Guitar Jar contributor, Philip Hancock takes us through ever so familiar situation of “Guitar Shop Blues”.
Surely everybody experiences the same fear when buying a guitar from a shop on the high street. No matter how many years you have been playing, how many chords you know, and how many crowds you have won over; the question that haunts every guitarist who walks into a shop to buy a guitar must be- what confounded riffs shall I play? Unless, maybe, I am an exception. However I am sure it must cross all of our minds when we consider purchasing that lusted after axe gleaming in the shop window.
…the question that haunts every guitarist who walks into a shop to buy a guitar must be- what confounded riffs shall I play? …
I had the misfortune to buy my first guitar before I could really play. I knew the intro to a few Nirvana songs and the odd Beatles number, and that was it. I had to play the darn thing whilst a shop full of people bustled about, without really having a clue what to do. So I guess, the pressure was off in some way. The sales person would often wonder off and leave me fumbling over a barre chord, taking pity on me in some way no doubt. They must have seen it all before.
As I learned more chords and songs, a few scales, and the odd solo, I felt the pressure was back on to actually play something deemed good by the person trying to sell me the guitar. I mean, if it was such a nice guitar, was I actually worthy of buying it? Was I a failure for only knowing the first few bars of ‘Stairway to Heaven’, and not even the difficult bit? Would I ever be allowed back in the shop if I didn’t come up with some rifftastic explosion of metal genius? Should I just pretend I was still a beginner and not actually play anything difficult? Often I would attempt some Radiohead songs to look sophisticated, like the opening to ‘Paranoid Android’, that always raised a few eyebrows. Occasionally I would play some Black Sabbath (because it easy) or a bit of Hendrix. ‘Hey Joe’ was a favourite of mine. I’m sure Jimi would have approved, or even offered a bit of advice on my thumb positioning or strumming technique. But often I would get ‘solo envy’ and chicken out after hearing some guitar genius casually churn out a melodic masterpiece whilst simultaneously thumbing through a Boss Catalogue.
These days I’m a bit older and less self conscious. I know my limits. I have accepted that I will never be as good as Hendrix, or Jimmy Page, or Sting even, probably. I can play the opening riff of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in a shop and smile at my own attempt at being ironic- have you seen Wayne’s World?
It’s a bit easier this way, less stressful. I can pretend it doesn’t really matter- competence is obviously a subjective thing. We are all unique individuals and no one person is surely better at guitar than the other: maybe just at a different place in their journey of mastery over the blade. In the comfort of my own home, I am a guitar legend. I adorn the front cover of countless magazines and people pour over the complexity of my playing technique, and I am happy with that.
So if you see me playing the opening shards of ‘Paranoid Android’, or ‘Whole Lotta Love’, then please be kind and try not to judge. What do you like to play whilst demoing your potential purchase? Do you play it safe like me? Or do you go for some Steve Vai shredded masterpiece? Do you have to wait till the shop is empty before you can even muster up the courage to ask, or are you comfortable in your own skin?