We Need A Hero: The Absence of Guitar Heroes

Strap yourself in, because we’re about to rock and roll.

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Illustrated by Moorea Atkins

Four of the most famous guitarists of all time: Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Edward Van Halen, and Eric Clapton.

Triston Scales

In the 50’s and 60’s when Elvis was all the rage and rock ‘n’ roll was just starting to emerge, the world was waiting. Waiting for what they didn’t know, but something was coming. Something big, indescribable, and absolutely awesome.

Enter Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix is the best guitarist of all time. He could make sounds with guitar nobody thought was possible. He could play guitar behind his back, over his head, and even with his tongue – all while playing left handed. He created his own rhythm and sound that has influenced thousands of bands. The first guitar hero has ascended down from space.

Everyone wanted to be like Hendrix. The youth flocked to the guitar, trying to learn how to become a guitar hero. Then as the 70’s came, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton came along and also turned the world of rock upside down. Led Zeppelin ruled the world of rock, and Clapton’s blues sound influenced all areas of music.

Then into the 80’s, Edward Van Halen came along. His instrumental song called ‘Eruption’ changed rock as we know it. Guitar players that had been playing their whole lives suddenly had to practice more if they were to keep up. Guitar shredding had entered the scene, and stayed through the 80’s.

Guitar heroes, such as mentioned, are essential to music. These four I mentioned are just a small portion of guitarists often idolized by musicians and artists alike – and for good reasons. Their sounds, techniques, and unique rhythms still influence bands and artists today. But the world hasn’t seen a prominent guitar hero since Kurt Cobain. Pioneers in guitar no longer exist. It seems the world has heard everything there is to be heard out of the electric guitar. So you may be asking: what exactly happened to them, and why don’t guitar heroes exist anymore?

Well, record labels are always looking for artists who make them money. If the people who buy the music and give them money keep asking for the same old easy stuff from musicians, they will keep getting it. Think about it: most songs in the top 50 today consist of the same four chords, same beat, and same general theme. It’s time we start demanding something more from our favorite artists and musicians, something new and innovative- not the same sounding song ten times in a row on an album. 

What makes people like Edward Van Halen or Jimmy Page such great musicians is their ability to think above and beyond what they know to be true in songwriting and composition. Their bands (Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, Cream, and Van Halen) pushed the boundaries of lyricism, tone, and musical excellency. They invented their own styles of music which are unique from other musicians. So unique in fact, that after a while you can tell which guitarist is playing just by the first few notes. The thing they all have in common is this: they ignored previously set traditions in music and bulldozed right over them.

That’s why guitar heroes are so essential to society yet so controversial – they were constantly pushing the boundaries. The only person they believed they had to prove themselves to was themselves. They didn’t care if others liked their music or not, their biggest critic was always themselves. For example, Edward Van Halen says that in the first few seconds of ‘Eruption’, there’s a mistake and it’s actually played wrong, and every time he listens to it he can’t help but be bothered that he didn’t play it right before releasing it.

That being said, I believe everyone should check out one of the bands and guitar players mentioned above at least once in their life. These guitar heroes have influenced so many parts of our culture- not just musically, but even down to the way we dress. Just because they’re old and out of style nowadays doesn’t mean they’re useless. I’ve learned so much about how to be a better visual artist lately just by listening to their music. Guitar heroes are an older concept, but their creative instincts aren’t. 

I think most of us can all agree that the music industry, Hollywood, and the entertainment industry in general needs a makeover. But all revolutions start with a leader, and right now in 2020 more than ever, we need a hero.