What is a good guitarist?

If you’re already a guitar player, you may wonder what is a good guitarist and what separates him from the crowd. 

That question is actually quite hard to answer as everybody has a different opinion on the subject. 

That’s why I would provide as many guidelines as I could in this article to answer it objectively.

1. Qualities

When you observe a good guitarist shredding his guitar, you might be impressed by his “talent”. Behind that word lies most of the time many qualities that lead to the level he has reached:

  • Dedication: someone willing to become a great guitar player has to spend A LOT of time practicing, repeating the same things over and over until it’s (almost) perfect.
  • Patience: this trait goes hand in hand with dedication. If you’re patient, you can obtain something and work for a longer time on it with dedication.
  • Self-criticism: knowing where and what you can improve is essential to your progress. It’s not always easy to search for your mistakes and correct them. Great guitarists know they can always improve. 
  • Humility: nobody’s perfect. Being humble is a quality a good guitar player should have in order to better themselves.
  • Passion: without it, you lack motivation and enthusiasm. It’s almost a prerequisite to become a great guitarist.
  • Creativity: this trait is actually developed through playing. Everybody can be creative. The secret is to always try something new.

    Bad Feelings

    Bringing yourself down when you’re practicing will slow you down in your progress. Remaining positive will help you reach your goals.

2. Skills

A good guitar player must possess a few skills they have developed over time. 

Let’s see the features that makes a guitarist a good one:

  • Speed: have you ever been impressed by some guitar player’s speed? I have. And even though I’ve been playing guitar for a long time now, I am still amazed by some guitarists’ celerity today.
  • Accuracy: this characteristic is more important than speed, and it’s essential for a good guitarist to play with precision. Playing with accuracy will improve the quality of the sound you produce. It can be hard to hear when you’re just starting guitar, but with experience, you’ll be able to make the difference between someone who plays with that kind of ability or not. 

    Accuracy also applies to finger and plectrum picking.

  • Sense of rhythm: playing in rhythm is a also a crucial feature. Imagine for a second that your favorite guitarist plays the whole song arrhythmically? Would you cringe? I know I would. But don’t confuse arrhythmic with offbeat. The latter is actually common in jazz and will sound good no matter what. 
  • Music knowledge: to know about music theory is not required to become a good guitarist, but it helps understanding what other people do, and therefore, what you can do. You can learn about music theory right here.
  • Techniques: to know a few techniques will not make you a good guitarist. It’s how you use them through your playing that will. Here are some common techniques that guitar players employ: hammer-on, pull-off, slide, bend…

Techniques will actually work better if applied with feelings. And that brings us to the following section.

3. Feelings

Many guitarists will have a different opinion on the subject, but one thing is certain: you can’t detach feelings from guitar playing

Imagine for a second how a song without emotions would sound. Dull? Lifeless? Boring? I think so. 

Adding feelings when you sing is as important as incorporating them to your guitar playing. But how do you add them exactly? 

With techniques, mainly. If you want to make your song feel personal, and full of emotions, you need to know a few of them:

  • Bend: basically the action of bending a string with one or several fingers on the fingerboard in order to change the pitch of a note. 
String bend on a telecaster

Here’s a bend done on this beautiful telecaster

  • Hammer-on: accomplished by “hammering on” a finger on the fretboard quickly without striking the string(s). 
  • Pull-off: this technique is the opposite of hammer-on. The finger is already placed on the fingerboard, and you take it out quickly without striking the string(s). 
  • Slide (shift or legato): the action of sliding your finger(s) on the fingerboard from one fret to another.
  • Vibrato: probably one of the easiest techniques. It’s the action of bending the strings up and down with your finger(s) on the fretboard, in order to achieve a slight pitch modulation. It can also be done by applying pressure with your finger and moving your hand slightly (but keeping it at the same place while doing this).

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of techniques you can do on a guitar.

By mixing those techniques (but not too much), a guitarist will be able to add feelings to his song. What kind of feelings? Love, hate, joy, freedom… to mention just a few.

Another way to implement feelings is to play dynamically. A good guitar player will know when to add silences, crescendos and decrescendos, or when to play loud or softly.

4. Famous Guitarists

Famous never means good. I’m sure you know a few “famous” guitarists you actually find terrible.

But most of the time, they become known because their sound is recognizable among others.

There are a few characteristics that make a sound distinguishable:

The Edge Guitar Player

The Edge’s guitar is immediately recognizable. That’s because he’s always trying to find new sounds and willing to experiment with his guitar.

  • The qualities they possess: speed, technique, accuracy, sense of rhythm… 
  • The feelings that they put in their songs: if you don’t add feelings to your playing, people will immediately know. That’s why they incorporate them through different techniques and by playing dynamically. 
  • The equipment they use: the sound will change depending on which amp, pedal, or guitar they employ. The equipment does not make a guitarist a good one, but it can match or embellish the way that they play. To learn more about guitar gear, click here.
  • They explore the multiple possibilities of their equipment: some guitarists research for hours and hours in order to find the most beautiful or unique sound they can get.

5. Understand The Difference Between Bad And Beginner

If you’re a beginner, you don’t know as much as an experienced guitarist does. And that’s absolutely normal. 

And when you observe other guitar players who have been practicing for a while, you might get depressed just by seeing how good they are.

But know that they’re only that good because they have trained a lot. As you improve your skills and techniques, you will be able to match their playing and even better them.

It takes time, dedication, and patience to become great. Can you do it?

6. So… What is a good guitarist?

To be a good guitar player, you must possess a few qualities and skills, and be able to make your guitar “talk”. 

But every guitarist “speak” differently. The way that you play can either resonate in some people, or leave them indifferent. That’s why the notion of being good or not is always controversial.

In the end, even if a guitarist don’t have all the qualities and skills mentioned in this article, if his music talks to you, then you can consider him a good guitar player.

Here’s an interesting video if you want to learn more about the differences between a good and a bad guitarist:

What’s your opinion on the subject? If you are willing to share it with us, write a comment below this article.

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