Empirical explorations of guitar players’ attitudes towards their equipment and the role of distortion in rock music

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Abstract

Musical instruments are inextricably linked to genres, their players’ attitudes, and practices. Equipment shapes the sound of genres and affects the performer’s expressiveness. This is particularly true for the electric guitar in the genre of rock music where distortion has always had a special role. There is a plethora of (auto-)biographies and some research on famous players from the 1960s and 1970s, but today’s amateur, semi-professional, and professional guitar players, who sustain genre traditions and continue to develop rock music’s diverse subgenres, are hardly considered in academic work. This study investigated guitar players’ attitudes towards their equipment, the role of distortion in rock music, and its effects on musical practices. Following a mixed-methods design, quantitative data comprising 413 ‘regular’ guitar players, recruited on German-speaking online message boards, were complemented by interviews with ten internationally renowned guitarists. The results highlight level of expertise and affinity for specific subgenres of rock music as the main variables regarding equipment use. Although guitarists in general demonstrated a reflective awareness towards using gear, their favored practices and equipment almost perfectly conformed to genre expectations, stressing the need for further investigations into genre development as well as the relevance of role models. Ultimately, empirical data of this study largely support theoretical claims in literature and contribute to a deeper understanding of rock music’s subgenres from a technological perspective.
LanguageEnglish
JournalCurrent Musicology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 16 May 2019

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title = "Empirical explorations of guitar players’ attitudes towards their equipment and the role of distortion in rock music",
abstract = "Musical instruments are inextricably linked to genres, their players’ attitudes, and practices. Equipment shapes the sound of genres and affects the performer’s expressiveness. This is particularly true for the electric guitar in the genre of rock music where distortion has always had a special role. There is a plethora of (auto-)biographies and some research on famous players from the 1960s and 1970s, but today’s amateur, semi-professional, and professional guitar players, who sustain genre traditions and continue to develop rock music’s diverse subgenres, are hardly considered in academic work. This study investigated guitar players’ attitudes towards their equipment, the role of distortion in rock music, and its effects on musical practices. Following a mixed-methods design, quantitative data comprising 413 ‘regular’ guitar players, recruited on German-speaking online message boards, were complemented by interviews with ten internationally renowned guitarists. The results highlight level of expertise and affinity for specific subgenres of rock music as the main variables regarding equipment use. Although guitarists in general demonstrated a reflective awareness towards using gear, their favored practices and equipment almost perfectly conformed to genre expectations, stressing the need for further investigations into genre development as well as the relevance of role models. Ultimately, empirical data of this study largely support theoretical claims in literature and contribute to a deeper understanding of rock music’s subgenres from a technological perspective.",
keywords = "guitar players, rock music, equipment, gear, distortion, music technology, empirical study, mixed-methods",
author = "Jan-Peter Herbst",
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AB - Musical instruments are inextricably linked to genres, their players’ attitudes, and practices. Equipment shapes the sound of genres and affects the performer’s expressiveness. This is particularly true for the electric guitar in the genre of rock music where distortion has always had a special role. There is a plethora of (auto-)biographies and some research on famous players from the 1960s and 1970s, but today’s amateur, semi-professional, and professional guitar players, who sustain genre traditions and continue to develop rock music’s diverse subgenres, are hardly considered in academic work. This study investigated guitar players’ attitudes towards their equipment, the role of distortion in rock music, and its effects on musical practices. Following a mixed-methods design, quantitative data comprising 413 ‘regular’ guitar players, recruited on German-speaking online message boards, were complemented by interviews with ten internationally renowned guitarists. The results highlight level of expertise and affinity for specific subgenres of rock music as the main variables regarding equipment use. Although guitarists in general demonstrated a reflective awareness towards using gear, their favored practices and equipment almost perfectly conformed to genre expectations, stressing the need for further investigations into genre development as well as the relevance of role models. Ultimately, empirical data of this study largely support theoretical claims in literature and contribute to a deeper understanding of rock music’s subgenres from a technological perspective.

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