Our July 2007 cover story on Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival at Toyota Park focused on the increasingly limited role of lead guitarists in pop music. Les Paul and Jim Marshall have since died, meanwhile potential investors have been wary of Fender Guitars’ initial stock offering because of what they understand to be a shrinking marketplace.
But there will always be metal. Mainstream rock ‘n’ roll might be able to diminish the guitar’s role, but to try and do so in metal would be like showing up to play hockey without a stick. If you try to replace guitar sounds with a synthesizer, there’s a handy name for that: industrial.
Still, when we received a copy of Kevin M Buck‘s fresh Musick For The New Aeon, we couldn’t help be gripped by nostalgia. Buck, an erstwhile solo shredder and ubiquitous books-n-video instructor, also bides his time in tribute acts Battery and Blizzard Of Ozz. His hired studio guns represent a veritable who’s-who of the Shrapnel Records world in the ’80s: Atma Anur (Jason Becker, Cacophony, Tony Macalpine, Ritchie Kotzen), and Ferdy Doernberg (Axel Rudi Pell, Uli Jon Roth).
Buck’s not planning for the guitar’s funeral just yet.
Mosh: Guitar will always remain a pillar of hard rock and metal, but has approaching guitar changed in those worlds during the past decade?
Kevin M Buck: The hard rock and metal put out by the major labels in the last 10 years has begun to include more solos. Perhaps this has been spawned by television, video games, and the “Guitar Hero” craze. Perhaps it is just that people miss hearing someone play the guitar well . . . Most of the good solos I hear in the metal music of today are inflections of what was done before by Yngwie Malmsteen, Jason Becker, and Zakk Wylde. The bad solos sound like newer-era Kirk Hammett sloppy wah bullshit. However, solos that suck and solos that can use more creativity are better than no solos at all.
M: If you go back 20-25 years, a song could be crappy (particularly in pop-metal) yet notable for a wicked guitar solo. Can artists get away with that anymore?
KMB: Absolutely not! Though, I keep trying.
M: As someone who’s recorded a lot of instrumental guitar music, what sorts of techniques do you use that are new/unusual, and how do you ensure those tricks don’t become gimmicks?
KMB: There are several new and unusual techniques that I use. I sweep through various types of diatonic and altered seventh arpeggios in a new and exciting way! I published these techniques in my book, Guitar In Theory And Practice. I also use a technique where I play two notes then play those same two notes on all the other strings to create a different timbre. This is not a gimmick, as it requires much skill. I also use a polyphonic technique where I tap arpeggios with my right hand while playing modes or pentatonic scales simultaneously with the left hand. You can hear that in “Liberation Suite” on my album Initiation, and in “A Demon’s Pain” and “Dreamchild” off of Euphoric Darkness. I don’t consider this a gimmick either as it is pretty difficult to pull off.
I also use all the classics like playing with my left hand over the neck, playing blindfolded, behind my back or behind my head, playing with my teeth, tongue, feet, ass, and/or genitals. I know these are gimmicks, but I think gimmicks are O.K. if they entertain people. I’ve heard that Jimi [Hendrix] wished he didn’t break or burn guitars, hump amps, etc., but doing that got him a lot of attention.
M: The title of your new album references the future — how do you see the future of guitar rock: Increasingly niche-oriented, due for another breakout, or something else?
KMB: The future is bleak and uncertain. My new album is about evolving the harmonic ideas played on the guitar and about evolution of mankind. In the mainstream, guitar rock is dead, not dreaming, but dead. Luckily, it seems as if the major labels’ powers are diminishing and the smaller labels are growing stronger.
Today, I see young students that can play incredibly well. The kids are way better now than they were 10 and 20 years ago. It is sad, though, because there are not many outlets for them to play and share their music with people. Still, even though kids are playing better now, there has really been no evolution harmonically, melodically, or technically with the guitar in the last 10 or even 20 years. I think most people consider Dimebag Darrell or John Petrucci to be the last great guitar hero to come out. Guitar-oriented rock music is underground, but that’s O.K. because good hard rock and metal should be underground. On the upside, my new album and book are doing well, so, who knows? Maybe shred is not dead, just dreaming?
— Steve Forstneger