When it comes to mainstream, commercial music, guitar solos are definitely not as pronounced and common as they used to be, however, are they completely dead? In the underground music scene, especially in metal, guitar solos are alive and well.
In fact, some of the best and most innovative guitar players to have ever lived are writing new music all of the time. Some of the great players today are Guthrie Govan, Emil Werstler, Andy James, Frank Gambale, Brett Garsed, Tosin Abasi, and so on and so forth.
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It’s worth noting, however, that many of these artists, either solo or as part of a band, are certainly not in the mainstream music scene, and they’re certainly can’t be heard on mainstream commercial radio. So, regarding the mainstream music scene, guitar solos are definitely not alive and well as they once were, which is a topic that Rolling Stone recently published an article on.
At one point in time in music history, there was a guitar solo in nearly every commercial mainstream hit song, however, things have changed a lot since then. For instance, if one was to look at the Top 40 today, you probably won’t find even a single guitar solo in any one of those songs.
Looking back to the past, even songs from Michael Jackson employed the use of guitar solos, including the legendary song from Jackson, “Beat It,” which used the talents of the Van Halen guitarist, Eddie Van Halen.
Funny enough, you can actually find guitarists on Instagram today learning this song and showing it off to the world, so there is still some interest in guitar solos, that much is for sure, and as it was mentioned above, guitar solos are extremely popular in the metal genre.
A more educated and knowledgeable person on the topic might disagree, but I would say the guitar solo declined back in the early 1990s with the success of the grunge rock/alternative rock scene at that time, with bands such as Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Blind Melon, Oasis, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and so on and so forth.
However, it’s worth noting that many of the aforementioned groups did have guitar solos in their songs, including Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Alice In Chains, but the thing is that the guitar solos they used in their songs weren’t mixed to stand-out tremendously and be a crucial part of the song as they were in the 1980s with the rise of bands like Motley Crue, Dokken, and Ratt.
In an article from Rolling Stone which you can check out at the link provided here, they discuss the recent album from Khalid, who employed the use of John Mayer, who plays a brief effects-ridden solo on the track, “Outta My Head.”
The article explains that this brief moment in mainstream commercial music is definitely an outlier, considering the vast majority of artists today aren’t using this type of instrumentalism in the modern era, especially with the rise of digital audio workstations such as Garageband, Logic Pro X, FL Studio, Reaper, Ableton, and Pro Tools.
In 2019 and the years following, there’s no question that computer-generated music is going to continue to dominate the Top 40, although, I’m not a clairvoyant, so it’s hard to say exactly what’s going to happen in the music scene going forward.
On some of the more popular releases in 2019, bands such as Imagine Dragons, The 1975, and Twenty One Pilots, employ the use of synthesizers and programming, but rarely, in fact, never, use guitar solos as part of the song’s structure.
Although, there’s no question that elements of alternative rock and emo show up in hip-hop and R&B, including in the works like Juice WRLD, Lil Peep, XXXTentaction, and more.
Interestingly, and as Rolling Stone pointed, these guitar solo-moments, or whatever you want to call them, have shown up a lot in the film but less so in popular music. For instance, taking the two examples of A Star Is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody, both of these films showcase the instrumentalism of the past that’s less common today.
Furthermore, there’s no question that rock music has all but fallen off, like hip-hop, R&B, rap music, and EDM have completely taken over the mainstream. But the real question is for how long?
What’s interesting is that many of the hip-hop artists of today seem to have a great appreciation for metal, grunge, and the 1990s music scene, which can be heard and seen in the aforementioned artist’s music, Lil Peep or Juice WRLD.
Even Post Malone seems to have a great appreciation for the guitar and rock music and employed the use of Ozzy Osbourne on his latest record, Hollywood’s Bleeding. However, will these artists be able to bring a new appreciation for rock music and its elements into the mainstream again? I don’t know.
There’s no question that the guitar solo is dead in the mainstream, but as I noted above, it still lives on in the underground music scene, particularly in the genre such as metal and instrumental music from Animals as Leaders and Polyphia, among other bands.
There’s still an interest in instrumentalism, and I would argue that some of the greatest players ever to play the guitar are alive and well, including the aforementioned Guthrie Govan among others. In fact, I would say that the greatest guitar players ever are doing their thing today.
For instance, even just comparing the works of Guthrie and Tosin Abasi to what was written in the past, really highlights how much guitar solos have gotten better over time.
Back in the 1980s, for instance, guitar solos, in my opinion, weren’t even that great, but guitarists like Jason Richardson have kind of brought them to a new level.
In conclusion, guitar solos aren’t popular at all in the mainstream music scene at all anymore, but who cares really?
You can still find a lot of great artists and players who use them in the underground music scene, so if you’re a big fan of them, you’re going to find artists out there who are always using them, and many of the solos coming out today are some of the best that I’ve ever heard.
Taking, for example, Emil Werstler’s solo in “Wilting on The Vine,” I think that’s probably one of the greatest guitar solos ever written, for its combination of jazz and metal in a way that’s so unique and tasteful.
Furthermore, I really like the way that modern guitar players are re-incorporating jazz music into their playing style, with many of them bailing on blues as an influence altogether.
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In conclusion, I’d say that despite guitar solos not being as popular in the mainstream as they once were, they’re still more than alive and well in certain sub-genres, in fact, some of the greatest guitar solos ever written have been penned in the last decade or so.
Frankly, this kind of thing doesn’t concern me too much. There will always be a market for certain sub-culture phenomena, and it’s not worth worrying whether or not it’s “popular.” Just like what you like, and do what you do.