TrueFire's Guitar Blog

7 Things They Didn’t Tell Me When I Started Playing Guitar

by Rich Maloof

1. There will never be enough guitars

They never told me, when I bought my first really good guitar, that other guitars would move me in a completely different way. It’s like falling for a girl and expecting you’ll never want another. There will never be one perfect guitar or even one fantastic combination of guitar/amp/effects that will deliver all the tones you will want and need. Even the guys who achieve great tone keep chasing great tone. It’s a moving target.

2. Music can be your greatest pride… and your complete undoing

There’s nothing I’d rather do than play guitar and compose, but making music has not come with peace of mind. It has pretty much eaten my life. For every proud moment there have been another fifty occasions where I’ve heard something incredible and thought, “Oh my God, I am a total amateur. I should have gone to dental school.” In my experience, music has been completely fulfilling and utterly heartbreaking.

3. Playing under the influence actually makes it harder

Friends don’t let friends drink and jam. Not to be prudish (I dare you to keep up with me after my set is finished), but if you’ve spent a lot of time honing your skills, there’s just no way you’re going to perform as well snockered as you would straight. If you have any doubt, record yourself the next time you have one of those chemically induced moments of brilliance at 2:00 a.m., and see how it sounds after coffee clears the cobwebs in the morning.

4. It costs you something

If you’re going to be good on your instrument, you’re going to pay for it. It costs a chunk of your life. You will lose time, sleep and sanity. Some people will think you’re refusing to grow up. You’ll miss out on better-paying jobs and financial stability. It hurts relationships.

I once had a conversation with Robert Fripp and complained that sometimes I just wanted a job that paid better — that I was sick of living on a shoestring budget, always scraping to pay my bills, barely able to afford toppings on my pizza. “Forget the job and forget the pizza,” he said. “If you want to reach your potential as a musician, none of that means anything.”

5. Music beats the hell out of sports

There’s a long span of years, usually throughout high school, during which popularity and achievement all seem to be hung on athleticism. But everyone who plays knows that music easily offers all the camaraderie, exhilaration and pride that describe the finest experiences in sports. Wait 10 or 15 years after high-school graduation and then check in with the killer musician and with the star athlete from back in the day: one guy is playing all the time and still exploring his passion, while the other guy is stuck watching a lot of ball on TV. Don’t forget, you can still play guitar when you’re old and fat.

6. You’ll have to come up with your own definition of success

If you’re fixated on getting a lucrative gig, being signed to a record label (do they still have record labels?), or having 10,000 fans on your band’s Facebook page, you’re pretty much sunk. It’s not that those things are unachievable, but they don’t satisfy the urge that drives a player to play. They don’t scratch the itch. You’ll have to redefine, time and time again, what you want to accomplish as a musician and what are your markers for success. Completing and recording a composition, improvising a great solo, collaborating with musicians who challenge you to be your best…these are the kinds of moments that take us to the top. And they’re fleeting, so you’ll always have to be ready to start again from the bottom.

7. There’s a lot of crap to carry

Shoulda played the sax.