects of EJ's sonic velocity.

BTW, this post is NOT a Kerry King vs Eric Johnson throwdown based upon some typical Youtube thread meltdown. This post is about YOU being able to flow smoothly with your guitar playing whether you play Metal, Fusion, Punk, Blues, Country, Polka or ANYTHING else. That's right, even Polka... Ok, maybe not Polka. Feel better?

In the context of tendinitis and back pain discussions, the subject of posture, angles, strap length/guitar height and instrument ergonomics are often addressed. Relaxation and proper breathing are also emphasized.

I want to address the aspects of how attitude, "seriousness" and music's sonic intensity can influence a player's ability to stay loose; actually impeding their connection to true power and control. Consider that your signal chain begins in the soul, travels through the mind to the brain, to the hands, the instrument and eventually out the speakers. At which point your ears loop it all the way back up the chain to the soul for re-evaluation while still A/B'd out to the air where other sentient beings may be listening... or not. As long as crosstown traffic in the mind doesn't detect, create or imagine technical difficulties, & gridlock things, you should be ok, with maybe a little delay for insurance.

Eddie Van Halen is a perfectly beautiful example of playing outside the gridlock. EVH always stood apart from the grimacing black leather & studs crowd, not just in bright colorful apparel-- but also with his perpetual grin. Although you may wanna attribute that famous grin to various factors, why not try yourself slamming a few 16 oz. SML's and staying focused enough to work out a decent Panama or Cathedral cover. Good luck pal!

So stay in your "happy place", which is probably why you play guitar anyway. And don't let seriousness or sonic intensity loop back and poison you with a neuro-paralyzer of self consciousness, doubt or self-importance. If you need evil props for stagecraft themes, just don't let them add difficulty and stress into your playing zone. It's all symbolism anyway. Just breathe.

Pete Townshend didn't windmill and bloody up his hands because that was the force necessary to vibrate six little wires into making tiny magnetic fields create electrical current. It's a physical expression of making a big sound-- a flourish. And although that sound may symbolize power & massive physical structure- heavy metal? - it is nonetheless merely vibrating air molecules. You cause this stuff, but don't be too much the effect of it.

Did you know that Billy Gibbons uses .08's? All that slammin' sound and attitude must actually require a very light touch! Looking like a Southwestern Darth Vader offsets with edge & mystery for the Texas Yoda underneath. Ever listen to ZZ Top's "Fool for Your Stockings"? Cleanest guitar signal ever was! And yet every bar band in your town & on Youtube covering that tune, over-saturates it to death. That's because the Rev. scares folks into misperception. And really, is he Luke's father-- or EJ's?

Remember Hendrix doing the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock? He was very chill. Power of soul.

John Lee Hooker once said, "I don't play a lot of fancy guitar. I don't want to play it. The kind of guitar I want to play is mean, mean licks."

Into his 90's, another grinner-- Les Paul lived in the zone of Zen as much as possible, simply because he loved creating to the very very end. Not accepting the arthritis in his hands, he kept them limber in a hydrotherapy machine before practicing & gigs. In his Chasing Sound bio film, Les says, "The arthritis challenges you, 'are you gonna go for it or are ya gonna give up?'"

BB King sits during most of his sets today, usually wearing a tux & still knocking Blues fans dead with that one note and his beaming expression. That's power folks!

Showing that you get into your music, and looking the part are important. First and foremost is being in the zone where you are loose and can flow. Stay centered on why you like playing guitar. This shows up in your phrasing & tone ahead of the pedalboard. The force required to attack and fret a string is less than what your friendly dental professional applies when cleaning your teeth, though both activities can illicit enormous response & feeling.

So why not smile & grin while playing your guitar? It may actually help loosen you up-- and others as well. Some people may even think you've become more crazy & diabolical.

That's when you have your cake, and are eatin' it too, cuz that's where your power lies!



"I don't always read guitar blogs, but when I do, I prefer Stratoblogster...

Stay loose & powerful my friends."




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