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Why Do People Love (REAL) Guitars?

Published: Tue December 09, 2008  News Feed

What is it about the guitar? Bernard Butler, the musical genius behind Suede and mastermind of Duffy's Rockferry success, celebrates the glory of six strings.

Bernard Butler

Guitar genius...Bernard Butler

Bernard Butler is one of the most important  guitarists of the last 20 years. As a founder member of Suede, he pretty much helped to kick-start what became known as Britpop - a phenomenon that launched the career of bigger bands such as Blur and Oasis. And in Bernard Butler, we finally had a new ,classic British guitar-hero, who could stand proud next to any of the greats,

After recording Suede's second album, Dog Man Star, Butler left the band and his path has been rocky and erratic ever since - sometimes finding success, sometimes being ignored by critics and public: he made a few solo albums, formed the McAlmont & Butler duo and rejoined Suede's singer Brett Anderson in a new band, The Tears, which unfortunately didn't last.

In all those projects, he proved to be a skilled songwriter, great producer and talented guitarist.

After producing several important indie bands - The Libertines, The Cribs, The Black Keys, Sons & Daughters - Butler recently announced he was retiring as a live performer, aged only 38!

But that's not to say he's not being busy: Bernard Butler  co-produced and co-wrote many of the songs on Duffy's phenomenally successful album 'Rockferry', including the title track. In other words: as a producer and songwriter, Butler is more succesful than ever today.

But his abiding love has always been the guitar, and in this 2006 article for The Guardian, he explained why guitars appeal to so many people, still. In this day and age of Guitar Hero, it's always good to remind what's so special about real guitars...so read on!

Return of the axe

Butler and The Tears...with his trusty old Vox AC-30

Butler and The Tears...with his trusty old Vox AC-30

"When I was eight, I played the violin, and I used to get beaten up and spat at on the bus for it. But now my eight-year-old son, who attends a school in the same London borough, is taught the guitar along with most of his classmates. Some days it seems as if every kid you pass is carrying a huge guitar over their shoulder. There they are, learning music on £30 instruments, and then boring old dad will play the Stones in the car one day and they'll make the connection. They'll hear the riff to Satisfaction and realise they know how it works.

"The guitar music that kids are listening to today is very inspiring. Jack White's riffs for the White Stripes and the Raconteurs are just what kids want to learn. If I was learning now, the riff to Seven Nation Army is the first thing I'd want to master, and it's really simple. You could get it in a day, with a bit of dedication, just repeating it because you love the primal sound of it.

"I've never had a lesson in my life. When I was 13 my brothers got a terrible electric guitar from a catalogue but they got bored of it. So I took it and sat down with a chord book, and tried to work it out. Then I heard Johnny Marr playing with the Smiths and that was it. From then on, every record I got, I listened to once, then worked out the guitar parts. To this day I can play every Smiths song, something of which I am very proud.

"And that's the traditional folk way of learning. Dylan did it. Bert Jansch [an acoustic folk legend who inspired Jimmy Page, among others] grew up listening to this canon of Scottish folk songs and when he made his first record he had to borrow a guitar to do it because he didn't own one. My folk music was the Smiths, New Order and Joy Division, who were pretty alternative at the time. That was my secret life as a teenager.

"Now it's cool to have a cheap guitar again, and with technology you can get good stuff for cheap, and get modelling pedals and amps that digitally re-create the sound of vintage guitars and amps. Some boring old 50-year-old in a shop might say, "It's not the same," but to a kid who can afford it, they'd think, "Wicked, I can play something straight away." Most kids have computers and you can plug a guitar into a computer and make a record easily. And through MySpace you can target the people who would want to hear your record, which is great.

Bernard Butler Live

Butler in action

"It's not cool right now to be technically extraordinary. The Libertines couldn't play guitar to save their lives. The attitude that you can pick up an instrument that's out of tune and thrash away at it, singing to your heart's content, is massively inspiring. We're fed up with supershiny pop records, and the monster stadium-rock bands. When I produced some of the Libertines' records, Carl Barat would come up with the simplest riffs and he'd not be able to play them properly, and it was brilliant. He didn't think in terms of complex scales and notes, just something to sing along to.

"Even Bert Jansch hates the "extraordinary, legendary folk guitarist" stuff that's written about him. He has incredible character in his playing, which is actually kind of of slapdash, inspired by odd things he happened to pick up on, but he's not the most technically adept.

"If you want to learn, my advice is to buy the Smiths back catalogue and learn it and let it set you on fire. You reach a point where it gets hard but that was the stage I started writing my own stuff. Everyone has their own sound. You'd never mistake Jimi Hendrix or Jack White's sound.

"I'd encourage anyone to get into it the cheapest way possible.

"I think music should be accessible. I hate people seeing it as a career option, where you must know all the references and read the right books. All that matters is the spark of creativity and injecting personality into it, which you can't do if you're just emulating Coldplay.

"And it doesn't matter if you don't form a band. It's just good to have a musical instrument in your life, without thinking you have to be really successful at it. I hope these kids grow up having great experiences with guitar, because music leads to film, books, clothes. When they're 50 they can still be doing this very creative, soothing thing."

Originally from The Guardian. Read it in full here.

Getting The Bernard Butler Sound:

Altough he sometimes played a Gibson Les Paul, Butler favorite guitar have always been semi-acoustics. His main guitar is a 45-year old Gibson ES-355. If you want a cheap semi, try the Tanglewood models. Get a Boss DS-1 like he used to have in his Suede days and off you go.

And this is Bernard Butler's pedalboard when he was playing with The Tears, a few years back:

Butler's The Tears setup

Line 6 MM4 Modulation Modeler, Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler, Dunlop Tremolo/ Pan, Boss GE-7 Graphic Equalizer, Electro Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb, ProCo Turbo Rat, ProCo Rat 2, MXR DynaComp, Dunlop Cry Baby Wah, and the ubiquitous Boss TU-2 tuner pedal.

Bernard Butler's favorite amp throughout his career has been the VOX AC30.

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