Legends and Legendary Performances
One would have to ask when stage tricks really started. Hendrix? Page? Nah, this stuff goes back centuries. Mozart was playing piano on his back with his arms crossed since he was a young lad and Franz Liszt was making absurd compositions just to see if anyone else could even come close to playing them (aside from himself).
But that curious mentality has been carried over from generation to generation and as the guitar grew prominently more famous as an instrument it was only a matter of time before people started looking for any stylish edge to seamlessly dip in and out of in performance. Those would become the makeup of their stage show and part of the reason we would/do go and see them.
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Guitars have been destroyed for decades now as a means of entertainment. While it’s a curious means to meet that end it seems to be effective and dates back to the 60s when Pete Townshend, in an impulsive bout of frustration, took his Les Paul an gave it a good what for into the floor. Given the fan reaction at the time it quickly became a part of their routine performances and you could fill a book with all the people that have adopted this concept.
Hendrix didn’t hold back from his own destructive tendencies, though he leaned more towards just setting his guitars ablaze.
Guitars and Heads
Hendrix was also famous for bringing to everyone’s attention that you can use your teeth as a pick just as easily as your guitar pick. Plus it looks cool too. Since then not only do people still do it, but guitarists like Paul Gilbert have applied it to ludicrously complex situations like sweep picking with his teeth. And then there are guys like Vai who have used their tongue as a means to play the guitar.
Then there’s the ol play the guitar behind your head trick. Everyone knows about this one. Pictured above is a shot of Stevie Ray Vaughan playing behind his head as he was frequently known to do. Since the precise origins of this technique are mired in inaccurate information I’ve decided to canonize Andres Segovia as the first to play guitar behind his head.
The Violin Bow
Jimmy Page and his violin bow. My dad has frequently relived tales of the first time he’d seen Page play a guitar with a violin bow. His words, though lost to the abyss of time, summarized the insight it took to see two unrelated things and to merge them to make something new like he had. Unlike a lot of the other tricks you really don’t see many people adopt the violin bow. It happens sure, but for one reason or another people seem more likely to smash their guitar than use a bow with it.
Anything Involving The Neck
Van Halen changed the world of guitar when people found out he was tapping the fretboard, but in a twist of irony he initially made it more a part of his stage show by making it less a part of his stage show. Whenever he’d tap he would turn his back to the audience, obscuring their view of his hands as to not let the secret out. But by time that had gotten out the technique of tapping was bent to the wills of countless guitarists.
Satriani is known for his 8-digit tapping as well as his tendency to grab the neck (like pictured above) and go legato all over the guitar’s ass. The likes of Michael Angelo Batio, he practically built his style around tapping and legato. Between his double/quadruple guitars he had to embrace those techniques just to take advantage of the multiple necks. Jeff Healey embraced the over the neck style as well, but that was just his adapting to being a blind guitarist.
Now we have the guitarists that bring other devices in to add flair to their guitar performances Jason Becker embraced playing around with a yo-yo while playing guitar. While Demetri Martin isn’t a guy I’d bring up in conversations about guitarists playing five instruments at once isn’t anything to scoff at.