On the Wonder of the Electric Guitar and The World’s Best Guitarist

For Christmas, 1989, my mother gave me an electric guitar. The sound it made was profound in ways that my 14 year-old self could not express, which is surprising considering the reputation for eloquence that Kentucians have.

A few months later someone explained to me that the strings were to be tuned to specific pitches.

I was in one of the two bands in my high school. The other band recorded a demo tape at a studio in Lexington and their singer had skater hair and was really cute with ruddy cheeks and went to Presbyterian youth group where he sang U2 songs to girls on an acoustic guitar. He was waiting until marriage to have sex. Their drummer had a suede drum throne and played in a Kentucky Wildcat jersey. Luxurious hair and a gold chain around his neck.

In contrast, my band, with me as singer and guitarist, recorded on a boombox in a basement. We saved up forty dollars to buy a microphone at Radio Shack but when we got there, our drummer said, “Oh, no. Man, I don’t want to have to listen to him sing.” So we bought a strobe light instead and sat in the basement with it flashing, our guitars feeding back, and were happy enough with our sound.

Some days, our drummer, who had a double-bass pedal but used half of a hi-hat as a cracked crash, said, “Let’s just have a slow blues jam,” so we would have a slow blues jam, a shambling shuffle without any real feeling. After we finished, he would pop the cassette out of the boombox and say, “I’m taking this. I have youth group.” We knew he meant that he was going to go have sex with his girlfriend in the back of his father’s Frito-Lay delivery truck while listening to our jam. He was a Southern Baptist.

My hope had been to play in the school talent show my senior year. My best friend and I decided to play “Hey Hey My My”. Through a convoluted series of events that are far too labyrinthine to recount here, I ended up in front of the audition committee playing a hopelessly out of tune guitar as the guitarist for the other and in school watched and laughed. My chords clanged. Sweat beaded. As my voice faltered from fear and embarrassment, I realized that I’d let him look at it before I went on and that he’d detuned it secretly, knowing I didn’t know enough to check it first. An unholy rage welled up inside of me and mid-song, I took the guitar off, tossed it onto the ground and walked out.

The video above is not of “The World’s Best 13 Year-Old Girl Guitarist.” It is not of “The World’s Best Girl Guitarist.” She is just “The World’s Best Guitarist.” I have never been this good on the guitar and I’ve been playing for twenty-one years. I have no hope of ever being able to play like this. However, if I were able to, and I filmed it and put it on YouTube, the video would not say “The World’s Best Male Guitarist.”

So right now, I proclaim this guitarist The Best. I wish her a long and successful career. Of course, there is always someone else coming up behind: