1. Digital tuners get even better and less expensive. I have become a huge fan of the Snark tuners, which like many of the latest generation of digital tuners, work by sensing the vibrations of the guitar. What a wonderful thing! If you play acoustic guitar and don’t have a built in pick-up, gone are the days when you had to try to balance a tuner on your knee so the internal microphone could “hear” the strings. Just clip the Snark (or other similar tuners) on the head of your guitar and quickly get your guitar in tune. Plus, at less than $20 you can afford to keep one in your guitar case and one lying around where you play! Just a great little tool and in my opinion, a necessity if you’re serious about how your guitar sounds.
2. Boutique guitars. There are more small volume guitar makers out there than ever, many of them doing spectacular work. There is even a growing group of medium size makers like Collings, Huss & Dalton, Dana Bourgeois, and others who produce enough instruments to have dealers, i.e, not building strictly by order. I think this is wonderful because it not only means there are a growing number of players who appreciate fine handmade guitars but it has also inspired the big boys like Martin, Taylor and Gibson to offer limited edition fancier versions of their fine regular models. While none of these guitars are inexpensive and there is an entirely separate question of long-term value, a guitar maker recently said to me: “I think we are truly in a Golden Age of guitar making.” And I agree.
3. Cheap guitars. On the other end of the spectrum are the many choices in inexpensive guitars. Now more than ever a recreational or beginning player has some great choices. Companies like Epiphone, Recording King, Eastman, Ibanez, Alvarez, Yamaha and many more offer guitars with fit and finish, appointments and great set-up that guitarists had to pay twice as much, or more for a couple decades ago. I am very, very impressed with Austin guitars and have sold quite a few in the last few months, both acoustics and electrics. They sound and play like much, much more expensive instruments. Said it before and I’ll say it again: Over my many years of teaching I have see bad guitars do more to discourage people from playing than all other causes combined. Today the beginner only has to worry about the basics of good sound, rhythm, and other basic musical concepts without having to fight with their guitar. Hooray!!!
4. They call it Americana. This rediscovery of American acoustic music by a younger generation is wonderful. If you had to define Americana I guess it would go something like this. Country, old-timey, blues and traditional music played with a bit of rock sensibility. But that doesn’t really accurately describe what groups like the Avett Brothers, the Civil Wars, Gillian Welsh and David Rawlings and many others are doing. I confess to being a bit cynical about some of this; groups like The Band where doing pretty much the same thing 30 years ago, and when Gillian Welch, dressed in a baggy cotton dress she no doubt found at some thrift shop makes a statement like, “Ah was just readin’ mah Good Book back stage….” before she launches into a tune about tearin’ the Still House down, I do gag…. just a little bit. But hey – the music is basic and for the most part honest and often easy for an intermediate level guitarist to play. What’s not to like, really?
5. The vast and almost endless supply of music information on the internet. This blows my mind, as we used to say in the Good Old Days. If you want the words or chords for just about any song that exists, you can find it almost instantly. However, as with everything on the internet, take what you find with a pretty big grain of salt. In many cases the chords you’ll find are a basic sketch of what the artist is playing, or in the worst cases not even close to being correct. But I regularly use what’s available out there to avoid having to write out lyrics or even to get an idea or two for presenting a specific musical concept to a student. Believe it or not, back in the 1980s I used to write out just about everything for each lesson. Whew! Now I can spend my and the student’s time on playing and learning. Just understand that there is plenty of sketchy, incomplete and even downright wrong information online. That’s why you need a guitar teacher, right?!
Next time, the other five trends/observations from last year.
Peace & good music,