Guitar showmanship

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Pete Townshend leaping in the air - an example of guitar showmanship

Guitar showmanship involves gimmicks, jumps, or other stunts with a guitar. Some examples of guitar showmanship would become trademarks of musicians such as Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ace Frehley, and Angus Young.

History[edit]

Blues musicians such as Charley Patton would use stunts such as playing the guitar behind their back, and these showbiz stunts were further developed by the touring R&B performers.[1]

Jimi Hendrix, who spent his early career touring with R&B show bands, used some of these gimmicks in his rock sets, such as playing his guitar behind his back, in between his legs, and playing it with his teeth. Other guitarists such as Joe Satriani and Zakk Wylde employ these techniques and Steve Vai has played with his tongue on several occasions. Buddy Guy has also tossed his guitar up in the air and caught it on exactly the same chord he was previously fretting. [2] Stevie Ray Vaughan would also play the guitar behind his head, and behind his back.[3]

Chuck Berry[edit]

Chuck Berry's showmanship has been influential on other rock guitar players.[2] He used a one-legged hop routine,[4] and the "duckwalk",[5] which he first used as a child when he walked "stooping with full-bended knees, but with my back and head vertical" under a table to retrieve a ball and his family found it entertaining; he used it when "performing in New York for the first time and some journalist branded it the duck walk.".[6][7]

Pete Townshend[edit]

The Who's guitarist Pete Townshend commonly plays his guitar with a fast windmill motion, inspired by watching Keith Richards's warm-up exercise.[8] [9] At a show in Tacoma, Washington in 1989, he was windmilling so aggressively that he accidentally pierced his hand with the guitar's whammy bar and needed hospital treatment.[10]

Townshend also destroys his guitar, usually at the climax of a set. The first occasion was in 1964 at the Railway Tavern in Harrow, which has a low ceiling; he raised his guitar above his head and accidentally drove the headstock into the roof smashing it off. When the audience failed to respond he proceeded to smash the rest of the guitar to pieces.[11]

Pete: (After cracking the headstock) I was expecting everybody to go, “Wow, he’s broken his guitar, he’s broken his guitar,” but nobody did anything, which made me kind of angry in a way. And determined to get this precious event noticed by the audience, I proceeded to make a big thing of breaking the guitar. I bounced all over the stage with it and I threw the bits on the stage and I picked up my spare guitar and carried on as though I really had meant to do it.

Jimi Hendrix[edit]

Jimi Hendrix would sometimes set fire to his guitar, most notably at the Monterey Pop Festival when apparently he felt this was the only way he could upstage the destruction caused by Pete Townshend and Keith Moon of The Who during their set. On March 31, 1967 at performance at London Astoria Hendrix sustained hand burns and visited the hospital.[12][13]

Hendrix was also known for having a very erotic stage presence. Audiences would see him slowly sweeping his hand similar to Townshend's windmill, rolling his head, and "wiping" the guitar's neck in order to create some extra fuzz.

Jimi Hendrix would also play guitar with his teeth. In 1967 at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival he played the guitar solo from his popular song "Hey Joe" with his teeth.

Jimmy Page[edit]

Jimmy Page is famous for playing his guitar with a violin bow, as on the live versions of the songs "Dazed and Confused" and "How Many More Times". During Led Zeppelin's 1977 tour, the bow was illuminated and emitted a laser beam from its tip. Page also played part of the solo of the song "Heartbreaker" holding the guitar over his head while walking across the stage, and then bending a string above the guitar nut to repeatedly change the pitch of the note.

Yngwie Malmsteen[edit]

The heavy metal virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen utilizes guitar stunt in which he would take the guitar while connected to its strap and fling the guitar around his shoulders once or multiple times giving it a "hula hoop" effect and bring it back to his hands. This stunt can be seen on the 2003 G3 concert video and in the music video for "I'll See the Light, Tonight".

Other people who have used the "hula hoop" stunt include Warner E. Hodges as well as Bruce Springsteen during the Super Bowl XLIII Halftime performance.

Angus Young[edit]

Angus Young is famous for his wild onstage antics: intense jumps and running back and forth across the stage while playing his guitar. He scoots across the stage on his back while playing a wild solo. Young would clamber on to Bon Scott's or Brian Johnson's shoulders during concerts and they would make their way through the audience with smoke streaming from a satchel on his own back, while he played an extended guitar solo, usually during the song "Rocker" with Scott or during "Let There Be Rock" with Johnson. Young would also sometimes emulate Chuck Berry's duck-walk while playing in concert.[14]

Ace Frehley[edit]

Ace Frehley, the original lead guitarist of the rock band KISS, was well known for multiple guitar gimmicks, such as the famous smoking guitar in which smoke would emit through his neck pickup by use of a trap door. He would also utilize fireworks, which would come out of his guitar.

Spinal Tap[edit]

Christopher Guest, portraying lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel of the band Spinal Tap in the film This is Spinal Tap, is shown playing one guitar while playing another with his foot in both a display and parody of guitar showmanship. Parodying Jimmy Page's style of showmanship; Tufnel also plays his guitar using a violin, not the bow, but the instrument itself, drawing one stringed instrument across another.[15] When performing live as Tufnel with Spinal Tap, Guest's solos were also known to include playing the guitar with his foot while juggling and playing the guitar from a distance using thrown horseshoes.

Johnny Ramone[edit]

Johnny Ramone was known for playing in the influential "buzzsaw" technique, achieved by playing barre chords with rapid downstrokes on all notes[16] in a manner similar to the spinning of a buzzsaw blade. This style later became influential to punk, post-punk, and metal music, with musicians such as Kirk Hammett, Dave Mustaine, and Iron Maiden being influenced by Johnny's guitar-playing.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Weissman, Dick (2005). Blues: the Basics. Routledge. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-415-97068-6. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  2. ^ a b Wilkins, Jack and Peter Rubie. (2007). Essential Guitar. David & Charles. pp. 68–70. ISBN 978-0-7153-2733-3. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  3. ^ "Stevie Ray Vaughan". Xtreme Musician. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  4. ^ Phillips, Mark and Jon Chappell (2005). Guitar for Dummies. For Dummies. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-7645-9904-0. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  5. ^ Guitar Gods: The 25 Players Who Made Rock History. ABC-CLIO. 2008. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-313-35806-7. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  6. ^ Berry, Chuck (1988). The Autobiography. New York: Fireside / Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-67159-6. 
  7. ^ Chuck Berry biography[dead link] at Thomson Gale
  8. ^ "FAQ". The Hypertext Who. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  9. ^ "Biographies - Pete Townshend". The Hypertext Who. Thewho.net. Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  10. ^ Wilkerson, Mark (2006). Amazing Journey: The Life of Pete Townshend. Lulu.com. ISBN 978-1411677005. 
  11. ^ "Pete's Gear: Pete Townshend Guitar Equipment History". Thewho.net. Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  12. ^ "Hendrix Fire Fender Strat Guitar ‘to fetch $1.5m’". Gear Vault. 27 July 2008. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  13. ^ "Jimi Hendrix Biography". The Tab World. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  14. ^ The Guitar Show television documentary, Segment: "Upfront with AC/DC's Angus Young", 2001
  15. ^ "Nigel Tufnel amazing guitar shred solo". YouTube. 2009-08-01. Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  16. ^ "Johnny Ramone". SpeedyLook.com. Retrieved 1 August 2013.