Be good, but don’t be too good of a guitar player

In sports, the most successful athletes are those with the best abilities. The fastest runner, the strongest weightlifter, the main goal scorer, the best baseball hitter will be at the top, winning the most championships and earning the most money.

But in music, it is not so. The fastest guitar player is not the most successful. The best technical player does not earn more money than those less able to shred. Actually, sometimes the best and most technical players are unknown, local small town heroes at best, barely scraping by financially.

So, why is that? Why does a guitar virtuoso often earn less than a kid that can barely play 4 chords?  Should we hold back from becoming too good?

Some of the best guitar players in the world are relatively unknown to most of the general public. And here, I’m using the term “best” to mean most technically advanced, a virtuoso.

The 10 “Greatest” guitar players according to a recent Rolling Stones list are:

10. Keith Richards
9. Jimmy Page
8. Ry Cooder
7. Stevie Ray Vaughan
6. Chuck Berry
5. Robert Johnson
4. Eric Clapton
3. B.B. King
2. Duane Allman
1. Jimi Hendrix

Now, granted “greatest” was defined as “The original inspiration was a celebration of the guitar and how it changed the world”
See full list:

But, most of us guitar players scoff at such a list. How can Neil Young be ahead of Rhandy Rhoads? Why is Joan Jett there? Where are all the shredders and the 80’s guitar gods? Yngwie Malmsteen can run circles around all of those guys and gals.
Although I don’t like lists like this, and this happens to be the opinion of one person (although published by Rolling Stone), there is something to be learned from it. This list clearly is not representing the fastest, most technically advanced players. There are few virtuosos on that list. But, it does represent what much of the general public might think when asked the question who is the greatest?

Most of the non-guitar playing population have no idea who Michael Angelo Batio, Tosin Abasi, Jeff Loomis, and Guthrie Govan are. But, these players, along with many others, are some of the best in the world, technically-speaking. Yet, most of them probably don’t have huge mansions. Most of them are probably making a living but not a “rock star” living.

So, while spending 10 hours a day shooting hoops might eventually help a basketball player get into the NBA and million dollar contracts, spending 10 hours a day working on scales and your picking technique might not lead to fame or fortune. If you become a virtuoso, you might be the envy of other guitar players. You might become a highly sought after instructor. Or, you might even lead a ground-breaking progressive new metal band that everyone (in a small niche) is talking about. And those are all noble and worthy endeavors. But, if you want mansions, screaming girls everywhere you go, and a spot on a future Rolling Stones Greatest guitar player list,  you’ll have to be able to write great riffs and songs, and be innovative and influential in some not-so-technical way.


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