To be a pioneer can be a conscious or subconscious decision. In September of 1970, Jimi Hendrix died. Teenage Joe Satriani got the news while at high school football practice, and promptly walked up to the coach and quit the team. Highly distraught and newly possessed, his goal was set, and Satriani began his journey. One pioneer died, and another was realized.
An Unlimited Arsenal
Satriani’s very specific category of guitar playing has few masters and many students. The main gurus consist of, but are not limited to: Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, John Petrucci, Paul Gilbert, Vinnie Moore, and Guthrie Govan. This style has expanded on every standard guitar technique, and produced numerous new ones. These include legato, two-handed tapping and arpeggio tapping, volume swells, artificial harmonics, and extreme whammy bar effects, among others. The reason I prefer this style of guitar playing is because it requires dedication, originality, and is ever-evolving. This style in particular is always going to have the bar set higher, unlike other styles, which will generally move in a horizontal fashion. The epitome of mastering an instrument -- being able to play this modern virtuosic style with ease -- is to play in any other style with ease. It is uncomplicated to tell based on the names I mentioned previously that these players could do anything on their instrument, and that is something to be respected.
On the Shoulders of Giants
I like to think of modern virtuosic guitar playing as every genre thrown into a pot and blended into one. The roots can be traced back to the likes of Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Allan Holdsworth and Charlie Christian, as well as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Ritchie Blackmore; very different guitar players, but each with their own sound and techniques submitted to the mix. The list of players who contributed later on throughout time and continue to contribute is extremely long. These are all players who have used techniques that are now popular in modern virtuosic playing, but on which players like Joe Satriani have expanded on.
Alienation Through Differentiation
Taking a look at Satriani, it is easy to hear how his sound differs from a vast majority of guitar players. One of his trademark compositional traits is to implement the pitch axis theory, which he applies with a variety of modes. During fast passages, Satriani favors a legato technique (achieved primarily through hammer-ons and pull-offs), which yields smooth, flowing runs. While Satriani didn’t invent legato, he certainly paved the way for its evolution, which is an aspect of this modern virtuosic style – evolution. Each player’s tone contributes heavily to the sound of the legato, slightly varying by the type of guitar, the amp, and the effects.
Practice Makes Cool
Overall, the technique is employed in a modern virtuosic way, and by comparing these two guitar players; one can see the specificity of the technique in relation to the style created by Satch. Another standout tactic of modern virtuosic playing is whammy bar manipulation. Utilized most notably by Jimi Hendrix in the early days of electric rock guitar, the whammy bar is now used in the most expressive ways possible by the likes of these titans.
Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die
In short, modern virtuosic playing is a technically demanding, ultra-expressive, and ever-growing style that is easily distinguishing the best guitar players in the world, and while there are countless new phenoms emerging all the time, the roots of this style will forever drink from the tree of Satriani.