Guitar Solos and Lead Guitarists. Part 8: The 2020's

I’d love to have something positive to say about the current era from a lead guitarist’s point of view, but nothing comes to mind!

The 2010's saw the final decline of the Lead Guitar solo. The lead guitarist disappeared. Where did they go?

Let’s face it the decade started off with a pandemic which destroyed, or mothballed, live venues.

We guitarists all took to our bedrooms to indulge in the three R’s – write, record, release  

Collectively, we were now releasing record amounts of content, every platform getting more uploads in one hour, than any one person could listen to in a lifetime - and that isn’t good!


The sheer enormity of this superblob of data means there is so much ‘noise’ it is impossible to get heard.

There’s an expression, probably misattributed to Andy Warhol

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.

Maybe. Perhaps everyone will now have their own favorite musician. All musicians will be obscure because there are so many of them.

Of course there will still be elites. Every human activity forms a monopoly. Search engines became Google, retail became Amazon. Pop music became Taylor Swift.

The market for guitarists

In this climate the only way you can make a living as a guitarist is not by making music but by becoming a "talking head" on YouTube.

I love Rick Beato as much as you do, but he would never be able to make a living solely from playing in today’s climate.  Paul David is an awesome player, but he will never play with a band that can harness his talents. There are no Steely Dan’s waiting out there to give him a gig as there was for Larry Carlton, Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter, Denny Dias. No huge Michael Jackson figure looking for a 2-minute solo over the new “Beat it” like Eddie Van Halen did.

The only guitarists who make a living are not playing guitar. They are ‘talking heads’ on YouTube, teaching or in punditry. This is a fragile market sustained by the boomer demographic - and their time is coming to an end.

I didn’t get the memo. I’m still posting ‘music videos’ on my YouTube channel like MTV didn’t go out of fashion. Do I have millions of subscribers? No, only 1,500 at time of writing, but even that is astonishing given how hard I try to do the exact opposite of what YouTube wants! The new god is the algorithm, and it doesn’t care about music, just eyeballs and corporate profits. I detail elsewhere on this website my trials and tribulations so let’s leave that there.

As for making a living from streaming – forget it. Guitarists have always had the bum’s rush, but it has never been this inequitable for musicians. The corporations have never ripped us off this badly before but in the era of no shame they don’t even bother to hide it.

The future for Lead Guitar?

There are still flag bearers out there for us guitarists, but they are a dying breed, literally. We lost Jeff Beck recently.

Joe Bonamassa keeps slogging away but you ask a teenager who Joe Bonamassa is? Ask them who Eric Clapton is? Maybe they think he’s a reality TV star or something but… really… he used to be God!

The top guitarists, ones that other guitarists universally respect, don’t play on hit records because there are no hit records to play on with guitar solos. They are novelty social media stars. They don’t have tracks forever associated with them and they never will, which makes my blood boil.

I’ve said it before…

The guitar solo is a noble thing, an opportunity for the guitarist to express themself and connect with the listener on a spiritual, almost primeval level. A dangerous, precarious activity where the guitarist plucks victory from the jaws of defeat. To see it consigned to history would be a travesty and a crime against our humanity. Resist!

We need the next guitar champion to step up. I would but I can’t be arsed!

see also What went wrong with the music Industry in the 2000’s